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Number 531 • September 10, 2009 | Past Issues













1)The Damnation of Our Nation’s Dam

A word of advice to folks living north of 22nd Street NE in Auburn, Washington—buy some flood insurance. Those residents and about 20,000 others in southern King County could find four to ten feet of water in their homes this flood season thanks to a weakness in the nearby Howard Hanson Dam, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The dam, which was built in 1962, developed issues during flooding in January. Although the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns and operates the dam, is installing an $8 million temporary “grout curtain” to shore up leaking, the dam’s lessened capacity could force them to release flood runoff that could inundate areas of Kent, Renton, Auburn, and Tukwila, according to the Kent Reporter.

Although county officials are doing what they can to mitigate worst-case scenarios—including making a preemptive declaration of emergency Wednesday—they’ll have to live with the situation for about five years, until a permanent fix for the dam can be planned and funded, according to the Reporter article. While preparing for possible flooding is straining the already dry county coffers, an actual flood could cost $3 billion in damages and $46 million dollars a day, according to the Post-Intelligencer.

"Right now King County government is faced with multiple challenges," County Councilman Bob Ferguson was quoted as saying in the Post-Intelligencer. "But I think it's fair to say all those challenges pale compared to the impact of a breach or a significant impact of Howard Hanson Dam."

Unfortunately, King County is far from the only local government with a significantly damaged dam in their back yard. Across the nation, “more than 2,000 dams near population centers are in need of repair,” according to a recent article in Wired Science. A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates it would cost $16 billion to fix dams rated as a high hazard—and that doesn’t include the money necessary to make sure dams stay in tip-top shape.

“With the huge number of dams getting older every day, it’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem,” ASCE Deputy Executive Director Larry Roth told Wired. “The policing of maintenance and filing of inspection records is relatively haphazard, not because of lack of focus or knowledge of significance, but they just don’t have the monetary resources to do it.”

Adding to those issues are increased development in overflow zones and a hodgepodge of state, federal, and private ownership, and in some cases, no ownership at all. The end effect is a collection of life-threatening dams with spotty or nonexistent maintenance.

“They are not being maintained and they are getting older and the conditions around the dams are often changing,” Roth said in the Wired article.

The ASCE report, part of its Report Card for America’s Infrastructure series, recommends including dam failure inundation mapping as part of the National Flood Insurance Program, developing emergency action plans for high hazard dams, and establishing adequate funding for repair and maintenance of government and privately owned dams.

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2) Lessons Not Learned: Morakot Mistakes Spur Resignations in Taiwan

Taiwan’s Prime Minister Lui Chao-shiuan and several cabinet members were the latest casualties Wednesday in the ongoing fallout from the much-criticized government response to Typhoon Morakot. The country’s feeble relief efforts following the August 7 storm and subsequent landslides have raised the ire of the Taiwanese and inspired some to call for the ouster of President Ma Ying-jeou and other officials.

Although Lui had been expected to stay on as Prime Minister, he surprised many with his resignation, according to an article in the New York Times.

“I believe because so many people died, someone must take responsibility,” Liu is quoted as saying in the article.

There’s plenty of responsibility to go around in the disaster, which killed an estimated 700 people. Government gaffes include failure to evacuate vulnerable areas, rejection of foreign aid, slow and lacking rescue efforts, and seeming callousness of public officials. The typhoon fiasco whipped up a political storm for the once-popular president.

“[Ma] and his government turned it into a political crisis because people think he didn't show enough compassion,” George Tsai, a political scientist at Chinese Culture University, told the Christian Science Monitor.

Officials have been lambasted for everything from attending parties and getting their hair dyed in the days following the typhoon to not deploying rescue teams to search for the missing, according to the China Post.

Some high level officials, such as the deputy foreign minister responsible for declining “all foreign aid but cash,” resigned immediately after the debacle, according to the Monitor. Others were replaced during a reorganization of the cabinet when it switched from Liu to his successor, Wu Den-yih, Thursday.

As more than one media outlet made parallels between the Morakot response and Hurricane Katrina, Ma has offered up apologies and promises of disciplinary action.

“There are things that we have to correct and we also will be responsible for whatever mistakes or neglect that government officials have made,” he stated in press conference shortly after the typhoon.

It’s unclear whether evacuation and other early warning systems weren’t activated or were ignored; however, Taiwan does have robust systems in place—a result of lessons learned in the 1999 Chi Chi Earthquake (Natural Hazard Workshop attendees can learn more here).  According to National Taiwan University civil engineer Lin Mei-ling, an ongoing project is mapping areas where landslides are likely.

