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Number 519 • February 12, 2009 | Past Issues













1) Australian Stay and Defend Policy Still Defensible?

Unprecedented bushfires have called into question Australia’s once-lauded “stay and defend” policy and will likely send Aussie officials back to the drawing board in a number of areas, according to a barrage of news reports from the still-burning country. The blazes, which began this weekend, are thought to have killed far more than the official 181-person death toll given by police Thursday. A combination of arson and extreme heat wave conditions are blamed for the multiple fires in the Victoria region.

Although a review of Australia’s longstanding “stay and defend or evacuate early” approach to bushfires is planned, it could be a failure to follow the often truncated “evacuate early” piece of the policy that accounted for a good deal of the lives lost so far, according to John Handmer of Australia's Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

“Fleeing at the last moment is the worst possible option,” Handmer told the Christian Science Monitor. “Sadly, this message does not seem to have been sufficiently heeded this weekend, with truly awful consequences.”

There’s some indication that the unparalleled ferocity of the fires contributed to the breakdown of the system, which has been ingrained in the Australian consciousness over the last decade, according to the Los Angeles Times. The lengthy and vigorous campaign emphasizes the need to decide whether to evacuate early or make preparations to defend property (find one example of campaign materials here). Those who choose defense are given instructions on effective techniques such as clearing an area around their homes, storing water, creating a fire plan, and learning how to extinguish spot fires.

“Even if you have been to the lectures and have had somebody of experience tell you what happens, and you rehearse what you are going to do . . . you still don't completely understand the ferocity of that fire when it comes,” Daryl Wells, a longtime Australian fire brigade captain told the Times. “…But when they feel the heat, and then noise, as the fire starts to come over the hill, that causes panic. They say, ‘Let's get in the car.’ When you get up in the morning and conditions are like that, that's when you decide if you stay or go. By the time the smoke is coming up the hill behind your house, it's too late.”

Detractors of a plan to introduce a similar policy in Southern California cited the fear of that dynamic. A group of county fire officials met to discuss the policy last month, and some counties, such as Orange and Ventura, are incorporating stay and defend tenets into their fire plans, according to the Times.

While Australia’s existing policy might be reformed in the wake of this week’s fires, officials say it’s not the only system that will need a revamp. In Marysville, one of the hardest hit communities, Premier John Brumby called for stronger building codes and Monash University fire scientist David Packham said it’s time to strengthen fuel management practices, even in the face of popular and political opposition.

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2) The Weight of Water: Dam Might Have Contributed to Chinese Quake

Pressure from 320 million tons of water in a reservoir near the Wenchuan fault—responsible for the devastating Sichuan Earthquake in May—could have hastened the tragedy by about 100 years, according to geophysicists. Columbia University scientist Christian Klose, as well as Chinese scholars, came to the conclusion that the mammoth reservoir behind the Zipingpu Dam contributed to the quake, according to a recent article in the New York Times.

“It would have occurred anyway,” Leonardo Seeber of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University told the Times. “But of course the people who were affected might think the timing is an important difference.”

Speculation on the reservoir’s role in the quake has gone back and forth since immediately after the tragedy, when one of the engineers of the Chinese dam told reporters he believed the reservoir influenced the quake. Since then Chinese scientists have downplayed that possibility and the Chinese government has tried to quash such allegations by blocking Web sites supporting the theory, according to the Times.

Regardless of either side of the issue, scientists agree that the link between the reservoir and the earthquake is not conclusive.

“The weight of these reservoirs themselves is insufficient to cause an earthquake,” MIT geophysicist Rob van der Hilst, who has been studying the Wenchuan area for two decades, is quoted as saying in a Wired Science blog article. “It could be that the stress field is perturbed by the reservoir, but how exactly it translates into the onset of an earthquake, we just don't know.”

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3) All Levees and No Land Use Makes Safety Report a Dull Tool

Even while the National Committee on Levee Safety pushes for urgent action in overhauling the hodgepodge collection of U.S. levees, it’s missing an opportunity to limit the high-cost consequences of poor planning say members of the Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM).

The committee submitted its strongly-worded, 104-page draft report to Congress last month, issuing 20 recommendations that included completing an inspection and inventory of all U.S. levees, requiring mandatory flood insurance purchases, classifying levee hazard potential, and establishing a national levee safety commission and standards.

