Number 530 • August 27, 2009 | Past Issues












1) Back to Flu Sale: Great Deals on Preparedness, Vaccine Might Not Be the Rage

As the weather turns cooler and kids across the nation begin filling classrooms, U.S. health officials are bracing for a return to more than just the books. It’s back to flu season, and worries about the H1N1 virus—also known as swine flu—promise to keep healthcare workers on their toes.

The latest government estimates forecast up to 1.8 million people hospitalized and between 30,000 to 90,000 swine flu deaths, according to an H1N1 report released Monday by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The report, compiled by a 21-member panel of PCAST-chosen scientists, indicates more than half the U.S. population could be infected.

“This is going to be fairly serious,” said Harold E. Varmus, co-chair of the 21-member PCAST council, in a Washingon Post interview. “It's going to stress every aspect of our health system.”

Or it might not. The report takes an aggressive stance on preparedness, including recommendations to clearly define guidelines for antiviral use, hasten decision making on the use of intravenous antivirals, and step up vaccine availability by bottling medicine before dosage studies are complete. But it also notes the scenario used to create the estimates is merely plausible and a milder outbreak is possible.

The estimates were based on swine flu behavior earlier this year and previous pandemics. Swine flu isn’t thought to be deadlier than regular flu (and some infectious disease experts believe it will remain that way), but many are worried it’s impact will be greater. Those fears are due mostly to a lack of immunity in the current population and the fact that its preferred victims—school-aged children and young adults—are already consummate spreaders of germs and viruses, according to a related Post article.

If the greater-spread scenario does manifest, there could be problems. Vaccine development hasn’t gone as planned, with only about a third of the amount originally projected likely to be ready by October when H1N1 cases are expected to peak, according to a third Washington Post article on vaccine production. Overuse of antivirals to treat flu symptoms, which has already lead to several cases of Tamiflu-resistant strains of H1N1, is also a concern, according to the Los Angeles Times.

For those vaccines that are produced in time, questions about dosage and delivery, the need for boosters and adjuvants, and safety remain a concern.

"We are continuing oversight on the quality and safety of the vaccine being produced, and the production process itself," the Food and Drug Administration’s Jesse Goodman told the Post. "That's going well so far, but our oversight is continuing."

Those assurances haven’t been enough to keep the specter of a failed 1976 vaccination program from rearing its head. That program, which vaccinated 40 million against swine flu, is blamed for causing an above-average amount of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, which causes paralysis, according to the Post.

In the face of all the swine flu uncertainty, prevention is likely to be the best health investment, according to a White House statement.

“An overarching message of the new report is that through their behavior, individuals can have a potentially big impact on the flu season’s severity,” it stated. “Frequent hand-washing and staying home from school or work when sick will be crucial.”

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2) Closer to Killing Comitatus? Pentagon Wants Authority to Post Reserves in Disasters

A move by the Pentagon that would allow it to deploy national reserve forces to U.S. disaster and emergency areas has drawn fire from the nation’s governors and those concerned about civil liberties. Currently, those deployments are at the request and under the command of state officials.

The plan, which was recently proposed to Congress, has been criticized as everything from a power play that will cause confusion during disasters to the death of Posse Comitatus—the 1878 law that prohibits the military from taking a law enforcement role in U.S. states. Past attempts to maim or dismantle Posse Comitatus—including George Bush’s post-Katrina stab at revising the doctrine—have been frequent enough to make many wary of changes, according to an article in The Progressive.

The National Governors Association (NGA) isn’t primarily concerned with what Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union called the undermining of  “a 100-year-old prohibition…with no public debate and seemingly little understanding of the threat to democracy.” Instead, they’re more worried that a separate command would hinder, rather than help, when responding to large-scale emergencies.

“The strong potential exists for confusion in mission execution and the dilution of governors' control over situations with which they are more familiar and better capable of handling than a federal military commander," according to a NGA letter to Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense Paul Stockton.

