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Number 522 • March 26, 2009 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) Climate Change: Do We Stay or Do We Go Now?

In the pushmi-pullyu world of what to do about climate change, results from the latest round of discussions might not come as much of a surprise. We need to respond quickly. And wait.

Specialists meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, said the impacts of global warming are accelerating at an unanticipated pace. They agreed “more stringent and urgent action” is needed if the world is to avoid being burned by out-of-control climate change, according to Nature News.

The group, which included natural and social scientists, met to “provide a scientific update to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 assessment on global warming,” according to Nature. Although they won’t have an official role in December when national governments meet in Copenhagen to hammer out a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, their report—to be released in June 2009—is likely to get some play.

"We need hard targets to be agreed in December that state when we start and how much we do,” Martin Parry, former IPCC working group co-chair on climate impact and adaptation, is quoted as saying. “A clear statement from 2,000 scientists should certainly make a difference.”

Maybe not.  A little less than a week after the meeting, the head of the Global Environment Facility, an environmental funding agency, advised delaying a global treaty if the United States isn’t able to play ball, according to a Reuters report.

“I really think what is very important is not so much that we do it in Copenhagen, what is very important is that we get real good commitments,” Monique Barbut is quoted as saying. “I do not honestly see European countries agreeing today to massively scale up their level of international solidarity to tackle climate change unless they get something in return.”

Reuters cited President Bill Clinton’s lack of congressional backing for the 1997 Kyoto Protocols, coupled with the likelihood that President Barak Obama would be similarly unsupported by legislation in December, as the reason for the negative speculation.

While December will tell whether climate talk will turn to climate action, one thing’s a little clearer—the basis of the American lack of confidence in climate change capabilities cited in Climate Change and the American Mind. According to the study, one percent believed humanity had the ability to solve global warming, but were unsure whether we actually will.

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2) Science Breaks Through at the White House

The Obama administration can finally get down to brass tacks on the president’s science agenda now that Senate confirmation of two top officials is in the bag.

After much unrelated political posturing, the Senate Thursday gave a thumbs up to Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as clearing John Holdren as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Both nominees are well-respected scientists with a bent for speaking their science—one of many qualities that netted their nominations.

“It is time to take science out of the laboratory and into our communities in order to help people understand how science impacts their everyday lives…,” stated Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, in his confirmation announcement. “Both individuals will serve this country and the taxpayers honorably; there is much work to be done and no time to waste.”

The nominees are no strangers to wasted time, having languished for more than a month since their relatively routine confirmation hearings. Although both are vocal advocates of a stronger stand on climate change policy, it wasn’t politics—at least not the nominee’s politics—that held up the confirmation process. Instead, it was a long-standing practice of placing a “hold” on the process, according to multiple and varying sources (see the Washington Post, CQ Politics, and the New York Times for reports and opinions). Holds are often used as leverage to achieve unrelated goals.

Now, with all holds barred, Lubchenco, a lauded marine ecologist, and Holdren, a prize-winning physicist, and can begin wrestling with the nation’s science and technology issues. For Lubchenco, according to a New York Times profile, that will include addressing climate change by approving an existing proposal to establish a national climate service.

“It is no longer enough to know what the wind patterns were for the last hundred years,” Lubchenco told the Times. “You want to know what they will be for the next hundred years—and they undoubtedly won’t be the same. So there are huge opportunities to provide services to the country.”

A national climate service, an idea that has been floated in one form or another for at least 30 years, would consolidate climate information gathering and provide credible information on long-term climate change impacts such as floods, droughts, and sea-level rise, according to the journal Nature (subscription required). Social problems such as disease transmission and agriculture impacts might also fall under such an agency’s purview, according to the article.

While Lubchenco has chatted with journalists about everything from her first brush with mollusks to her plans to promote American's understanding of the importance of science in daily life, Holdren has shied away from media interviews for now. He has, however, issued a video statement that unsurprisingly indicates gaining the momentum necessary to advance U.S. science and technology will be paramount to the Office of Science and Technology while he’s at the helm.

“The pace of these advances cannot be taken for granted,” he said in the video. “How quickly or slowly we get them depends on making good choices in science and technology policy.”