What it left out were recommendations “requiring appropriate land use decisions to accompany federal investment in building new levees, or rehabilitating existing levees,” according to an ASFPM analysis of the report. Without such requirements, the ASFPM—which participated as a nonvoting member of the committee—and others fear building in floodplains will continue—with a resulting loss of lives and property when levees are breached.

“The Committee's approach focused on only the levee itself, not on the associated land use and continuing development in the residual risk area of the levee, what ASFPM believes is the single most important factor causing increased flood risk and catastrophic consequences in communities with levees,” wrote ASFPM Executive Director Larry Larson in an e-mail. “While some believe the problem with levees in the nation can be solved with ‘engineering’ solutions, ASFPM argues the facts and experiences of levee failure consequences do not support that view.”

The committee, however, indicated in its draft review recommendations that it had explored “connectivity with related flood risk management elements such as insurance, floodplain management, evacuation, and building codes; and while the Committee believes it is critical that such elements be considered in the larger context of a systems approach they are beyond the scope set out in the Levee Safety Act.”

ASFPM and others submitting similar comments felt that the committee didn’t provide adequate time to incorporate comments and vet the report before pushing it though, but will continue to provide feedback to Congress, Larson said. The report is now with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. There is no indication yet as when it may be reviewed by lawmakers.

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4) Pandemic Strep Could Have Been 1918 Killer

Even if flu shots had been an option in 1918, they might not have done the trick, if new findings from Emory University researchers are correct. Evidence suggests that strep, rather than influenza alone, could have killed many during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, according to a Reuters report last week.

The research could have implications in how health officials prepare for the next pandemic, since the 1918 outbreak is widely used as a benchmark for what could come. If researchers who believe a “superinfection” of Streptococcus pneumoniae complicated the 1918 flu cases are right, it might mean that worst-case projections for coming pandemics are exaggerated.

“Based on 1918 we would project less mortality in an era of antibiotics,” Klugman is quoted as stating in the article. “We are currently modeling this—assuming of course that the bacterial superinfections remain susceptible to the antibiotics and that sufficient antibiotics are available.”

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5) Fifty Bucks Puts the Cell in Cell Phone

With nothing but a cell phone, $50 in electrical parts and a MacGuyveresque imagination, a UCLA engineer has discovered a way to analyze fluid samples quickly and accurately in the field. The device could have implications for emergency and other medical technicians working in rural areas or developing nations, according to a article.

“It is a new way of doing images of cells and bacteria,” UCLA electrical engineering professor Aydogan Ozcan told the news agency recently.

Ozcan’s “lensless ultra-wide-field cell monitoring array platform based on shadow imaging”—or LUCAS, for short—is able to capture the image of a blood, saliva, or other fluid sample to the cell phone and calculate the microparticles, according to the article. The counts, which can also be wirelessly transmitted, give valuable on-the-spot information about a patient’s health. Early results have been about 90 percent accurate, according to CNN.

“The test is not meant to replace sophisticated optics,” the article states. “But the device could offer a fast, preliminary diagnosis in hard-to-reach areas such as remote villages in sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV rates are the highest in the world.”

There’s still work do be done before the inexpensive testing tool makes it into the hands of remote health workers, though. Orzcan told CNN he hoped to eventually rig the device to also collect information on a molecular level.

“We want to go now from microscale to nanoscale,” he was quoted as saying. “We want to detect DNA fragments or protein.”

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6) Nominations Now Open for Mary Fran Myers Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2009 Mary Fran Myers Award. The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Individuals eligible for the award will have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The selection committee is especially interested in soliciting nominations from outside the United States.

The award winner will be invited to participate the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado on July 15-18. Travel, accommodations, and workshop fees will be covered. The winner is also invited to serve on—and encouraged to chair—the Mary Fran Myers selection committee.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  •  Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  •  The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae
  •  A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  •  An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization

Nominations should be submitted by APRIL 15, 2009 to Kristinne Sanz of the Gender and Disaster Network at Questions can be directed to Elaine Enarson at or to Sanz at For more information, visit the award page on the Natural Hazards Web Site.

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

Call for Submissions
Women and Katrina
Gender and Disasters Network
Deadline: March 1, 2000
Submissions are now being accepted for an edited collection on women and Hurricane Katrina. Scholars conducting empirical research on women's experiences are welcome to submit a 2-3 page chapter proposal in any area, but especially on topics such as pre-storm vulnerability, evacuation decision making, violence against women, care work, collective organizing, faith and religious communities, housing issues, and displacement. Papers should reflect the diversity of women's everyday realities and choices. Completed manuscripts will be due June 30, 2009. For more information on how to submit, visit the Gender and Disaster Network Web site.