Federal officials, though, say that a change to Posse Comitatus is needed so they can provide quicker response, especially with so many National Guard troops tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an Associated Press report. 

“The key here is that right now, we lack the authority to bring to bear the hundreds of thousands of trained reserve forces that in extreme circumstances might help governors deal with the disasters in their states," Stockton said in an AP interview. "This provision would in no way impede or undermine or inadvertently reduce the authority that governors exercise under the United States Constitution.”

The NGA letter stated that it was unclear how giving the Department of Defense wider authority would help responsiveness and pointed out that it already has the authority to mobilize troops at a state’s request. A Congressional fact sheet on the matter released by U.S. Northern Command details the department’s reasoning for the proposal.

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3) Four Years After: Plodding Post-Katrina Progress—and Promises—Continue 

Much has changed in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast regions since August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina shattered billions of dollars in property and countless lives. Since then, recovery has been an uphill battle fraught with hobbled government programs, chicanery, and the diaspora of residents.

Now, four years later, hope is beginning to glimmer for some. The troubled Road Home rebuilding program is showing signs of improvement. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has unclogged its bureaucratic arteries to allow much-needed funding to flow to public infrastructure projects. There’s even an impression of an economic rally in New Orleans—at least on paper, according to the Associated Press

It’s a trend that’s going to continue, according to a Times-Picayune interview with President Barack Obama, who is said he’s still committed to rebuilding the area.

“I think to fail to follow through on that commitment would be a betrayal of who we are as a country,” he was quoted as saying.  “I also think that the Gulf region generally, but New Orleans specifically, has a unique place in America's imagination and American life and that's why it is so important now.”

But the long years of mismanagement, abuse, and outright graft and fraud still linger—a perception that also needs to be addressed, the President said.

“I also think the rest of the country is going to be insistent at a time of great fiscal challenge that money in the Gulf region is spent wisely, that local officials are coordinating effectively, that there is transparency and accountability to these processes, that there is a minimum of politics involved in decision making.”

Even with the steady improvements being made, the Gulf Coast—and in particular New Orleans—still has major obstacles to overcome. Largely vacant neighborhoods are still common and a lack of public and affordable housing has kept hundreds from returning to their homes. That situation is languishing and the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity chairwoman Maxine Waters said she’s afraid some planned replacement units won’t get rebuilt at all, according to a separate Times-Picayune article.

At the same time many low-income workers are not finding work, even the manual labor construction jobs that were once plentiful, according to the AP article. And there’s speculation that the burgeoning New Orleans economy will quickly wilt once the stream of stimulus and recovery funding dries up.

Mayor Ray Nagin, though, told CNN the ups and downs were all part of the recovery game and residents and businesses needed to be prepared to be in it for a longer haul.

“I remind them that the average recovery takes 10 to 15 years,” he said. “It's something they really don't want to hear, but it's the reality of the recovery.”  

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4) Social Vulnerability to Disaster Sales Benefit Mary Fran Myers Scholarship

The late Natural Hazards Center Co-Director Mary Fran Myers inspired and mentored many hazards researchers over the years and her legacy continues to reverberate—most recently with the August release of Social Vulnerability to Disaster by CRC Press.

More than a dozen authors donated their time to create the book, which will benefit the Mary Fran Myers Scholarship fund. The scholarship recognizes outstanding individuals who share Myers' commitment to disaster research and practice and have the potential to make a lasting contribution to reducing disaster vulnerability. All royalties from the book will be donated to the fund.

The book promises to make its own lasting contribution by focusing on the social construction of disasters and ways to reduce social vulnerability.  Edited by Brenda Phillips, Deborah Thomas, Alice Fothergill, and Lynn Blinn-Pike, the book contains chapters on new ideas for practitioners, promoting empowerment, vulnerability and sustainable development, and numerous other topics.

For more information and to order online (online orders receive free shipping) visit the CRC Press site.

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5) Student Paper Competition Winners Announced

The Natural Hazards Center is pleased to announce the winners of the 2009 Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition. The competition was established in 2004 as a way to recognize undergraduate and graduate student efforts at interdisciplinary hazards and disaster research.