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3) An Oil Spill That Wasn’t Recalls One That Was

Less than two weeks before the somber anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill—one of the most ecologically damaging spills on record—a Norwegian tanker narrowly escaped dumping its 41-million-gallon cargo into the Gulf of Mexico.

The SKS Santilla suffered a “gaping hole” on its port side after colliding with a submerged oil rig that had been downed by Hurricane Ike and swept into the Gulf 65 miles south of Galveston, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle (cached version of the now unavailable original). In what could have served as an over-the-top public relations stunt for oil tanker safety measures spawned by the Exxon Valdez, the tanker’s double hull—mandated by Congress following the 1989 Exxon disaster—saved the Santilla’s cargo.

“This could have been a serious spill,” Dennis Kelso, Alaska’s commissioner of environmental conservation at the time of the Valdez spill, told the Chronicle. “Because of that double hull that suffered damage on its exterior, there was no oil spill at all.”

While keeping the cork on millions of gallons of oil is certainly reason to celebrate structural improvements, many warn that policy makers cannot become complacent when it comes to safely transporting crude.

“We must remain ever vigilant to insure that we are doing everything possible to prevent this from happening again,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski stated on the eve of the Exxon Valdez anniversary. “While we can predict what the environmental impacts might be from a spill, we must never forget that the impacts on people and their lives are not so easily measured.”

The point that Alaskans and their environment are still mired in the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill was not lost on the author of a New York Times editorial, which called on the Obama administration to think carefully about future U.S. energy strategy.

“…The Exxon Valdez still sends a powerful cautionary message: oil development, however necessary, is an inherently risky, dirty business—especially so in the forbidding waters of the Arctic.”

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4) Bad Planning Could Equal Bad Luck in Court

Two recent court decisions could clear the way for sanctioning government officials and agencies that don’t properly plan—or follow their plans—for disasters.

A Louisiana state appeals court ruled earlier this month that Jefferson Parish and its drainage district could be liable if they failed to implement or maintain emergency plans, or if they “simply wrote a bad plan,” according an article in the Times-Picayune. The ruling, if not challenged, could open the door to converting the original 2005 suit into a class action suit.

The original suit stemmed from the parish president’s choice to evacuate pump operators and leave pump stations unmanned during Hurricane Katrina, the article states. Homeowners affected by the resulting floods believe the parish and district should be held accountable. The court agreed—if the damage was the result of not properly following the parish’s emergency plan.

According to the Times-Picayune, “The law that protected public officials ‘was created to provide immunity for governmental actors who are forced to make instantaneous decisions during crisis situations,’ the ruling states. ‘It was not created to provide immunity for the creation of a crisis plan some seven years prior to an unforeseen crisis.’”

A federal case claiming similar laxity in planning could hold the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for work they did building a 76-mile shipping channel known as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), according to another Times-Picayune article.

In that case, homeowners along the MRGO claimed Army Corps negligence “destroyed protective wetlands and turned the shipping channel into a speedway for storm surge that flooded thousands of homes during the 2005 hurricane,” according to the article. Although both sides requested a summary judgment, the case will go to trial April 20.

The majority of Katrina victims seeking solace from the legal system have been turned away on grounds of immunity. (For an interesting list of related rulings, see the Louisiana State University Law Center’s Levee Law listing.) Pierce O'Donnell, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision would be the first trial for Katrina victims, and if successful, he would ask Washington to make things right.

“We are looking to the White House for leadership in expeditiously resolving the claims of Katrina victims in a fair and equitable manner,” he told the Times-Picayune. “The continued stonewalling of Katrina victims is a national disgrace.”

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5) First Comes Earthquake, Then Comes Marriage

A group of 40 Chinese citizens will soon start married life with a decidedly shaky foundation. The 20 couples, who will be chosen from Sichuan earthquake survivors, will be married en masse courtesy of Chinese government, according to a Reuters report. At least half of the couples must include a Chinese official.

The group wedding, scheduled for April, is an effort to help replace families destroyed by the quake, according to the article. A special emphasis was placed on pairing government officials, who have reportedly been “working under huge mental pressure in rescue and rehabilitation work” and have seen higher than average suicide rates following the quake and loss of their families.

