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Number 524 • April 23, 2009 | Past Issues













1) Final Gauntlet Thrown in Van Heerden-LSU Fray

Outspoken coastal expert and levee reform advocate Ivor van Heerden will be forced to step down as director of Louisiana State University’s Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes in May 2010. He will also relinquish his title as deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center.

The firing—a year in advance—is latest in a series of thorny interactions between the untenured van Heerden and the university. According to multiple media reports, the enmity stretches back to 2005, when LSU officials reportedly told van Heerden to curb his vocal criticism of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers floodwall and levee construction. 

While van Heerden said LSU was concerned that his comments would hamper the willingness of federal funders to contribute to the university’s research coffers, a LSU spokesman said that the university silenced van Heerden because his comments on civil engineering were beyond his field of expertise, according to an article on the firing in the Times-Picayune.

Van Heerden has a doctorate in marine sciences and has overseen research on the potential of levees to be overtopped during storm surge, according to the article. Hurricane Center Director Mark Levitan, who has since resigned in protest of the van Heerden situation, also noted van Heerden’s comments were made from the strength of his position as the head of a team of scientists and civil engineers investigating the levee breaks.

In the time since the conflict began, van Heerden has become a well-known critic of the political and engineering decisions that led up to the Hurricane Katrina levee failures, as well as those that followed. In 2006, he released “The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina—The Inside Story from One Louisiana Scientist.”  LSU has continued to question van Heerden’s authority to speak on levee and engineering matters and, according to the Times-Picayune article, barred distribution of his once-widely distributed storm surge models. According to The Nation, LSU has formally prohibited him from testifying as an expert witness in a lawsuit leveled against the Army Corps, although he will stand as a “fact” witness.

Van Heerden believes that suit, in which homeowners claim their property was destroyed by Army Corps negligence in building the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, could be impetus for the firing, according to a piece in the New York Times Lede Blog. Mathematics professor Charles Delzell, who attended van Heerden’s contract discussion as a representative of the American Association of University Professors, agreed.

“It’s a clear case of retaliation for his criticism of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” he told the New York Times.

Van Heerden said he wasn’t given a reason his contract won’t be renewed, although he was told it wasn’t because of his performance. A LSU spokesperson has told multiple media outlets that the university will not comment on the situation because it is a personnel matter.

The situation has drawn protest from the research community, local organizations such as, and community members. Van Heerden, however, was able to see some silver linings to the clouds. Although he plans to appeal the decision and might take legal action, he also told the New York Times that in some ways, a disassociation would be freeing

“I can really start to speak out and tell my side of the story—and in the process, maybe some good will come of it.”

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2) Fugate Closes In on Confirmation

Craig Fugate inched closer to heading the Federal Emergency Management Agency after acing confirmation hearings before the Senate Homeland Security Committee Tuesday.

Fugate rode into the hearings on a swell of support from Florida lawmakers, as well as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landreiu, who said she was convinced Fugate was the “right person” for the job, according to the Times-Picayune. Once in, Fugate didn’t rest on his laurels but, by all accounts, wooed committee members with strong responses to questions about cyber security, improving agency morale, and whether FEMA should remain part of the Department of Homeland Security.

On that much-debated issue, Fugate is a “FEMA in” guy, saying he’d rather put emphasis on disaster response than bureaucratic restructuring, according to an article in the Federal Times.

“I believe that the next confirmed administrator of FEMA needs to be focused on the next disaster, and being focused on that means that debate, as far as I’m concerned, is over,” Fugate is quoted as telling the committee.

Fugate also told committee members that FEMA needed to beef up communication technologies so it would be more nimble when it came to issuing disaster warnings, according to the Times.

Fugate’s confirmation will now be decided by the full Senate. That decision could come next week.

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3) L’Aquila Quake: History in the Unmaking

Now that Italy has laid to rest the 289 victims of an 6.3 magnitude earthquake earlier this month, continuing rescue missions in L’Aquila and other damaged areas will take on a new focus—the rescue of irreplaceable art and other items of historical importance.

Worldwide, there has been much interest in the extent—and the possible restoration—of earthquake-damaged artwork and historical buildings. The desire to help has been so strong that, according to Italy’s ANSA news agency, Italy has created a list of 38 monuments in the earthquake-torn region of Abruzzo that are up for “adoption” by foreign countries that want to help. The New York Times reports that more than 11,000 volunteers have stepped forward to help with cultural restoration.

While such widespread concern and willingness to save the world’s cultural treasures is heartening, some might say it comes at the wrong end of the disaster cycle. Although money is often cited as the culprit for not implementing mitigation measures on the front end an earthquake, it doesn’t have to stand in the way, said well-known antiquities conservator Jerry Podany in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“After this earthquake in Mexico some years back, I was infuriated because I walked into a museum storeroom and saw shelves with broken vases,” he said. “The shelves weren't tied to the building. You'd push them and they'd wobble, even though tying one to the wall would've cost $2 for wire, brackets and screws. People want to learn all these sophisticated ways to isolate and decouple artworks from their pedestals, but I don't want to start there. I check the shelves first and ask, are they sturdy or worm-eaten? Are the heaviest things on the bottom shelf?”

