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Number 515• December 4, 2008 | Past Issues













1) Not All Agree on Wisdom of Witt’s Return to FEMA

The possibility that former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt might temporarily pick up the reins of the agency for the Obama administration drew mixed opinions last week.

A column by the Washington Post’s Al Kamen speculated—based on unnamed sources—that Witt might step in to whip the troubled agency into shape and then bow out, leaving his business partner and theoretical deputy administrator Mark Merritt to run a FEMA unfettered by the Department of Homeland Security.

Pundits and bloggers hailed the rumors with mixed reviews, with some recalling Witt’s widely credited turnaround of FEMA during the Clinton administration and others pointing to his recent private sector work in Katrina recovery as an example of cronyism and government price gouging. Conflicting posts on the Daily Kos provide something of a microcosm of the argument, where an emergency management specialist posting under the name of Deep Harm tells readers “Why Obama Should Not Pick James Lee Witt for FEMA” and another poster writes “Should these reports prove to be true, a newly independent FEMA under these men would be likely to earn the trust of Americans vulnerable to disaster."

No official statement on who the next FEMA director might be has been released, although an early November report by the Associated Press named Witt, Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton, and former New Jersey Governor and chairman of the 9/11 commission Tom Kean as possible Obama picks.

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2) Charity Lacking in New Orleans Hospital Campus Plan

A planned 70-acre medical campus near downtown New Orleans has raised the ire of preservationists and local homeowners. The joint venture of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs and Louisiana State University will nix the city’s iconic Charity Hospital and more than 150 other historic properties, according to a November 26 New York Times article.

While politicians touted the thousands of jobs and increased healthcare availability the $2 billion project would bring the city, protesters shouted about the history and restoration headway the campus would destroy.

“In selecting these sites, the V.A. and L.S.U. have made a serious error,” National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe stated in the Times article. “They chose the alternatives that will not only be the most time-consuming, costly, and complex to implement, but will needlessly destroy a historic neighborhood where residents are struggling to rebuild their community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

Adding to the controversy is Louisiana’s current inability to pay its share of the building and land acquisition tab, thanks to a standoff between the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency over how much FEMA will pay for the damage Katrina caused to Charity. According to a Times-Picayune report, FEMA may soon end the impasse with an offer of $150 million. The state originally requested $494 million.

The V.A. portion of the project, which is funded, has been slated for completion by 2013. The city will have a year to relocate citizens and businesses from the area, according to the Times-Picayune article. Some buildings will be incorporated into the campus and others moved elsewhere in the city. Charity Hospital will not be reused, but it’s likely tax incentives will be offered to buyers of the building, according to the New York Times report.

Preservationists, however, say the $800,000 set aside to save properties will only salvage about 20 of the 165 historic homes, not to mention others in the district that have been restored since Katrina. History and restoration funds, however, won’t be the only casualties of the campus concept, as at least one of the Times sources pointed out.

“It’s a terrible idea,” resident Wallace Thurman, told the newspaper. “I was born in my house, and I’m going to lose it to put up a hospital?”

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3) Your Two Cents Is Worth a Lot in Planning the Natural Hazards Workshop

The Natural Hazards Center wants to hear your ideas on session topics for the 2009 Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. The annual workshop is a dynamic forum that showcases diverse opinions and perspectives from the hazards and disasters community. The 2009 Workshop will be held July 14-17 at the Omni Interlocken Resort just outside of Boulder, Colorado.

At the Workshop, hazards researchers, practitioners, and students discuss the latest issues in hazards and disasters, society’s efforts to address them, and ways to improve those efforts. But these discussions don’t happen in a vacuum—that’s why we need your input.

We’ll take your thoughts, mix in our own, and try to stir up some of the stimulating discussions for which our Workshop is known. So, please take a moment to fill out our online form and let us know what you want to talk about in July. Proposal should be submitted by December 31, 2008.

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4) Civil Crises Compound Cholera Epidemic in Zimbabwe

A cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 600 people in Zimbabwe has been exacerbated by political and civil crises, as doctors and nurses Wednesday protested low pay and substandard work conditions.

Despite healthcare worker strikes and the closure of public hospitals because of the lack of drugs and equipment, the epidemic was overshadowed by other concerns, according to a Reuter’s report. Demonstrators protesting the waning worth and availability of Zimbabwean money, clashes between soldiers and civilians, an anthrax outbreak, and a stalemate over power sharing between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai are among the country’s other distractions.

The situation has led hundreds of the estimated 12,500 cholera victims to flee to South Africa for medical treatment, raising fears of spreading the disease, according to the report. International Red Cross sources told Reuters there had been six cholera deaths and 400 infections in South Africa. Meanwhile, the BBC reports the Limpopo River on Zimbabwe's border is contaminated with cholera and the country’s sanitation systems haven’t worked in over a month, contributing to the spread of the disease.