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

Call for Applications
Summer Institute for Advanced Study of Disaster and Risk
Beijing Normal University
Deadline: April 30
Applications are being accepted for the 2009 Summer Institute for Advanced Study of Disaster and Risk at Beijing Normal University. The institute, which will focus on the essentials of disaster and risk theory, is open to junior faculty, post-doctoral researchers and qualified PhD candidates with an interdisciplinary focus related to natural disaster, risk management, social vulnerability, or resilience. Travel and accommodation will be provided for accepted international participants.

This institute is one of a series sponsored by China’s Ministry of Education, State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, Ministry of Science and Technology, and National Natural Science Foundation. For more information or to apply, visit the Institute Web site.

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Call for Abstracts
2009 Conference: Investing in Floodplains for Future Generations
Floodplain Management Association
Deadline: May 29
The Floodplain Management Association is accepting abstracts for presentation at its annual conference September 8-11 in San Jose, California. This year’s conference will focus on land use innovation, “green” infrastructure, community-based partnerships, and technology. For more information, guidelines, and a list of conference topics, visit the online abstract submittal

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Call for Information
Community Disaster Recovery Plans
Tulsa Partners
Deadline: None
Tulsa Partners is interested in finding out what types of disaster recovery plans have been developed by communities. The non-profit organization, which promotes planning and preparedness in the Tulsa area, will use the plans to guide the community through redevelopment and rebuilding after a disaster. The group is interested in pre-event planning, the initial response phase, the mid-term planning phase, and long-term recovery. Issues impacting the rebuilding of infrastructure, health care, housing, and incorporating structural and non-structural mitigation strategies are being examined. If your community has developed a plan that you’d like to share, or if you have any information that can help Tulsa Partners develop a plan, please contact Judyth Gulden at judyth.gulden@okstate.edu.

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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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/.]

INSTEDD Open Source Emergency and Disaster Software
Emergency and disaster organizations with skinny budgets and big technology dreams, come on down! The nonprofit group INSTEDD—Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases, and Disasters—has developed a suite of open source software tools aimed at helping the emergency community improve resilience, communication networks, and response. With applications for mapping, modeling, data sharing, and communication, you’ll want to give these free tools a test drive. After all, the price is right.

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NSF Recovery Act Documents
This page is one-stop shopping for everything you need related to the National Science Foundation’s recent stimulus boon. Find information on the Recovery Act and NSF programs, official NSF statements related to the act, and sign up for RSS feeds of the foundation’s weekly stimulus spending reports.

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Firewise Firecamp
Turn your YMCA or local day camp into the next super hot hangout for middle schoolers with a little help from the Firewise Firecamp kit. The online curriculum has information on logistics, learning goals, organization, and lesson plans. Smokin’!
 
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Planet Hazard
With all the discussion about global climate change and the worldwide efforts to stanch it, the climate crisis might seem a little far removed from daily life. Bring it home with Planet Hazard’s search of polluters in your neighborhood. Based on information from the Environmental Protection Agency, Planet Hazard will produce maps listing polluters, pollutants, and polluting industries by city, county, state, and nation.

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Homeland Security Response Network
The newly launched Homeland Security Response Network is designed to get citizens and government talking about preparedness by offering a multitude of ways to communicate. From forums and chat rooms to blogs and Twitter feeds, there’s a host of social mediums to get your word out. And check out Intellispace, which promises to aggregate real-time social and traditional media during a disaster.

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Undersea Tonga Eruption Photos
A picture’s worth a thousand words—enough said about this multi-source collection of photographs capturing the March 13 eruption of an undersea volcano near Nuku'alofa, Tonga.

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The Stafford Act and Priorities for Reform
Is the Stafford Act a helpful guide in marking the line between federal and state disaster response responsibilities or a roadblock to rebuilding in the wake of really big events? Many have asked, and this report posted at Berkeley Electronic Press attempts to answer with an eye toward the act’s weaknesses, what causes them, and how they can be addressed.

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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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]

April 20-22, 2009
International Conference on Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction

UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Beijing, China
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference examines the progress and challenges of applying mainstream gender perspectives to disaster risk reduction. Special attention is paid to climate change adaptation, poverty reduction, and community resilience.

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April 21-22, 2009
2009 Regional Workshop

Pacific Public Health Training Center and California Centers for Public Health Preparedness
Oxnard, California
Cost and Registration: $180, open until filled
This two-day workshop includes discussion of the social determinants of health, GIS and Health Geoinformatics, and how to use science to prepare vulnerable populations. Theory-based principles will be used to develop tools and identify specific needs for vulnerable populations during disasters.

