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Number 525 • May 20, 2009 | Past Issues













1) Round And Round We Go: United Nations Wants Nations to End the Risk-Poverty Cycle

If the nations of the world were trying to grow heightened disaster impacts in a petri dish, they couldn’t have found conditions much better aligned than today’s urban dynamics, according to the much-heralded 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. The report, Risk and Poverty in a Changing Climate, was released by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Sunday.

Increased population in hazard-prone areas—including scores of poor people living in ad hoc housing—booming growth in the absence of adequate safety requirements, and environmental degradation have combined to create a perfect storm of disaster risk. Throw in heightened disaster intensity and frequency resulting from climate change and the outlook could be bleak, despite progress in disaster response, preparedness, and early warning, the report stated.

But correcting those "risk drivers"—vulnerable livelihoods, unplanned urbanization, and ecosystem decline—can lessen the impacts of inevitable disasters, create jobs, and end the "vicious circle" causing the current trend, according to the report (and the slick marketing campaign that accompanies it). "Invest today for a safer tomorrow" is the both the report’s tagline and something of a slogan being used to push the report’s recommendations.

"Rather than an expense, investing in poverty and disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation should be seen as an investment in building a more secure, stable, sustainable and equitable future," Assistant UN Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström is quoted as saying in a Reuters article.

The sticking point is that persuading governments to pay those costs forward is as difficult as ever. In some cases, governments are ill-equipped to handle influxes of immigrants and cope by cutting corners on infrastructure creation and building standards, according to a New York Times article by Andrew Revkin. In others, corruption or inexperience could be the cause. Either way, the result is the same.

"Without governance capacity, the faster you develop, it’s almost like the faster you’re building disasters," lead report author Andrew Maskrey told the Times.

Despite the ambition and depth of information contained in the UN Report, some disaster preparedness experts are unhappy and "feel there’s little substance behind international pledges to cut risks," Revkin said in a related posting on his Dot Earth blog. They point to previous ineffective efforts and a lack of willingness to take a hardline with countries that don’t participate.

"There is a long, long way to go, and unless and until the U.N. system has the support and political will to name and shame, and to hold countries to account for failing to protect their citizens from avoidable harm in extreme natural events, most national governments won’t prioritize disaster risk reduction," risk and vulnerability expert Ben Wisner told the Times.

The UN is well aware of the uphill climb ahead, according to a recent Q&A session in which Wahlström answered questions submitted by AlertNet readers. But they’re also hoping the shock value of the report’s 30 years worth of data might cause leaders into better behavior when it comes to addressing risk and poverty.

“The report is the first of its kind to give strong evidence of how disasters are both a cause and a consequence of poverty,” she said. “Even armed with this knowledge, it will take some time to change the popular mindset, but we hope the report's many realities will finally jolt the decision makers and governments charged with making the necessary changes to address the two problems in a more coherent manner.”

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2) New Generation Bioterrorism Detection Program is a Bust

If something more than spring is in the New York air, we might not be able to detect it. According to a Washington Post article earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security has thrown in the towel on a pilot program aimed at detecting biological attacks in subways.

The latest incarnation of sensors in the BioWatch program—which monitors the air of 30 U.S. cities for threats such as anthrax or plague bacteria—fell victim to a lack of technology and resources, according to the report. The program’s original sensors, which must be collected and tested by hand with a 30- to 36-hour turnaround on results, are considered too cumbersome for early warning.

The newer models, installed in New York in 2007, held more promise, collecting information hourly and transmitting negative results immediately, the article stated. Those sensors, manufactured by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, began having problems several months ago, though, according to the article.

Although a Lawrence Livermore spokesman said the lab believes it’s found a “technical solution” to the malfunction, DHS will begin testing a third generation of the sensor, expected to be deployed in 2012, according to the Post article.

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3) Mary Fran Myers Scholarship Winners Announced

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship selection committee chose three recipients to receive the 2009 Scholarship, which recognizes outstanding individuals who share the vision of former Natural Hazards Center Co-Director Mary Fran Myers. Myers, who passed away in 2004, was committed to reducing disaster losses nationally and internationally.

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship provides financial support to recipients who otherwise would be unable to attend the Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. This scholarship covers all or part of the costs of transportation, hotel accommodations, meals, and Workshop registration fees.

