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Number 528 • July 30, 2009 | Past Issues













1)FEMA Flubbed Formaldehyde Response, IG Says

The Federal Emergency Management Agency did not respond quickly or effectively to potentially toxic levels of formaldehyde in trailers provided to victims of Hurricane Rita and Katrina, according to a recent Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report. A redacted version of the June 26 report was released July 23.

The report also blasts the agency for not having a policy to deal with formaldehyde complaints and for delaying trailer testing two months while it put a public communication strategy in place.

“The report is a disturbing testament of FEMA’s missteps and delays that might well have had a detrimental effect on the health and safety of those living in the trailers,” wrote Senators Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, and other lawmakers in a July 23 letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

The report estimated that about one-third of the 203,000 temporary trailers and mobile homes had high levels of formaldehyde, which is thought to cause severe respiratory distress in those exposed to high concentrations or for prolonged periods.  According to the report, factors leading to the high levels included the trailers’ newness, which didn’t allow time for outgassing of formaldehyde in the building materials, and excess heat and humidity, which causes the release of higher levels of formaldehyde and prohibits proper ventilation.

The report paints a picture of official foot dragging and lack of accountability from the earliest indications of a problem in October 2005 until occupied trailers were finally tested by the agency in December 2007. Even as media attention and testing on occupied units by the Sierra Club began to point to dangerous formaldehyde levels, the agency was more concerned with covering their assets than getting to the root of the problem:

“OCG [the Office of the Counsel General] has advised that we do not do testing, which would imply FEMA’s ownership of this issue,” the report quotes one official as writing in June 2006.

Because of the delays, the report concluded, “test results may have underestimated the extent of formaldehyde exposure that residents had experienced in the trailers. Most of the units were 2 years old by the time of the testing, and the testing was conducted during the winter months when formaldehyde levels are lowest.”

While FEMA agreed with the report’s recommendations—which include creating better policies and working agreements to ensure health and safety issues are dealt with promptly—officials stated that the report didn’t “adequately emphasize the compelling fact that there were no established formaldehyde standards for travel trailers and no consensus in the health and regulatory communities as to what constituted acceptable residential formaldehyde levels.”

An interactive timeline of the event, created by ProPublica, can be found here.

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2) TVA Buried in Even More Blame as Coal Ash Investigations Continue

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was again forced to hang its head Tuesday as two new studies pointed to its culpability in the December coal ash spill that dumped more than 1 billion gallons of fly and bottom ash over 300 acres in Kingston, Tennessee. The Authority was still smarting from a June audit that excoriated it for failing to adopt Homeland Security's National Incident Management System protocols for emergency communications

The latest reports revealed a lack of concern for safety stretching back to 1985 and attempts to mitigate legal liability in the recent spill, according to an online Knoxville News Sentinel article.

“We conclude that TVA defaulted to a preference for litigation strategy over transparency and accountability,” the Inspector General’s report on the causes of the spill states.

The report indicated that the spill might have been avoidable if the TVA hadn’t ignored engineering concerns, which began in 1985 and surfaced again on several occasions—notably in 2004 when a malfunction temporarily closed the facility. Perhaps more disturbingly, the report points to an agency culture that “is likely to be resistant to the kinds of reforms necessary to avoid other safety failures.”

“We have some concerns about ponds that are similarly situated,” Tennessee Clean Water Network’s Renee Hoyos told the Sentinal. “I'm hoping that TVA is looking at the historical records on those sites too. I hope they approach those ponds and deal with any problems quickly.”

The TVA—which is a federal entity—operates 10 other fossil fuel plants in Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky, according to its Web site.

In addition to claims of apathetic and irresponsible management, the Inspector General slammed TVA for narrowing the scope of a $3 million root-cause investigation to physical reasons for the dike failure, according to the Sentinel article.

“Management decisions leading to the spill weren't part of the study,” the article stated.

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3) Bio Lab in Tornado Alley: GAO Says Latest Manhattan Project Ill-Conceived

A Department of Homeland Security plan to build 500,000-square foot research lab in Manhattan, Kansas, was based on a “rushed, flawed study” and is not “scientifically defensible,” according to an article in the Washington Post Monday. The article cited a not-yet-released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) as the source of the claim.

