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Number 529 • August 13, 2009 | Past Issues













1) NOAA Downgrades Hurricane Probability, But Not Possibility of Danger

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lowered the outlook on hurricane activity in the Atlantic last week, but not without adding the caveat that dangerous storms can occur during any season.

The agency is now predicting a near- to below-normal hurricane season, including a 50 percent probability of a near-normal season and a 40 percent probability of a below-normal season, according to a NOAA statement. The downgrade is attributed to increasing El Niño conditions, which can take the wind out of a growing hurricane’s sails.

“El Niño continues to develop and is already affecting upper-level atmospheric pressure and winds across the global tropics,” NOAA Lead Hurricane Forecaster Gerry Bell stated. “El Niño produces stronger upper-level westerly winds over the Caribbean Sea and tropical Atlantic Ocean, which help to reduce hurricane activity by blowing away the tops of growing thunderstorm clouds that would normally lead to tropical storms.”

Although the Atlantic hurricane forecast has now dipped to a 70 percent probability of seven to eleven named storms—down from nine to fourteen predicted in May—NOAA cautions coastal residents to stay vigilant and prepared. Hurricanes such as Betsy, Camille, and Lili all wreaked intense damage, even though they formed during El Niño conditions, according to NOAA.

On the heels of the NOAA announcement, the journal Nature this week released a study that indicates the intensity of recent years’ hurricanes might be a “naturally occurring millennial peak,” tied to the El Niño-La Niña cycle.

The study, lead by Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann, examined 1,500 years of storm sediment from core samples drawn from Atlantic lagoons. The results add “validity to the theory that two factors fuel higher hurricane activity, namely the La Niña effect and high surface temperatures over the ocean,” according to a National Science Foundation statement.

“If climate change continues to warm ocean waters, it could lead to more active hurricane seasons,” Mann told the NSF.

Although the new report was covered widely by popular media outlets, it’s not without detractors, who are concerned about the study’s methodology and say it refutes Mann’s earlier work. For more on the opposing side, see Roger Pielke’s Changing Perilious Assumptions to Fit the Analysis or More Check Kiting at Nature by Steve McIntyre.

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2) FEMA Looks to Wrap Up Katrina Disputes and Keep Down Future Costs

When it comes to payouts for damaged property, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has had a busy week, first rolling out a new arbitration process for Gulf Coast Recovery claims and then proposing a new rule on replacing repetitively damaged properties.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last week announced the creation of a new arbitration process to resolve Hurricane Rita and Katrina public assistance disputes involving more than $500,000. The three-member review panels—which are not affiliated with DHS—will be set to accept requests to settle disputes at the end of the month.

“This new arbitration process will provide an independent alternative review, critical to achieving final resolution of remaining disputes,” Napolitano stated in a FEMA news release. “These procedures are fair, but they’re aggressive. We want to move these things along, so we have set targeted deadlines for how the arbitration process will work.”

In most cases, panel decisions—which are final and binding—should be reached within 60 days of panel review, according to FEMA.

Arbitrators are likely to be busy in the early stages of the program. The State of Louisiana, for instance, currently has 30 pending appeals, including a long-running stalemate over Charity Hospital, according the Times-Picayune. The state has lobbied for a FEMA payout of nearly $500 million to replace the iconic hospital, which it claims is beyond repair. FEMA—which has offered to settle the score at $150 million—has held that not all of Charity’s damage is Katrina-related.

FEMA might be able to avoid similar disputes in the future, if a proposed rule against providing public assistance to repetitively damaged buildings is put into effect. The rule, listed in the Federal Register Wednesday, would reduce Disaster Mitigation Act funds available to facilities damaged by the same type of event more than three times over 10 years.

At present, FEMA provides 75 percent of replacement costs. If the rule passes, repetitively damaged buildings would receive only 25 percent, offering incentive for mitigating future disaster damage.

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3) Leave Now or Pay Later: New Texas Law Puts Price Tag on Rescues in Evacuation Zones

Those who choose to ignore mandatory evacuations in Texas better be able to weather the storm or ante up, thanks to a new law set to go into effect September 1. The law gives local authorities the right to issue evacuation orders, remove individuals from evacuation zones, and charge those who refuse to leave for their rescues, according to a Houston Chronicle article.

“Psychologically, I think it gives people a little sense of urgency—especially for people that need that nudge,” Kemah City Administrator Bill Kerber told the Chronicle.