“It's difficult to fix every place—it's too expensive,” she told the Christian Science Monitor. "We've already developed a system to identify potentially hazardous areas."

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3) PUC Unplugs Plan to Reduce Wildfire by Cutting Electric  

A San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) plan to prevent wildfire by shutting off power in the backcountry during dry, high-wind conditions was shut down by the California Public Utilities Commission today. Detractors of the plan, which was rejected by a 4-1 vote, claimed the utility company was more interested in reducing liability than fire risk, according to a Los Angeles Times article.  

“If I thought for a second this was about safety, I'd be for it in a heartbeat," Mark Payne, who lost his home in the 2007 Witch Fire started by downed power lines, told the Times in a related article Tuesday. "This is about liability and corporate greed.”

In the end, the PUC said SDG&E hadn’t shown turning off approximately 60,000 backcountry residents’ power would lessen fire risks. The utility was told to go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that could be embraced by first responders, according to today’s article. The San Diego Office of Emergency Services, the Sheriff's Department, and Cal-Fire all opposed the plan, which might leave residents unable to fight fire without electricity to pump water.

The plan also vexed members of the San Diego City Council, especially backcountry representative Dianne Jacob, who accused the utility of introducing the plan as a way to shirk responsibility for power line-caused fires without investing money in other safety measures, such as burying lines and installing gadgets to keep lines from touching in high winds, according to Tuesday’s article.

"This has nothing to do with safety," Jacob said. "It's about saving money for SDG&E and shifting liability to other people and agencies."

According to the Times, SDG&E—which has paid $740 million for Witch Fire property damage—has already invested $40 million in shutoff preparations. The PUC decision doesn’t limit the company’s right to turn off power during emergencies, today’s article stated, but it does mean SDG&E continues to have the same level of liability.

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4) Carbon Neutral Nation: The Maldives Changes Tack, Not Tax

Reaching the white sand atolls of the Maldives might soon cost tourists a little more, but leaders hope it will eventually save their islands from climate change-induced sea level rise. The new goal—but not the proposed tourist tax—marks a change in the Maldives’ previous plan to save up enough money to desert their sinking atoll. Now, the nation is aiming to go carbon neutral instead.

President Mohammed Nasheed announced Tuesday that the Maldives were in the process of approving a tourist tax that would help fund an ambitious effort to be the first carbon neutral nation by 2020, according to a Reuters report.

“We have introduced a green tax,” he is quoted as saying.  “It's in the pipeline. It's a matter of parliament approving it and I hope parliament will approve it—$3 per each tourist a day."

Less than a year ago, Nasheed said he was looking for ways to leverage the tiny nation’s $1 billion a year tourism industry to buy a new homeland. But in March, the Maldives announced a new plan to go carbon neutral, according to an article in the British newspaper, The Observer. The new plan would include a renewable electricity system with 155 wind turbines, solar panels, and a biomass plant fed on coconut husks. Even gasoline-powered automobiles would eventually be phased out in favor of electric.

The eco-friendly facelift is estimated to cost the Maldives about $110 million each year for the next 10 years, according to the Observer. By comparison, the new tax is expected to bring in about $6.3 million a year, Reuters stated. Meanwhile, the Maldives are in such dire financial straits, Nasheed can’t afford to attend climate talks in Copenhagen in December and the nation is seeking an International Monetary Fund loan for $60 million to address an unrelated shortfall.

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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 September 2009 Observer include:

—Extreme Events and Social Institutions: Lessons from East Africa
—Disasters Driving World Migration
—Will Emergency Workers Show Up for Work?
—2009 Natural Hazards Workshop Roundup

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

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

Call for Abstracts
National Evacuation Conference
Stephenson Disaster Management Institute
Deadline: September 30, 2009
The Stephenson Disaster Management Institute at Louisiana State University is now accepting abstracts for presentation at its National Evacuation Conference in New Orleans, February 3-5. Conference topics will include modeling, legal issues, vulnerable populations, and human behavior. Those submitting an abstract may also submit a full paper for publication in the conference compendium. Full papers are due December 31. For more information, visit the conference Web site.


Call for Applications
Joint Inter-American Institute–NCAR Advanced Study Program Colloquium

University for International Cooperation
Deadline: October 10, 2009

Applications are now being accepted to participate in the Joint Inter-American Institute–NCAR Advanced Study Program (IAI-ASP) Colloquium to be held April 12-23 in San Jose, Costa Rica. The colloquium will apply scientific knowledge to issues of risk assessment, mapping, and policy. Graduate students, practitioners, and early career professionals are eligible to apply. For more information on the program and how to submit an application, see the program announcement on the colloquium 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]

Trees and Hurricanes
Trees sometimes get a bad rap for adding injury to a hurricane’s insult, but in truth, hurricane hardy trees can act as a protective barrier that prevents damage. The University of Florida’s Trees and Hurricanes site helps communities establish wind-resistant urban forests and provides information on cleaning up and restoring hurricane-damaged trees.