The planned National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF)—which would research contagious animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, African swine fever, and Japanese encephalitis—was highly sought after by state and local government officials, despite public resistance. Manhattan, home of Kansas State University, beat four other finalists to garner the $700 million facility, which is expected to add about $3.5 billion to the economy, according to the Post article.

Since then, speculation about the role political alliances played in naming the location have led to a closer examination of the methods used to justify the tornado-prone area as the site of the facility, which will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

From the beginning, the GAO had concerns about the disease research being conducted on the U.S. mainland (New York’s Plum Island center is located on a federally-owned island off the northern tip of Long Island). In a 2008 report, the GAO concluded that DHS hadn’t provided sufficient evidence that foot-and-mouth disease research could be conducted safely on the mainland and that the agency hadn’t adequately estimated the impacts of an outbreak.

The latest draft report—which comes in advance of congressional appropriations for NBAF funding—seems to reiterate that stance, according to the Post article.
“Drawing conclusions about relocating research with highly infectious exotic animal pathogens from questionable methodology could result in regrettable consequences,” the Post claims the report states. The article also quotes the report as stating DHS’s review was too “limited” and “inadequate” to decide that any mainland labs were safe” and that it was based on “unrepresentative accident scenarios,” “outdated modeling,” and “inadequate” information about the sites.

Natural disasters, including tornadoes and floods, are among the risk factors for accidental spread of contagion. An analysis of the Manhattan site examining those and other factors was done by the Suburban Emergency Management Project in December 2008.

Supporters of the Kansas site said the GAO’s concerns had be addressed in the facility’s environmental impact statement and that they didn’t expect the project to be jepordized, according to a Kansas City Business Journal article.

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4) NHC Bibliography Provides Quick Reference to Hazards Loss Data

The Natural Hazards Center is happy to announce the release of An Annotated Bibliograpy of Hazards Loss Datasets by Linsi Beckman.

The publication is a companion to the Hazards Loss Dataset Catalog, a key-worded, annotated bibliographic database where natural hazards loss datasets and related literature have been collected, cataloged, and described. The bibliography, just released in PDF, is a useful quick reference and entry point for wide variety of users. The source EndNote database is being prepared for electronic distribution so that others may extend this work.

Beckman is a senior geography major from California University of Pennsylvania who recently completed an internship hosted jointly by the Natural Hazards Center and the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. She created the catalog and the related bibliography with staff guidance from both Centers.

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5) Annual Workshop Wraps Up, Looks Forward to Next Year

The Natural Hazards Center wrapped up its 34th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop July 18 with a reminder from Director Kathleen Tierney of one overarching theme: “Hazards are natural, but disasters are social in nature.”

More than 425 national and international guests attended the Broomfield, Colorado, Workshop, which featured Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate as a keynote speaker. Plenary sessions included presentations on the Great Southern California ShakeOut, a discussion of Hurricane Katrina and the disasters to come if we don’t learn from past mistakes, and an analysis of wildfire risks in the face of climate change.

Keep an eye out for the September issue of the Natural Hazards Observer for complete coverage. Registered attendees can now access PowerPoint presentations, as well as full speaker biographies and related resources online. And keep an eye on your e-mail, we’ll be sending out feedback surveys soon.

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s Workshop, be sure to save the date for next year: Saturday, July 10, 2010 to Tuesday, July 13, 2010.

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6) Latest Natural Hazards Observer Online

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

—Reacting to Climate Change, Floods, and Uncertainty
—Community Safety After the Victoria Fire
—Straw Bale Houses Resist Quakes
—How Certain Are We About our Flood Risk?

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

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

Call for Papers
Opportunities and Challenges for Geologic Hazards Education Session
2009 Portland Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

Deadline: August 11, 2009
Abstracts are being accepted for Opportunities and Challenges for Geologic Hazards Education in Cascadia: In Memory of John Lahr, a topical session to be held at the 2009 Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Portland, Oregon, October 18-21. Although title emphasizes Cascadia, contributions about geohazards education in other regions will also be accepted.