The Red Cross stated it shipped 13 tons of medical supplies into Harare late Wednesday night. On Thursday morning, the Zimbabwean health minister named the epidemic a national emergency and appealed for outside help, according to the New York Times.

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5) Katrina Far From Over for the Kids

More than three years ago, needy children of the Gulf Coast fell prey to the sudden, torrential force of Hurricane Katrina. Today, those children are the victims of the slow and excruciatingly ineffectual system that was suppose to help them recover.

A study of the medical records of 261 poor Baton Rouge children found them to be “among the most medically needy child population in the United States,” according to the report’s summary. “Legacy of Shame: The On-going Public Health Disaster of Children Struggling in Post-Katrina Louisiana” chronicles the medical travails of children under the care of the Children’s Health Fund (CHF) Baton Rouge Project, a group that includes the poorest and most vulnerable families affected by the storm.

The study, conducted by CHF and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, found that 55 percent of the children had learning or behavioral problems, 42 percent over age 3 needed developmental or mental health services, and 42 percent had respiratory problems that might be attributable to formaldehyde exposure. Anemia, vision, and hearing problems were also found.

The sharp decline in the health of the extremely needy children can be credited to bureaucratic inaction in providing services, according to a Newsweek interview with CHF President Irwin Redlener.

"As awful as the initial response to Katrina looked on television, it's been dwarfed by the ineptitude and disorganization of the recovery,” Redlener told the Magazine.

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6) Call Outs: Calls for Abstracts, Papers, Proposals, and More

Call for Proposals
ASFPM FloodManager Game
Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation
Deadline: December 19
The Association of State Floodplain Managers is looking for proposals to develop FloodManager, a scenario-based game that will teach local officials and land developers fundamental floodplain management principals. The game, which is a project of the not-for-profit ASFPM Foundation, should help players understand the impact and risks of their development decisions.

FloodManager will be geared toward those with or without college education and should be simple enough to play in a three- to four-hour timeframe. A committee of flood hazards specialists empanelled by the foundation will provide technical algorithms. The vendor will supply a game design plan, storyline, geographic information, scale, platform, game engine recommendations, and other specifics. For a complete copy of the request for proposals, visit the ASPFM Foundation site.


Call for Participation
Evacuation Decision Making Survey
Georgetown University
Deadline: None set
Georgetown University researchers are still seeking emergency managers to complete an online questionnaire about evacuation decision making. Responses will be used for research sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The brief questionnaire is available online. The survey takes less than five minutes to complete and participants who share their e-mail address are entered into a drawing to win a Georgetown University sweatshirt. E-mails will be discarded after the drawing and are not connected to survey responses.

To learn more about the research project or ask questions, contact Professor Robin Dillon.

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7) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see]

Communicating On Climate Change
Communicating on Climate Change: An Essential Resource for Journalists, Scientists, and Educators was based on a series of workshops designed to start a dialogue—in understandable terms—between journalists and climate scientists. The resulting book, which is available for free download, contains essays on how both groups, as well as educational institutions, can bridge the climate change communication gap.


FEMA Learning Resource Center Emergency Management RSS and E-mail Updates
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is compiling a library of links to RSS feeds, e-mail lists, and other electronic notification that promises to keep users in the know about emergency management, natural hazards, and homeland security.


The WHO Manual For Health Care of Children in Humanitarian Emergencies
The World Health Organization released this guide last month for medical responders who provide care to children under 5-years-old in the absence of inpatient hospital facilities.  The guide includes emergency resuscitation, trauma and burn management, newborn and infant care, and evaluation of mental health.


Observing Weather and Climate from the Ground Up
This new report from the National Academies proposes joining local, business, agricultural, and other independent weather observation systems to form a “network of networks” that can be used not only to monitor weather, but also to gauge biological and nuclear contaminants, smoke from wildfires, and monitor regional climate.


Those familiar with Twitter know that the brief chirps of information during an emergency can paint a sonar-like picture of what’s happening on the ground. allows you to enter keywords for instant and personalized monitoring of the Twitter stream.

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8) Conferences, Training, and Events

[Below are some recent announcements received by the Natural Hazards Center. For a comprehensive list of upcoming hazards-related meetings, visit our Web site at]

December 8-9, 2008
Second Annual Conference on National Preparedness
Florida Institute of Technology
Melbourne, Florida
Cost and Registration: $695, open until filled
Disaster preparedness and relief, national security, and humanitarian professionals will gather at this conference to take an in-depth look at preparedness technology and strategy. Topics such as national and international safety and security, command and control, and global preparedness will be addressed.


January 4-6, 2009
Annual Meeting of the Volcanic and Magmatic Studies Group
Bournemouth University
Bournemouth, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: Not posted
Scientists from around the world will gather to share the latest research in volcanology and magmatic processes at this annual meeting. Among the session offerings is an exploration of environmental and societal impacts of volcanic hazards, and the role of societal adaptability. 