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May 4-8, 2009
Eleventh Annual New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Conference

New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Association
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Cost and Registration: $100, open until filled
This conference presents preparedness information and training for emergency managers and provides a forum for emergency professionals, managers, and volunteers to exchange ideas and information.

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May 10-15, 2009
23rd Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference

Florida Emergency Preparedness Association, the National Weather Service, and others
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Cost and Registration: $195, open until filled
This conference provides training on responding to and recovering from tropical cyclones. Tracks include communications and public information, emergency management and services, policy and planning, and recovery mitigation.

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May 11-22, 2009
GIS for Disaster Risk Management

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Cost and Registration: $2,000, open until filled
This conference will create awareness of the importance of spatial data and GIS in disaster risk management. Applying spatial data to better understand vulnerability assessment, disaster preparedness, recovery, and reconstruction will be addressed.

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May 11-14, 2009
Disaster Forum 2009

Disaster Conferences Inc.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1075, open until filled
This conference gathers a range of experts versed in preventing and responding to emergencies, including attacks on critical infrastructure. Session will be geared toward emergency managers and preparedness officials interested in business continuity.

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May 18-21, 2008
NHWC Eighth Conference and Exposition
National Hydrologic Warning Council
Vail, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $550 before April 15, open until filled
This conference will focus on real-time hydrologic warning systems and how they support storm readiness, emergency response, and disaster recovery. Partnerships between warning system operators, equipment providers, consultants, news media, and emergency managers will be promoted.

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May 11-13, 2009
Seventh International Conference on Earthquake Resistant Engineering
Structures
Wessex Institute of Technology
Limassol, Cyprus
Cost and Registration: $1869, open until filled
This meeting provides a forum for various earthquake engineering disciplines related to structural design. Discussion will include earthquake effects on state-of-the-art structures and the importance of upgrading existing buildings and infrastructure.

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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.]

Post-Doctoral Researcher
University of Liverpool
Liverpool, England
Salary: $44,685
Closing Date: April 8, 2009
This position will carry out fire ecology and management research at the Peak District National Park, including an experimental study of the relationships between burning and biodiversity. A PhD in ecology, environmental science, or related field, and experience with field-based experiments and model development and management are essential.

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Regional Field Organizer—Climate Change
Oxfam America
Los Angeles, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 11, 2009
This position leads and expands Oxfam America’s outreach and organizing activities, increasing climate change awareness and effecting policy decisions regarding its impacts on poverty and development. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and be fluent in Spanish.

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Lecturer in Geophysics/Seismology
University of Liverpool
Liverpool, England
Salary: $53,179 to $67,366
Closing Date: April 9, 2009
This position will teach geophysics and contribute to the strong research arm of the department, which actively collaborates with the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratories. A PhD in Geophysics or related area and a proven research track record are required.

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Emergencies Advisor
Save the Children UK
London, England
Salary: $54,158
Closing Date: April 13, 2009
This position contributes to emergency response design and policy planning. Duties include advising regional and program managers and analyzing the sociopolitical and institutional contexts of ongoing and potential emergencies. Three to five years experience in operating international emergency programs and a sound knowledge of the humanitarian sector are required.

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General Analyst, YA-2
U.S. Navy
Washington, D.C
Salary: $43,354 to $113,007
Closing Date: April 1, 2009
This position coordinates command center operations, dispatch center capabilities, and emergency management command. Duties include collecting, disseminating, and analyzing data. Applicants must have one year of specialized experience at or equivalent to YA-1.

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Emergency Planner Associate
IEM, Inc.
Washington D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Not posted
This position assists clients in developing emergency plans and procedures consistent with the National Incident Management System or the National Response Plan. A bachelor’s degree, a minimum of two years emergency management or response experience, and one year of city, county, or state planning experience are required.

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Deputy Director for Planning and Preparedness
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 3, 2009
This position is responsible for strategic planning, policy development, and integrating emergency programs that include community planning, public outreach, preparedness, and the National Incident Management System. A bachelor’s degree and seven years of emergency management experience are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to jolie.breeden@colorado.edu. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail jolie.breeden@colorado.edu.
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