Historic buildings, however—and the elaborate frescos and murals that will crumble with their walls—are another matter, one that Italy has grappled with for a while. In 2007, the Culture Ministry issued a call to local authorities to assess structures and monuments for seismic risk and determine what was needed to reduce vulnerability, according to a New York Times article that year.

With more than 64 percent of the country at medium to high risk of serious earthquake damage, that means about 500,000 buildings would need to be examined and retrofitted—from existing jurisdictional budgets, according to the Times. It’s no surprise that, despite what’s at stake, the same culture-spanning momentum stopper has clogged efforts. 

“If the building is culturally important—having, say, a significant fresco—then making sure it doesn’t collapse isn’t enough. You have to limit the damages too,” Culture Ministry architect Laura Moro told the Times in 2007“The problem is getting people to set limited funds aside for something that can’t be predicted, like an earthquake.”

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4) Blast from the Past: 1800s-Era National Academies Reports Online

Although the authors of Investigation of the Scientific and Economic Relations of the Sorghum Sugar Industry most certainly never hoped to see their research on the Internet, it’s there today, courtesy of Google.

The 1882 report, one of first studies ever undertaken by the National Academy of Science, has joined nearly 9,000 other National Academies texts—ranging from the venerable to the in vogue—now accessible online. The largest part of the newly available data is the result of collaboration with Google, according to a National Academies press release.

With the help of the search engine giant, the National Academies plans to have its entire 11,000-report collection online and searchable within the next two years. That means researchers will have the Academies’ historical perspective at their fingertips, stated George E. Brown Jr. Library Manager Victoria Harriston in the release.

“Much has changed since the National Academy of Sciences began advising the government in the late 1800s," she stated.  "Our early reports are essential to understanding the scientific advances made in this country as well as the science and technology issues the government struggled with in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Among those early reports now accessible are Proposed U.S. Program for the International Geophysical Year, 1957-1958, which documents Americas participation in the International Geophysics Year and Volume One of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which chronicles the Academy’s first years of doling out science advice to Congress.

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5) Priceless Efforts Worth About $20 Per Hour

When broad backs and helping hands are needed during disasters, not many would pause to put a dollar amount on the efforts of their volunteers—they’re invaluable. Still an hourly wage estimate is handy when it comes to computing donation matches or just trying to quantify what an organization would spend if it couldn’t rely on volunteers. In 2008, that would have been about $20.25 per hour, according to a statement from Independent Sector.

“…This estimate provides one way to quantify America’s growing spirit of volunteerism and commitment to service,” stated Independent Sector President Diana Aviv.

Independent Sector, a sort of industry association for charitable organizations, developed the value of a volunteer hour by averaging earnings—based on Bureau of Labor reports—for non-supervisory production positions in the private sector. A 12 percent increase is also added to account for fringe benefits, according to the Web site.

The group has compiled hourly volunteer values stretching back to 1980 (when volunteers rated a mere $7.46 per hour), as well as state-by-state values, which in 2007 ranged from $10.56 in Puerto Rico to $28.04 in New York.

Guidance on using the figures in grant applications and financial statements is also available.

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

Call for Applications
2009 Climate Adaptation Grants
The Development Marketplace, World Bank, and others
Deadline: May 18, 2009
Applications are being accepted for the Development Marketplace competitive grant program. The 2009 competition will fund 20-25 projects addressing climate adaptation. Winning projects could receive up to $200,000 over two years to implement their programs.

Innovative, early-stage projects related to the resiliency of indigenous communities to climate risk, climate risk management with multiple benefits, or climate adaptation and disaster risk management will be accepted. Eligibility varies by category. Visit the grant Web site for more information and to submit an online application.


Call for Applications
Assistance to Firefighters Grant
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: May 20, 2009
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will accept grant applications to help supply firefighters and other first responders with equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training, and other resources for responding to fire and related hazards.

Information and application assistance, including a grant tutorial, frequently asked questions, and past grant recipients, are available on the grant Web site.

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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]

Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has just put the finishing touches on the first in a series of Preparedness Guides. The debut guide—Developing Emergency Operation Plans—will be useful for everyone from government officials to nonprofit planners. Upcoming guides will focus on special needs planning, household pets and service animals, the fusion center/emergency operations center interface, and specific hazards.


Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Facebook Page
Hey, you’re spending all that time on Facebook anyway, here’s a chance to connect with more than 500 people interested in fire and emergency professional development and training. Become and fan and explore message boards and event listings, offer feedback and check out all the other features FESHE has to offer as it moves toward its vision of FESHE 3.0.


Natural Disasters and Human Capital Accumulation
In this World Bank Sustainable Development Network working paper, author Jesus Crespo Cuaresma examines the relationship between disaster risk and investment in education. Using model averaging methods and panel regressions, he is able to empirically correlate secondary school enrollment and natural disasters.