While all the applicants were outstanding, the committee chose the following individuals to receive scholarships:

Alex Altshuler
Altshuler holds master’s degree in community social work from the University of Haifa and in social sciences and humanitarian affairs from the University of Rome.

His master’s thesis was a first-of-its-kind empirical study of factors influencing local Israeli authorities' emergency preparedness for war-caused disaster. He plans to begin PhD studies about Israel's lack of earthquake preparedness soon.

Ali Ardalan
Dr. Ali Ardalan is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences' Institute of Public Health Research and is founder of Iran’s first academic Health in Emergencies and Disasters department. His research interests focus on disaster epidemiology, community-based disaster risk management, and vulnerable groups in disasters.

Ardalan worked with the World Health Organization after the Bam earthquake and was a guest researcher at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden. He is a contributor to the 2009 UN Global Assessment Report, initiated a Hospitals Safe from Disasters program, and directs global education on natural disaster management through Supercourse.

Oluponmile Olonilua
Oluponmile Olonilua is a visiting assistant professor of public administration at Texas Southern University's Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs in Houston. She became involved in disaster research after personally experiencing Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

Her research interests include hazard mitigation plan evaluation and the effect of disasters on minorities and special populations. She has researched Tropical Storm Allison and evacuation problems during hurricane Katrina of 2005.  Her dissertation, Towards Multihazard Mitigation: An Evaluation of FEMA-Approved Hazard Mitigation Plans under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (DMA2K), evaluated over 200 plans approved under DMA2K.

For more information on the scholarship and full bios of the winners, visit the Mary Fran Myers Scholarship Winners page.

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4) FEMA, Prepare Thyself

Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency are scurrying to fill gaps in their preparedness plans after a response exercise indicated the agency might face challenges in a real emergency, according to an Associated Press article in the Houston Chronicle Monday.

The exercise, held three weeks ago, showed weaknesses in FEMA’s ability to evacuate those with special needs and get food and water into disaster areas immediately after an event. President Barak Obama—who noted the United States is more likely to be hit by a hurricane than a terrorist attack—said he’d be “very angry” if the agency was caught with it’s plans down in the wake of a disaster, according to the article.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said federal officials were “redoubling efforts” to fill gaps, but they weren’t the only ones that needed to keep their preparedness slates clean. Freshly-minted FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate encouraged the public to be vigilant, as well.

"There are a lot of folks that are going to need very specific help that should not have to compete with the rest of us who could have and should have done the things to protect our families," he said at a news conference.

That same day, Fugate and Napolitano teleconferenced with governors from states at risk of a hurricane strike, according to a FEMA press release. The meeting gave FEMA officials an opportunity to answer questions and update states on federal preparedness—including prepositioned assets, evacuation planning, and emergency communications.

The preparedness parley comes in advance of the recognized hurricane season beginning June 1 and National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which starts Sunday. For more on Preparedness Week resources and events, see FEMA's Hurricane Season 09 site.

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5) Latest Natural Hazards Observer Online

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the May 2009 Observer include:

—Drought Insurance for Subsistence Farmers in Malawi
—Vulnerability of Children in Drought
—Future Proofing Cities

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the May and past editions of the Observer.

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6) Natural Hazards Center Lately: Redux

You might have noticed a flurry of activity at the Natural Hazards Center lately, but if not, let us catch you up. We’ve been busy looking for new ways to communicate and have several new offerings:

Disaster Research, now in HTML. One of the most obvious changes, if you’re reading this newsletter from your e-mail, is that we can now send Disaster Research in an easy-to-read HTML format. Of course, if you (or you’re e-mail client) liked your lightweight, plain-text version better, you can change your preferences by clicking the link at the bottom of this e-mail. You can also update your information with more details on professional or research interests and affiliations. We’ll use the information to focus Disaster Research to its audience.

We’re on Twitter. In between editions of Disaster Research and the Natural Hazard Observer, we come across tons of great information we want to share, but how? Twitter solves our problem byletting us send out info 140 words at a time. Check out our Twitter stream—we’re HazCenter. Don’t Tweet? You don’t have to—click on the link and you can scroll through our posts like a regular Web site.