Although police can now remove—not arrest or detain—people from evacuated areas, it’s unlikely local authorities would have the time or manpower available to do so during a full-scale evacuation, according to the emergency responders quoted in the article. That’s where the added incentive of financial liability for rescues comes into play, Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo of the Galveston County Sheriff's Department told the Chronicle.

“It certainly seems reasonable that if a person has the ability to leave but chooses to wait until it's too late, and they have to be rescued, then maybe there needs to be some compensation,” he said.

While the new legislation seems to smack of forced evacuations, many local officials view it as a tool to be used sparingly in cases of extreme danger and might not even evoke the liability portion of the law, according to the Brazoria County newspaper The Facts.

“It’s kind of good and kind of bad,” Freeport Mayor Larry McDonald told The Facts. “You can recover some of the money you’re out of pocket, but I think it’s our responsibility to do our best to get people out of harm’s way no matter what the circumstance is.”

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4) Iowa 911 Call Center First to Allow Emergency Texts

As the world races through telephone technologies at a dizzying pace, at least one 911 call center in Iowa is keeping pace—relatively speaking. Black Hawk County, Iowa, became the first U.S. emergency call center with the ability to accept text messages Wednesday, according to an Associated Press report.

The county, which includes Waterloo, Evansdale, and Cedar Falls, is now offering the service to subscribers on the i wireless network, but only when they’re physically located in the county, according to the article. Although the service should be beneficial to the hearing impaired and those unable to speak safely during an emergency—kidnapping victims or hostages, for instance—calling is still the preferred method of contacting 911, technicians said. One drawback of texting is that emergency officials are unable to identify a caller’s location from the text message.

Public safety telecommunications company Intrado, which upgraded the Black Hawk system, told the AP that it was working with other carriers to expand the service and allow for video and photo transmission, as well.

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

Call for Abstracts
2009 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
American Geophysical Union
Deadline: August 20/September 3, 2009
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is accepting abstracts for its Fall Meeting in San Francisco, December 14-18. The meeting will host sessions on desertification, remote sensing of atmospheric processes, Australian wildfire, downscaling of weather and climate, and many more. Abstracts should focus on scientific results or their application.

AGU membership fees must be paid by August 20 to submit and abstracts. Abstracts are due September 3. Visit the AGU Abstract Submission page for complete instructions and online submission.


Call for Book Proposals
Environmental Hazards Series

Springer Books
Deadline: None

Springer Books is accepting proposals for a far-reaching book series aimed at reflecting and promoting the interdisciplinary nature of hazards and disaster research. Manuscripts should bring new knowledge and insight to hazards, risk, and disaster issues; integrate natural science, social science, engineering, and other disciplinary viewpoints; and be accessible to a broad range of readers in academia, government, and the private sector.

For a full description of the series and information on how to submit a proposal, contact Series Editor Thomas Birkland or view an informational flyer on the series.

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6) 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]

ICAT Damage Estimator
Hurricane junkies, be warned. There’s so much to do and explore with the ICAT damage estimator, you might need to set aside a day to play. The interactive site gives damage information on landfalling U.S. storms between 1900-2008, estimates historical hurricanes damage in today’s dollars, and lets users map landfall statistics and damage estimates based on criteria such as landfall state, storm name, category, year, month, or any combination of your choosing. Once you’ve created you’re perfect storm, share the results using Google Earth, e-mail, or exported data tables.


Climate Literacy Guide
Recent clamor about climate change has left many average citizens scratching their heads about what it all actually means. Now there’s a guide to help. Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science provides clear, accessible information about climate science, the possible impacts of climate change, and adaptation and mitigation. The guide—created with the help of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and others—is aimed at starting conversations and helping communities and teachers communicate climate science.


Remembering Hurricane Camille
It’s been 40 years since Hurricane Camille swept through Virginia, killing nearly 200 people. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is commemorating the terrible storm by collecting personal narratives from survivors and others who experienced the event. Visit the site to read the tales and see maps, photos, videos, and other evidence of Camille’s impact—both then and now.


U.S. Fire Administration’s Tech Talk
The U.S. Fire Administration just created Tech Talk as a way for fire protection personnel to get timely and accurate information on topics that they care about. Topics are chosen based on user requests, so log in with your suggestions today.


U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s Video Room
A visit to the video room of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board can be a lifesaver for first responders who might someday find themselves called to a chemical accident, such as a propane or gas explosion. The site has a variety of videos on chemical disaster response, but be sure to check out Emergency Preparedness: Findings from CSB Accident Investigations, which compiles lessons the independent federal agency has gleaned in more than 10 years of investigation.