The 21 papers submitted this year showcased promising research on topics such as inequality, vulnerability, emergency management, disaster preparedness, and response and recovery. Winning papers, however, displayed outstanding originality and data collection and analysis, as well as a strong thesis and organization of their argument.

Graduate student winners were:

Xiaoli Lu, Leiden University, First Place
Mass Evacuation in Typhoon Response in Wenzhou, China: A Preliminary Analysis of Progress and Challenges

Megan Reid, University of Texas at Austin, Honorable Mention
Survivors’ Perceptions of Federal and Non-Governmental Responses to Hurricane Katrina

Undergraduate student winners were:

Krista Richardson, Colorado State University, First Place
Katrina’s Children: An Analysis of Educational Outcomes Among Displaced Children in Colorado

Charles Jacob Huxford, Alexis Blue, and Hope Rietzen, Western Washington University, Honorable Mention
Reversing Rural Abandonment in the Mediterranean: A Capacity and Vulnerability Assessment of Communities on the Ionian Island of Kefalonia, Greece

First-place winners each received $100, a mention in the Natural Hazards Observer, publication on the Natural Hazards Center Web site, and an invitation to the 2009 Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado.

The 2010 call for papers will be announced in December of 2009. Full text of winning papers and more information on the contest can be found on the Natural Hazards Center Web Site.

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

Call for Submissions
Student Poster Competition
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: October 19, 2009
The International Association of Emergency Managers is accepting entries into its annual student poster competition. Students should submit a poster abstract of up to 150 words relating to an emergency management theme.  Cash prizes will be awarded in undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate categories. Visit the IAEM Student site for competition resources, rules, and contact information.

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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]

2009 Victorian Bushfires Interim Report
The interim results of an Australian Royal Commission inquiry into the February 2009 Victorian wildfires has been released, along with 51 recommendations for implementation before the 2009-2010 bushfire season. The commission found that Australia’s controversial stay-and-defend policy does not emphasize the risks of defending strongly enough or clearly direct residents in preparing their homes for defense.


The Roommates
What do you get when you bunk a wizard, a ninja, a barbarian, a robot, and a safety-savvy girl in the same house? A hilarious series of preparedness videos from the Bay Area Red Cross, that’s what. Each of the six animated episodes of The Roommates edify and entertain, while interactive activities at the end of each reinforces newfound knowledge.


When you’re keeping your eye on a tropical storm, it helps to have a tracker that’s easy to look at. Stormpulse delivers with its slick topography, easy-to-interpret storm tracks, and clear data display—but it’s not just another pretty face. Stormpulse, which has both Atlantic and Pacific storm applications, is chock full of useful tools that let you view cloud overlays, forecast models, ocean buoys, and more.


The Great Flu Game
Think you can do a better job than the thousands of public health agencies scrambling to get the jump on Swine Flu? Prove it. The Great Flu game lets you try your hand at stopping a variety of world pandemics from a slowly thriving flu to a rapidly spreading killer virus. You can institute communication and safety precautions, launch research, quarantine the infected, and stockpile vaccines. Whatever it takes to stop the spread—as long as you stay in budget, that is.


Citizen Corps Volunteer Liability Guide
Because concerns about personal liability can be an obstacle in soliciting and retaining emergency volunteers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency joined forces with the Public Entity Risk Institute to create the Citizen Corps Volunteer Liability Guide. The guide will help government and nonprofit volunteer managers understand and access liability laws, gauge risk, prepare volunteers, and improve liability legislation. Volunteer checklists and links to state laws are included.


U.S. Forest Service Global Climate Change Research
The Forest Service’s Global Climate Change Research Web site is the entry point to more than 20 years of research on the impacts of climate change, including how it’s affecting water supply, wildfire, fish and birds, air quality, and numerous other topics. The site is searchable by region or subject matter.  