January 25-28, 2009
10th Annual Windstorm Insurance Conference
Windstorm Insurance Network
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $495 until January 12, 2009
This conference provides an opportunity for practitioners from various disciplines to examine lessons learned from past hurricane seasons and speculate on future trends.
Topics will include windstorm damage, insurance claims, mitigation efforts, disaster response, and alternative dispute resolution.


January 26-29, 2009
Responding to Flooding: Improving the Preparation and Response
U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Wilton Park Conferences
West Sussex, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $2,161, see Web site for details
This conference assembles experts in disaster relief, response, and risk reduction to examine how countries, especially developing countries, will respond to the predicted wind, storm, and flood increases resulting from climate change. Best practices and national, regional, and international preparedness will also be assessed.


February 4-7, 2009
The World Conference of Humanitarian Studies
University of Groningen/Wageningen University
Groningen, Netherlands
Cost and Registration: See Web site
This conference provides a venue for understanding humanitarian crises through dialogue with policy makers and humanitarian agencies. The conference will be a meeting ground for academics and practitioners to take stock of current theory, debates, and studies and reflect on existing practice and opportunities for improvement.


February 6-7, 2009
Landslide Processes: From Geomorphologic Mapping to Dynamic Modeling
European Centre for Geomorphological Hazards
Strasbourg, France
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference will focus on understanding and the quantifying landslides and other types of mass wasting, as well as the risks they pose. Hydrological systems and shifts in climate and land use will be examined from geomorphological and engineering viewpoints.  


February 10-13, 2009
Australia Disasters Conference 2009: Surviving Future Risks
Emergency Management Australia
Canberra, Australia
Cost and Registration: $895, closes February 1
This conference explores future Australian disaster risk and recommends mitigation and preparedness enhancements to improve community resilience. Themes include the changing face of crisis management, potential impacts of global warming, identifying risk and mitigation strategies, and disaster recovery. 


February 23-24, 2009
Eighth Annual Emergency Management Conference
International Association of Emergency Managers, Continuity Forum, and Others
Wellington, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $2095 before January 19, open until filled
This conference will allow professionals to address issues faced by the emergency management community while learning how leadership skills and styles affect emergency professionals. Integrating organizational resilience, increasing emergency response using GIS tools, and developing interagency cooperation will also be discussed.


March 11-15, 2009
12th US/ICOMOS International Symposium
U.S. National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: Not yet posted
This conference addresses recurrent disaster preparedness, rapid response, and sustainable recovery issues using U.S. and international heritage sites threatened by natural and human-made events. The symposium will provide a framework for models that can help protect historical sites.

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9) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]

Emergency Staffing Coordinator
New York Department of Health
New York, New York
Salary: $45,758 to $125,923
Closing date: January 21, 2009
Plans and continuously manages emergency staffing efforts to ensure the agency’s ability to respond to citywide health emergencies. A bachelor’s degree and four years of experience working as a community liaison or organizer, including at least two years of administrative or policy making experience, are required.


Disaster Management Systems (DMS) Team Leader
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC)
Bangkok, Thailand
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 11, 2008
This position consults with the director of DMS to devise strategies to achieve project objectives; build partnerships with global, regional, and national parties to promote ADPC’s work; and manages projects and employees. A degree in development or a related field and 12 years experience in disaster risk management are required.


Mitigation Planning Specialist
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $69,332 to $90,135
Closing Date: December 8, 2008
This position serves as the point of contact for community planning and provides technical assistance in the review, preparation, and identification of priority mitigation plans and projects. One year of specialized experience working with the National Insurance Flood Program, equivalent to GS-11, is required.


Various Emergency Capacity Building Project Positions
Baltimore, Maryland; Washington, DC; Oxford, United Kingdom
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 24, 2008
The Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) project, a collaborative initiative of the Inter-agency Working Group, is currently filling various positions to begin the second phase of the ECB project. The project is aimed at improving the speed, quality, and effectiveness of the humanitarian community. Positions and necessary experience are available on the CARE-USA website. Available positions include Global Field Project Manager, Organizational Development Project Manager, and a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.


Emergency Management and Fire Prevention Specialist
Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Salary: $31,616 to $40,000
Closing Date: December 7, 2008
The specialist assists with the development, promotion, and implementation of the university's emergency management and fire prevention initiatives and plans, and organizes and conducts drills and exercises. An associate’s degree in public safety or related field, and basic knowledge of the Ohio Basic Building Code is desired.


Technological Hazards Program Specialist
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Kansas City, Missouri
Salary: $45,040 to $84,913
Closing Date: December 10, 2008
This position assists in developing policy, recommendations, regulations, interpretation, and guidance materials for emergency planning; modifies existing policy, procedures, and guidance, and is responsible for ensuring plans are current and able to be implemented. Specialized experience equivalent to GS-9, is required.

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If you or your organization would like to add a job posting in the DR, please feel free to e-mail the information to

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