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7) 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 16-22, 2009
World Water Week
Stockholm Water Institute

Stockholm, Sweden
Cost and Registration: $943, Open until August 15, 2009
This year’s annual conference will examine water constraints resulting from growing demand and erratic availability. Session topics will include rainfall variability, Asian climate change impacts and costs, and flood management policy assistance.


September 14-17, 2009
Social Media for Government
Advanced Learning Institute

Chicago, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $1,699, Open until filled
This conference provides strategies on how to improve organizations’ ability to communicate, collaborate, and disseminate information using social media. Sessions will include information on how social media can be used during an emergency or disaster. 


September 15-17, 2009
2009 International Conference on Lightning and Static Electricity (ICOLSE)
ICOLSE and Lightning Technologies

Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $130 before August 15, Open until filled
This conference will cover lightning interaction and protection from lightning. The meeting will also emphasize protecting advanced aerospace and ground vehicles, systems, and facilities.


September 15-17, 2009
2009 University College London Johnston-Lavis Colloquium
AON Benfield University College London Hazard Research Center

London, England
Cost and Registration: $190, Open until filled
The third Johnston-Lavis Colloquium, Climate Forcing of Geological and Geomorphological Hazards, will address relationships between past and present climate change and triggering hazardous geological and geomorphological phenomena.


September 22-23, 2009
World Conference on Disaster Management Summit
Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness

Los Angeles, California
Cost and Registration: $895, Open until filled
This conference provides education, training, and best practices to assist organizations in emergency and disaster mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.


September 23-25, 2009
First International Conference on Disaster Management and Human Health Risk
Wessex Institute of Technology
New Forest, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,547, Open until filled
This conference emphasizes the need to reduce human health impacts by understanding global health risks and disaster preparation, response, and recovery. Participants will learn how to identify strategies in disaster management and public health.


September 25-26, 2009
Oil, Gas, and Disaster Management Workshop
The International Emergency Management Society
Antwerp, Belgium
Cost and Registration: $411, Open until filled
This forum combines session-specific workshops with oil spill response field exercises and case studies. Emergency preparedness, industrial firefighting, communicating with citizens, and other topics will be covered.

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8) 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.]

Information Technology Specialist, GS-11/12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Bothell, Washington
Salary: $59,978 to $93,451
Closing Date: August 19, 2009
This position provides mobile communications, operations, logistical, and information support to federal response personnel at emergencies, disasters, and special events. A minimum of one year of experience at the GS-9 level and a PhD or three years of graduate education is required.


Emergency Management Coordinator
The Village of Carol Stream
Carol Stream, Illinois
Salary: $61,934 to $75,048
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position writes and maintains emergency plans, develops and operates training exercises, complies with state and federal emergency management and NIMS requirements, and prepares budgets and grant applications. A minimum of four years of experience in emergency management, public administration, or a related field is required.


Regional Liaison Officer
Texas Department of Public Safety Emergency Management
Del Rio, Texas
Salary: $44,253
Closing Date: August 17, 2009
This position assists local governments in meeting state standards for emergency planning, training, and exercises, coordinates initial emergency response activities, and facilitates rapid restoration of public and private properties affected by disasters. A bachelor’s degree and five years experience in government technical, administrative, or planning are required.


Program Manager
New Mexico Urban Search and Rescue
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Salary: $30,534 to $54,309
Closing Date: August 24, 2009
This position ensures search and rescue teams can meet Federal Emergency Management Agency requests for response to heavy building collapses. Responsibilities include performing daily oversight, serving as a point of contact, and managing specialized training. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or public administration and eight years experience in emergency management planning or grant management are required.


Regional Disaster Housing Plan Manager II
Public Health Solutions
New York, New York
Salary: $45,000 to $85,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will complete a regional disaster housing plan coordinating government, non-profit, public, and private agencies, identify locations and determine zoning and infrastructure for temporary housing, and develop a prototype for disaster housing. A master’s degree in architecture, emergency management, or a related field and at least two years experience in urban planning, emergency management, or a related field is required.


Director of Mississippi Recovery Center, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Biloxi, Mississippi
Salary: $117,760 to $145,290
Closing Date: August 17, 2009
This position coordinates relationships among various organizations following a disaster, establishes recovery and mitigation operations and alerts, and directs federal agencies that support state and local long-term disaster recovery needs. Applicants must have required experience at the GS-15 level.

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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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