Hazards Workshop, full steam ahead! There’s been lots of movement in the planning of our Annual Natural Hazards Research  and Applications Workshop. Our focus this year will be on hazards and the economy, with tracks on organizational and government relationships, community planning and recovery,  assessing risk, training and preparedness, and cutting across disciplines and cultures. We’re adding information on sessions and speakers every day, so check back often for new info.

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

Call for Applications
Undergraduate Hurricane Relief Scholarships
Deadline: June 1, 2009
PLAN!TNOW is offering $10,000 scholarships to undergraduate students who, after being adversely affected by a hurricane, have gone on to teach hurricane preparedness to others. Dedication to hurricane preparedness can be demonstrated by field of study or volunteer efforts. For more information on eligibility or to apply, visit the PLAN!TNOW Scholarship page.


Call for Applications
National Fire Academy
U.S. Fire Administration
Deadline: June 15, 2009

The National Fire Academy is accepting applications for the first semester of its 2009-2010 year. Classes begin October 1 and run through March 31. 

Tuition is free and all instruction and course materials are provided at no cost. Transportation and lodging are also provided for students representing fire departments, rescue squads, and state and local governments. A course schedule and application materials are available online.

Call for Nominations
Samuel Henry Prince Award

International Research Committee on Disasters
Deadline: July 1, 2009
The International Sociological Association’s International Research Committee on Disasters is now accepting nominations for the Samuel Henry Prince Dissertation Award. The award encourages early identification of exceptional research talent by recognizing notable disaster research dissertations in the social and behavioral sciences.

Those interested in nominating themselves or another for the award should submit the following a curriculum vitae, dissertation abstract, and two letters of recommendation. For full details, read the announcement guidelines. Questions and nomination materials can be sent to  William Lovekamp.


Call for Papers/Posters
International Conference on Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics

National Institute of Standards and Technology
Deadline: July 31, 2009
Papers and posters are now being accepted for the fifth International Conference on Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics (PED2010) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, March 8-10, 2010.

Papers and posters should address pedestrian and evacuation dynamics, as well as associated human behavior to help solve real world problems in this rapidly developing field. Topics of special interest include new data relating to human performance, new modeling of evacuation and pedestrian dynamics, and novel applications of models or methods. For full details, submission guidelines, or to submit an abstract, visit the conference 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]

Virtual Disaster Viewer
Although areas affected by earthquakes are often off-limits immediately following the event, the Virtual Disaster Viewer allows users to access information about building damage, humanitarian response, infrastructure loss, and landslides on the fly. The viewer allows users to see satellite imagery of an area pre- and post-event, based on a number of analysis categories. An overlay of images is available for easy comparison. The project—powered by the efforts of ImageCat, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, and others—began with data on the May 2008 Wenchuan Quake and recently added data on the L’Aquila earthquake in April.


Paramedic Alltop News Aggregator
Those with any interest in EMS news and events will find something to keep them clicking at the Paramedic Alltop site. With nearly 30 categories of information, the site offers daily news tips, events, announcements, podcasts and blogs, training opportunities, and time wasters. Don’t care about EMS? They have one for firefighters and scientists, too.


Microsoft Vine
Vine, which Microsoft bills as a “game-changing social Web application,” is meant to help family and friends keep in touch during emergencies. Accessible by desktop (Windows only), Web, text, and e-mail, Vine combines alert reporting, Facebook-like status updates from your peeps, and news reports. Other information, such as Twitter feeds, are expected to be added soon. The software is still in beta testing—enter your e-mail on the site and you could be chosen to give it a whirl.


Don’t get jammed up looking for great resources on disaster risk reduction when you can hop on Phreeway, which has compiled a variety of maps, reports, news, and information on events, internships, and teaching. Special sections hold information on disaster risk reduction for teachers and in Africa, and a forum allows registered users to share ideas.


Coping With Disaster Factsheet
Mental Health America created this collection of resources to assist people dealing with the effects of natural disasters, war, and terrorism. Information for caregivers and responders, such as Blueprint for Responding to Public Mental Health Needs in Times of Crisis and Mental Health America’s Emergency Response Task Force, are also included.