Call for Applications
FEMA National Advisory Council Appointments
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: March 6, 2009
FEMA is now accepting applications from those interested in filling its 11 National Advisory Council seats that will be vacated this summer. The council provides advice and recommendations to FEMA on topics such as the National Preparedness System, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Framework, and related strategies. Individuals will serve three-year terms as representatives for emergency management, emergency responders, cyber security, and others, including three appointment areas to be decided by the FEMA administrator. Those interested in applying for the 35-member council should submit their curriculum vitae or resume, along with letters of recommendation, to FEMA. For contact information and more on the advisory council, see the FEMA announcement.


Call For Action
Heavy Vetting: Tell Obama FEMA Nominees Need It
Disaster Accountability Project
Deadline: Open until nominee named
After e-mailing five questions to frontrunners for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s top spot—and getting no response—the Disaster Accountability Project is hoping you’ll have better luck getting some public input on the vetting process for the head of FEMA. Project founder Ben Smilowitz suggests doing the following:

  1.  Call President Obama at 202-456-1111 and ask him to support a public vetting process for prospective nominees.  If you can't get through, leave a comment here.
  2.  Visit the Disaster Accountability Project’s citizen oversight tracking site and let them know you called.
  3.  Spread the word.

For more information on the Disaster Accountability Project’s effort and the five questions put to potential candidates, visit their Web site.

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8) 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]

Do 1 Thing
Are preparedness chores easier to digest in bite-size pieces? That’s the premise being served up at Do 1 Thing, a site aimed at helping families and local organizations prepare for emergencies one step at a time. The site offers community resources, monthly themes, and simple suggestions meant to add up to a year’s worth of preparation. Enter in a loved one’s name and watch your motivation (or guilt) factor soar with each targeted e-mail.


Firewise Generation
Look out oldsters, Firewise Communities is bringing up a whole new generation to wise up to wildfire risk. Firewise Generation isn’t your father’s Firewise site, but a hip and happening place where you’ll find interactive games and lessons on the basics of wildfire, how to protect yourself and your home, and even how to be a wildland firefighter (when you grow up, of course).


Disaster Law Resources
The American Bar Association is breaking out the law for victims and lawyers alike with this list of resources related to disasters, preparedness, and recovery. Information is arranged by disaster and resource agency and includes Web sites, hotlines, and donation sites.


Learning for Sustainability
Get out your reading glasses and prepare to pore through the fine print of this cramped but jam-packed Web site full of useful tools, guides, and resources for promoting change through governance. Recently renamed, the site covers a gamut of information aimed at helping people communicate and collaborate in fields that range from agriculture to disaster management.


Disaster Recovery Resources
Disaster Recovery Resources has collected a wealth of new resources on its site, which is dedicated to locating and collecting worthwhile information on community recovery from disasters. Even with the influx of new knowledge, site administrator Claire Rubin ( says she’s always looking for new material. Take a look at the site map and let her know the section to post your suggestions.


Dual-Use Research and Bioterrorism Survey
When bad things happen to good science, thousands of lives could be at risk. The National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) surveyed a selection of AAAS members to learn about their attitudes regarding dual-use research—scientific work undertaken for the good of humanity, but with possible uses in bioterrorism or other malicious plans. The survey found scientists thinking about both sides of the research coin—and taking measures to make sure their work didn’t turn up tails.

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9) 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]

February 26, 2009
Cascading Disasters: How Disasters Unfold
The National Academies Disasters Roundtable
Irvine, California
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This workshop aims to communicate a working understanding of cascading disasters, how people are impacted as a disaster cascade unfolds, and coping strategies to prepare for or mitigate impacts.


March 11-13, 2009
Environmental Disasters and Law: Failures of Law, Calls for Laws
Interdisciplinary Centre of Research on Environmental and Planning Law and others
Limoges, France
Cost and Registration: Cost not posted, closes March 1, 2009
This conference provides interdisciplinary views of environmental disasters and examines the role of different actors in disasters. International, community, and comparative law theory will be used to analyze environmental disasters.


March 18-20, 2009
Fourth Annual Emergency Preparedness and Service Restoration for Utilities
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $1695, open until filled
This summit features lessons learned from utility industry practitioners who have been responsible for restoring service after hurricanes, ice storms, fires, and other disasters. Topics include preparedness and planning best practices, how to run a good emergency drill, communicating major events, mutual aid support, and case studies of major storms.