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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]

September 29-30, 2009
Enabled in Emergencies Conference
EnableUS and the National Organization on Disability’s Emergency Preparedness Initiative
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference discusses the latest issues in emergency response for people with disabilities and special needs. Practical technical assistance principles and real world examples provide insight into effective response to vulnerable populations during disaster.


September 30 to October 2, 2009
Out of the Storm: Making Reform Work
Competitive Enterprise Institute and the South Carolina Department of Insurance
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $300 before September 1, open until filled
This conference addresses the property insurance reform challenges faced by hurricane-prone states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Gulf Coast state insurance commissioners have been invited to speak.


October 6-7, 2009
Disaster Chaplain Training
National Disaster Interfaiths Networks
New York, New York
Cost and Registration: $195, closes September 25
This curriculum will prepare chaplains and other religious leaders to provide spiritual and emotional care at disaster sites and in their own communities. This training provides operations, mental health, and self-care modules.


October 12-16, 2009
Ninth Annual Conference on Integrated Disaster Risk Management
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Disaster Prevention Research Institute
Kyoto, Japan
Cost and Registration: $300 before August 15, open until filled
This conference addresses identifying and overcoming barriers to systematic disaster risk management in a rapidly changing world. Modeling, adaptive management, and many other topics will be discussed.


October 13-14, 2009
World Conference on Disaster Management Summit
Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,002 before August 28, open until filled
This conference explores resiliency tactics that sustain business operations and communities during natural, technological, and human induced disasters and provides a forum for ideas that will foster change.


October 18-21, 2009
2009 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting
Geological Society of America
Portland, Oregon
Cost and Registration: $420 before September 14, open until filled
This conference will advance earth science initiatives to provide future generations with a safer world. Session topics include advances in understanding societal risk and resilience, and preventing disaster in the Ring of Fire region.

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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.]

Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Coordinator
Kampala, Uganda
Salary: $35,162 to $46,085
Closing Date: September 6, 2009
This position manages the multicultural relationships of the Disaster Risk Reduction Program, ensures participation, and encourages innovative solutions to DRR and climate change adaptation. Requirements include experience in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, and social protection. A proven record of policy development, advocacy, and the ability to work in multiple cultural contexts is also required.  


State Emergency Management Program Manager
American Red Cross
Tallahassee, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position integrates Red Cross efforts with those of state disaster planning, preparedness, and response. Duties include establishing joint objectives with state emergency managers and creating strategies to help chapters provide mass community care in the first five days of a large-scale disaster. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field, five years experience, and demonstrated knowledge of disaster services and operations are required.


Emergency Management Regional Coordinator
Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Richmond, Virginia
Salary: $40,959 to $109,280
Closing Date: August 31, 2009
This position assists local agencies, directs regional unit personnel and operations, and coordinates the development of local emergency management programs. Knowledge of government emergency management regulations and the ability to analyze of emergency management program effectiveness are required. A degree in emergency management or a related field and emergency management certification is preferred.


Physical Scientist
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Springs, Maryland
Salary: $120,830 to $153,200
Closing Date: September 15, 2009
This position manages the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program, identifies research and program needs, and administers program budgets. One year of experience equivalent to at least GS-15 in the federal service, knowledge of physical science related to natural, social, and economic climate impacts, and experience in directing science programs are required.


Domestic Emergency Unit Senior Director
Save the Children
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position leads the Domestic Emergency Unit and all domestic disaster response teams, manages response to major crises and emergencies, develops preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery policy, and oversees emergency preparedness integration for U.S. programs. At least ten years experience in U.S. emergency management and experience managing complex operations and high-level negotiations are required.


Floodplain Management Specialist, GS-11
Federal Emergency Management Agency
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: $56,411 to $73,329
Closing Date: September 2, 2009
This position provides technical support for the National Flood Insurance Program, assists in developing NFIP coordination, compliance, and community outreach, ,and communicates loss prevention to various audiences. One year of experience equivalent to at least GS-10 in the federal service is required.

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