Organizers would like contributions from a wide variety of educators, scientists, and government officials involved with geologic hazards education in the Pacific Northwest. They have a special interest in K-12 earth science teachers who feature geologic hazards in their classroom teaching.  If a sufficient number of abstracts are submitted, a poster session will be held in addition to presentations. For information on how to submit, visit the GSA Call for Papers.


Call for Submissions
A Policy-Focused Approach to Natural Hazards and Disasters
Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research
Deadline: August 30, 2009
Submissions are now being accepted for a special issue of the Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research. Publishers are looking for cross-disciplinary and transnational papers that examine the causes and consequences of natural disasters, with a special emphasis on crafting comprehensive disaster policy solutions. Topics can include policy frameworks for natural disaster management, public-private disaster management partnerships, risk and vulnerability assessment, global climate change and natural disasters, implementation of disaster mitigation policies, adaptive management and natural disasters, promoting disaster-resilient communities, or transboundary disaster management. For more information, visit the Call for Submissions.

Call for Applications
DISCCRS V Symposium
Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research
Deadline: August 31, 2009

Applications are now being accepted for the Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS) Symposium at Saguaro Lake Ranch, Arizona, March 13-20. The symposium provides a bird’s eye view of climate-change research across the natural and social sciences and allows scholars to share their research, gain leadership and communication skills, and forge interdisciplinary friendships with peers. Travel and expenses will be provided for the 34 PhD graduates chosen to attend. For eligibility and application information, see the symposia Web site.

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9) 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]

Katrina Task Force Research Bulletins
Keeping up with Katrina research can be difficult these days—but it doesn’t need to be. The Social Science Research Council’s Katrina Research Hub—a great source of news, events, and information related to Hurricane Katrina—is now offering biweekly research bulletins that condense salient research into one-page reports outlining the project, findings, and recommendations. Links to bibliographies and researchers are included if you want to learn more.


The Association of State Floodplain Managers
The Association of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM) Web site is awash in improvements. Visitors looking for plans and reports can now view the most recent additions in the latest document section or use the just-added search feature. There’s a job corner where you can post open positions, a calendar of upcoming events, and a new members only section that will soon offer forums and specialized resources. Although much work has been done, there’s more on the way and ASFPM is looking for feedback—let them know what you think.


A Dialogue on the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review
Got an opinion on homeland security? Sign up to take part in the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, a process that will assist the Department of Homeland Security in planning its goals and priorities for the next four years. More information on the first-of-it’s-kind, web-based dialogue—along with updates and news—is available on the site. The three-part dialogue is set to begin August 3.


Heart Healthy Firefighter
National Firefighter Health Week, August 17-21, is right around the corner, but this site is dedicated to year-round firefighter health, especially heart health. With diet, exercise, and lifestyle resources geared towards individuals, families, and departments, firefighters will find plenty of information to help them put their whole heart into their work.


Cultural Competency for Disaster Preparedness and Crisis Response
Disasters create culturally diverse victims and now U.S. Health and Human Services is offering a program to help disaster responders deal with them in a culturally competent way. The Cultural Competency Curriculum for Disaster Preparedness and Crisis Response is a free, four-part online course that equips workers with the awareness and skills to provide culturally appropriate service during disasters. Students who complete the course can also receive Continuing Education credits.


Safer from the Start
Safer from the Start: A Guide to Firewise-Friendly Developments is the latest addition to the bevy of Firewise homeowner resources—one that helps developers and community leaders make sure homes have fire protection built in and homeowners’ associations ensure they stay that way. Community guideline examples, checklists, and other resources are included.


Safe Homes for All
The Safe Homes for All Web site builds on the Hurricane Mitigation Leadership Forum held in Washington, D.C., on June 24. The forum focused on climate change impacts and how they affect housing and evacuation of low-income populations. The site offers information from the most recent forum, as well as past forums. News, video, resources, comments, and calls to action are included.