EcoEdNet Digital Catalog
The Ecology Society of America has launched a searchable library of teaching resources related to ecology, including topics such as fire ecology, global climate change, food and water security, and coastal habitat restoration. Researchers can use the information for classes and add their own work to the collection of articles, lectures, images, and other data.


Hurricane Season Countdown Widget
Do you keep meaning to prepare for hurricane season, but can’t seem to maintain a decent sense of impending doom? Your Web site users probably feel the same. Help them out with a FEMA Hurricane Season Countdown Widget for your home page or blog. Just paste in the code and visitors will get a steady stream of handy hurricane tips, a link to, and—best of all—a chance to see valuable preparedness time ticking away.


Save Charity Hospital
Community efforts to save New Orleans historic Charity Hospital from a plan to replace it with a controversial medical campus now have a Web site devoted to their cause. The site includes video clips of about-to-be-displaced neighbors, a blog on current developments, related documents, information on how to get involved, and why you should care.

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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]

April 28, 2009
Private-Public Sector Collaboration to Enhance Community Disaster Resilience
The National Academies
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This meeting will assess private-public sector partnerships to identify gaps in knowledge and practice and recommend future research areas. Goals include identifying a framework for public-private partnerships that strengthen community resilience, developing guidelines to enhance resilience, examining existing collaborations, and recommending structures that further collaboration.


May 18-22, 2009
17th Annual VOAD Conference
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters
Salt Lake City, Utah
Cost and Registration: $750, open until filled
Volunteers across the United States will gather for disaster-related training, education, and networking. Sessions topics include environmental awareness in disaster relief, charitable organization disaster relief, VOAD best practices and success stories, and the myths and realities of disaster.


June 21-24, 2009
19th World Conference on Disaster Management
Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1025 before April 30, open until filled
Disaster experts, practitioners, business continuity leaders, and others will meet at this conference promoting community preparedness and resiliency. This year’s program will focus on the economic crisis, climate change, natural disasters, pandemic planning, and corporate resilience.


June 24, 2009
“Safe Homes for All” Hurricane Risk Mitigation Leadership Forum
WeatherPredict, Institute for Business and Home Safety, and others
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This event features senior elected officials and national experts in emergency management and disaster safety. Topics addressed will include challenges faced by low-income populations during disasters, affordable housing mitigation technology, evacuation planning for low-income populations, best practices for communicating disaster preparedness, and legislative developments that affect at-risk communities.


June 25, 2009
Disasters Roundtable of the National Academies
The National Academies and the National Commission on Children and Disasters
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration:  Free, open until filled
This workshop will strive to identify key areas in need of research, address opportunities and challenges, and facilitate conversations about children and youth in disaster planning, mitigation, response, and recovery among practitioners, academics, and policymakers.


June 28 to July 1, 2009
Lifeline Earthquake Engineering in a Multi-Hazard Environment
American Society for Civil Engineering
Oakland, California
Cost and Registration: $550 before May 28, open until filled
This conference presents a range of technical papers on current practices, recent innovations, and future directions in natural and man made disasters. Emphasis will be on performance, design, analysis, and planning.

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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.]

Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Specialist, GS 9-11
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Biloxi, Mississippi
Salary: $46,625 to $73,329
Closing Date: April 29, 2009
Responsibilities include providing advice on grant determinations and cooperation agreements, directing staff, and representing FEMA at institution visits. One year of experience equivalent to GS-8 is required.


Research/Project Manager
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism
College Park, Maryland
Salary: $55,000 to $59,000
Closing Date: May 31, 2009
This position leads research efforts for Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) city planning, manages ongoing research projects, and (if desired) teaches at the University of Maryland. A master’s degree in a relevant field, training in program or policy evaluation, and previous experience conducting emergency management research are required.


Flood Recovery and Reinvestment Director
City of Cedar Rapids
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: May 4, 2009
This position directs the Cedar Rapids flood recovery and reinvestment initiative, provides long-term recovery guidance, and acts as a liaison to state and federal agencies during disaster recovery. A master’s degree in public administration or a related field, department head experience, and extensive disaster recovery coordination experience are required.


Disaster Management Delegate
Canadian Red Cross
Islamabad, Pakistan
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: June 6, 2009
This position will support disaster planning and community-based risk reduction programs, improve planning and management capacity, and conduct risk reduction and disaster management workshops. A degree in disaster risk reduction and preparedness, disaster management, or a related field and a minimum of three years experience in disaster management or humanitarian relief is required.


Regional Coordinator—Central Asia
International Medical Corps
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: May 1, 2009
This position provides leadership to health care training programs, manages and designs relief programs, and supervises regional teams. Position requirements include a master’s degree in public health, international affairs, or a related field and five years relevant experience, including at least three years managerial experience.


Communications Project Manger
Oakland, California
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position implements communication strategies, manages public education, and oversees projects on emergency preparedness and management. A degree in communications or a related field, six years of strategic communications experience, and a minimum of three years project management experience are required.

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

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