The faint of heart can now be virtual tornado chasers, thanks to Josh Wurman’s VORTEX2 blog. The blog gives daily updates on the progress of the Verification of the Origin of Rotation in Tornados Experiment 2—or VORTEX2. The experiment will study supercell thunderstorm activity in more than 900 miles of the U.S. Great Plains region to learn what lies at the heart of tornado formation.

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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]

May 28-30, 2009
2009 National Association for Search and Rescue Conference
National Association for Search and Rescue
Little Rock, Arkansas
Cost and Registration: $315, open until filled
This year's conference includes sessions on search and rescue management, public safety, K-9 search and rescue, and swiftwater floods.


May 28-31, 2009
2009 International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Hunt Valley, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $435, open until filled
Conference session topics include radiological and nuclear material incident response, hazmat incident management, and rescue and mayday operations.


June 1-2, 2009
Coastal Engineering: Future Challenges and Risks
Canadian Society for Civil Engineering
St. John’s, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1060, open until filled
This conference brings engineers, academics, scientists, designers, and decision makers together to discuss the latest research in coastal engineering, including construction, hydrotechnical and engineering mechanics, and materials.


June 4-5, 2009
Ghosts of Katrina: Natural Disasters and Community Resilience

University of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast
Gulfport, Mississippi
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
Scholars will gather to discuss ways communities can better prepare for disasters and enhance community resilience by examining  lessons learned through disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.


June 17-18, 2009
National Disaster Reconstruction EXPO
National Disaster Reduction, Restoration and Recovery, BNP Media, and others
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $99, open until filled
This conference provides a forum for disaster professionals to better prepare and respond to catastrophic events, as well as create effective disaster networks that promote cooperation in all professional sectors.


August 5-7, 2009
Third Australasian Hazards Management Workshop Series
GNS Science, RMIT University, Massey University, and others
Melbourne, Australia
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference provides a forum to discuss the integration of hazard information and effective risk management. Sessions focus on best practices, developing effective warming systems, improving response and recovery efforts, and creating resilient communities.

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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.]

Hazards Mitigation Assistance Specialist, GS 10/13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $48,545 to $91,513
Closing Date: May 29, 2009
This position provides technical assistance to states and sub-grantees, monitors grants, maintains a hazard mitigation database, and documents best practices and avoided losses. One year of experience equivalent to GS-9 is required.


Director of Emergency Operations
Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Salary: $72,154 to $89,232
Closing Date: June 7, 2009
This position manages five regional emergency offices, directs community preparedness and training activities, and coordinates provincial emergency operations during an emergency or disaster. Requirements include a degree in disaster management or related field, several years of senior managerial experience, and knowledge of emerging emergency management issues.


Senior Planner
Fulton County Emergency Management Agency
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $34,894 to $55,432
Closing Date: May 29, 2009
This position develops local emergency operation plans, leads emergency planning teams, and provides technical assistance to public and private organizations. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or related field and two years of professional emergency management experience are required.


Emergency Management Preparedness Coordinator
California State University at Dominguez Hills
Los Angeles, California
Salary: $46,140 to $69,240
Closing Date: May 26, 2009
This position will develop and coordinate campus emergency preparedness programs and support business continuity plans. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management, emergency preparedness, or a related field and two years experience with emergency management and preparedness programs are required.


Emergency Operations Specialist
Department of Energy
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Salary: $46,625 to $87,893
Closing Date: June 3, 2009
This position provides emergency response operations for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Office of Secure Transportation, maintains standard operating procedures and checklists for 911 response, and supplies 24-7 support to the Nuclear Weapon Emergency Hotline and the Joint Nuclear Accident Response Coordinating Center. One year of specialized experience at or equivalent to the GS-7 level (NQ-1 for NNSA Demonstration Project employees) or a combination of GS-7 and NQ-1 level experience is required.


Emergency Preparedness Specialist, GS13
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Arlington, Virginia
Salary: $86,927 to $113,007
Closing Date: June 1, 2009
This position will develop and coordinate emergency preparedness and response policies, carry out emergency management staff assignments supporting national intelligence, and develop comprehensive emergency preparedness plans. Requirements include the ability to travel for long periods, expertise in specific emergency preparedness and response programs, and knowledge of planning large-scale, multidisciplinary emergency response programs in the intelligence community, military, and executive branch.

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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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