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10) 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]

August 31 to September 4
2009 Homeland Security Conference
The Naval Post Graduate School, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Lockheed Martin
Monterey, California
Cost and Registration: $795 before August 16, Open until filled
This conference will focus on organizational and operating strategies that facilitate homeland security agency collaboration. Issues such as disease control, disaster response, environmental protection, and law enforcement will be addressed.


August 31 to September 4
World Climate Conference
World Meteorological Organization and the World Climate Program
Geneva, Switzerland
Cost and Registration: $557 before July 30, Closes August 19
This conference, arranged around a theme of climate prediction and information for decision making, will develop an international framework to guide the creation of climate services linking scientific predictions with risk management and adaptation.


September 7-10, 2009
Children and the Law: International Approaches to Children and Their Vulnerabilities
Prato, Italy

Cost and Registration: $788, Open until filled
This international conference will bring together practitioners, policy contributors, advocates and researchers from welfare, criminology, law, policing, health, and mental health to examine the vulnerabilities of children and young people. The ways in which systems that respond to those at risk should be reshaped to better protect their rights and interests.


September 13-17, 2009
10th International Conference on Structural Safety and Reliability
International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability
Osaka, Japan
Cost and Registration: $723, Open until filled
This conference provides the opportunity for scientists and engineers to share knowledge, experience, and information on structural safety and reliability. Special emphasis will be placed on advanced technologies, analytical and computational methods of risk analysis, damage assessment, social aspects, and urban planning.


October 12-16, 2009
Fifth European Conference on Severe Storms
European Severe Storms Laboratory
Landshut, Germany
Cost and Registration: $246 before September 13, Open until filled
This conference covers all aspects of severe convective weather. Session topics include severe weather climatology and hazards assessment, climate change impacts on severe storms and adaptation concepts, and severe storms forecasting, nowcasting, and warning.


November 4-6, 2009
Disaster Risk Reduction for Natural Hazards
University College London
London, England
Cost and Registration: $164 before August 28, Open until filled
This meeting examines the concepts and processes of disaster risk reduction and stresses multihazard environments and multidisciplinary approaches in natural hazards research. Defining ways to make disaster risk reduction more effective in the future is emphasized.

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11) 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.]

Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: Commensurate with qualifications and experience
Closing Date: November 1, 2009
CHART seeks a sociologist with specialization in applied research in community, social justice, and hazards to serve as director. Applicants must show a record of successful research funding, established scholarship, and management of multidisciplinary, multi-researcher projects.


Deputy Director
City of Seattle Office of Emergency Management
Seattle, Washington
Salary: $78,936 to $118,393
Closing Date: August 11, 2009
This position promotes the Seattle Office of Emergency Management, directs the citywide emergency management program, and assists the director in achieving emergency management goals. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or related field, minimum of five years of emergency management supervisor experience, and leadership experience in presidentially declared disasters are required.


Emergency Management Planner
Ecology and Environment, Inc.
New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports all phases of emergency management and homeland security planning, assists in developing marketing materials, and acts as a technical resource for project implementation. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field and a minimum of two years management experience are required.


Public Administration Lecturer
University of North Texas
Denton, Texas
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position teaches primarily in the Department of Public Administration’s undergraduate emergency administration and planning program. Candidates may be all but dissertation, but must show progress toward doctorate completion in emergency administration or a related field by the time the appointment begins.


Training and Exercise Specialist, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Denver, Colorado
Salary: $86,171 to $112,025
Closing date: August 6, 2009
This position monitors state, local, and tribal policies; coordinates training exercises; assists with federal risk analysis, development, and management; and conducts research and needs assessment for professional development plans. A minimum of one year of experience at the GS-12 level, practical knowledge of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluations Program, and knowledge of all-hazards response and recovery are required.


Emergency Management Specialist, GS-11/12
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Rock Island, Illinois
Salary: $56,411 to $87,893
Closing Date: August 7, 2009
This position manages the Natural Disaster Program and National Disaster Preparedness program for the Rock Island district. Responsibilities include disaster and emergency planning, managing, and recovery. One year of experience at the GS-10/11 level, technical knowledge of emergency conditions and operations, and basic geotechnical and hydraulic engineering knowledge 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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