March 26-27, 2009
Business, Government, and Community Continuity from A to Z
Business and Government Continuity Services
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Cost and Registration: $695, open until filled
This seminar is designed to assist companies in improving or developing disaster response, recovery, and continuity plans. Best practices and practical applications are addressed to help business, government, and community organizations produce effective recovery plans.


April 14-15, 2009
Partners in Emergency Preparedness
Washington State University Center for Distance and Professional Education
Tacoma, Washington
Cost and Registration: $300 before March 20, closes March 26.
This conference promotes effective emergency preparedness through partnerships. Expert speakers and conference exhibits will showcase information on earthquake research, contingency planning, school preparedness, technology, news media, and public health. 


April 16-17, 2009
The Fifth Magrann Conference: Climate Change in South Asia—Governance, Equity, and Social Justice
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Cost and Registration: Not posted
Environment and development scholars in science and social science disciplines will meet to discuss climate change issues faced by South Asia at this invitational conference. Themes will include cultural, social, and gender implications of climate change; natural resource management and land use practices; and vulnerability and adaptation in cities and urbanizing regions.


April 17-19, 2009
Third Annual Wildland Fire Litigation Conference
Reno, Nevada
Cost and registration: $575, open until filled
This conference assembles Federal Emergency Management Agency employees, insurance adjustors, firefighters, forensic experts, and other practitioners to address wildland fire litigation issues. Conference sessions include post-fire cleanup and the law of damages, backfires, controlled burns, and approaches to wildland fire arbitration.


May 3-6, 2009
Eighth UCLA Conference on Public Health and Disasters
University of California Los Angeles Center for Public Health and Disasters
Torrance, California
Cost and Registration: $395 before April 3, open until filled
This annual forum promotes dialogue between local health departments and those involved in emergency public health preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. Defining emergency public health, outbreaks and surveillance, and hospitals as victims of disasters are among topics to be discussed.


May 5-7, 2009
National VOAD Conference
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
Little Rock, Arkansas
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference, titled “Life Elevated—A Celebration of Service,” will offer expert presentations on disaster services with the goal of improving VOAD member’s skills, services, and organizational practices.

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10) 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.]

Disaster Risk Management Specialist
Inter-American Development Bank
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not Posted
Closing date: March 2, 2009
This position promotes disaster risk management in Latin America and the Caribbean, designs loans for potential projects, and manages the portfolio of non-reimbursable technical cooperation projects. A master’s degree in disaster risk management or related field and at least eight years professional experience in designing or supervising disaster risk management projects are required.


Project Officer
Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission
Suva, Fiji
Salary: Not posted
Closing date: March 6, 2009
This position supports community risk programs that strengthen risk mapping capacity. The project officer is responsible for research, collection of temporal and spatial data, and assisting with development and facilitation of training.


Disaster Recovery and Operations Specialist, GS-301-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $72,002 to $93,598
Closing Date: February 17, 2009
This position leads the Public Assistance Program during emergencies and declared disasters and guides field station staff on current policies, procedures, and regulations. Applicants must have one year of specialized experience at or equivalent to GS-11.


PhD Assistantship, Geospatial Indicators for Disaster Risk Management
Centre for Geoinformatics
Salzburg, Austria
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: February 15, 2009
This position will participate in workshops and meetings, track tasks, and develop a research plan for a PhD thesis based on project or organizational objectives. A master’s degree in geography or related field and experience in geo-spatial analysis, GIS science, and remote sensing are required.


Executive Director
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI)
Oakland, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 15, 2009
The executive director manages institute staff and is the chief advisor to the board of directors. Responsibilities include implementing board directives, directing technical and administrative support, and overseeing committees, programs, and projects. A bachelor’s degree and demonstrated experience with fundraising, donor relations, membership development, and supervisory ability are required.


Area Action Team Leader
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
Kathmandu, Nepal
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: February 28, 2009
This position will design, plan, and implement disaster risk reduction activities and lead the regional disaster risk reduction agenda. A PhD in disaster risk reduction or natural resources management and at least five years experience in disaster risk—preferably in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas region—are required.


Emergency Planner
Prince William Health Department
Manassas, Virginia
Salary: $40,000 to $65,000
Closing date: February 27, 2009
This position coordinates bioterrorism preparedness activities, including the development and maintenance of response plans for bioterrorism, infectious disease outbreaks, and other public health events. Experience in planning and policy development, program evaluation, and knowledge of emergency preparedness and response methods are required.

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