A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge
From graphic novel to personal narrative to interactive media, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge tells the story of six Katrina survivors in the year following the storm. The book by Josh Neufeld has just been released in print, but you can also read it online—complete with interactive elements, reviews, and blog entries—on the Smith Web site.

The Transformation that Fell Short: Bush, Federalism, and Emergency Management
This report, released last month by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, examines the individual role of state, local and federal governments in responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Author Martha Derthick concludes that, despite efforts to concentrate emergency management under the Bush Administration, we still depend on state and local governments during disaster.

Sahana Free Open Source Disaster Management Tool
In today’s troubled economy, who doesn’t like free, especially when it’s coupled with the ability to track missing persons, manage volunteers and inventory, and view on-the-ground situations via GIS capabilities. With an easy interface and successful use in situations ranging from Philippine mudslides to the Sichuan earthquake, Sahana is making a hit with governments and nonprofits.


Flu Prevention PSA Contest
Face it, you’re going to be seeing a lot of public service announcements about flu prevention this year—why not pick your favorite? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has narrowed the field to ten finalists in their Flu Prevention PSA contest. All you have to do is vote.


Bay Area Seismic Retrofit Map
Want to know what Bay Area buildings have been retrofitted for earthquake safety—or let others know your older building is safe? There’s a Web site for that. The Bay Area Seismic Retrofit Map is an ongoing project that catalogs buildings updated to modern earthquake-resilience standards. Users can view structure and retrofit information for homes, commercial buildings, and public infrastructure such as hospitals and police stations or add their own updates.


Controlled Burn Time-lapse
This short but sweet time-lapse video and accompanying commentary explains how to safely conduct a prescribed burn, even in windy conditions. The commentary makes it informative; the time lapse makes it just plain cool.

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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 23-26, 2009
2009 Fall Meeting
National Volunteer Fire Council
Coralville, Iowa
Cost and Registration: $200, open until filled
This conference gathers volunteer firefighters from across the country to discuss topics that include volunteer advocacy, fire education, wildland fires, disaster relief, emergency medical services, and more.


September 24-27, 2009
Midwest Search and Rescue Conference
Indiana Department of Homeland Security
Edinburgh, Indiana
Cost and Registration: $90, open until filled
This conference provides a variety of courses to improve responder search and rescue knowledge. Specific courses include wilderness first aid, cadaver search, canine tracking and trailing, Hazmat awareness and operations, GPS for search and rescue, and more.


October 14-15, 2009
2009 Joint Conference of Indiana’s Partners in Emergency Management and Homeland Security
Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Emergency Management Alliance
Indianapolis, Indiana
Cost and Registration: $205 until September 13, open until filled
This conference will address communication issues between emergency management and higher education administrators, public health officials, government agencies, and businesses. Sessions include power company response to natural disasters, responding to tornadoes on campus, and flu planning.


October 20-21, 2009
10th International Disaster and Emergency Resilience Conference
Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency
Karlstad, Sweden
Cost and Registration: $400 before October 1, open until filled
This conference identifies best practices for disaster readiness, response, and recovery. Session topics include effective land use and infrastructure planning, recent disaster lessons, and NGO disaster response.


October 29 to November 6, 2009
IAEM 57th Annual Conference
International Association of Emergency Managers
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $500 before September 1, open until filled
This conference discusses current trends, information/ and technology in emergency management and advances made by IAEM. Speakers include Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, General Gerald Galloway, and The Unthinkable author Amanda Ripley.

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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.]

Emergency Management Planner
Hagerty Consulting
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports emergency communications, public information, and resource management, facilitates meetings and workshops, and works with stakeholder and government planners. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field, five years experience in emergency management planning, and knowledge of federal emergency response guidelines are required.

Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment Consultant
United Nations Development Program
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: September 17, 2009
This position helps Papua New Guinea address climate change vulnerability in agriculture, water resources, and coastal zones. A bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a field related to climate change, scientific expertise on climate change-related field—preferably in the Asian-Pacific region—and seven years or more years of climate-related assessment experience are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist
Lilonwe, Malawi
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: September 16, 2009
This position provides disaster risk reduction (DRR)and climate change adaptation technical support to the Episcopal Conference of Malawi. A degree in developmental studies, environmental science, humanitarian relief, or a related field, three years experience with DRR in complex environments, and two or more years of DRR monitoring system design and implementation are required.


Climate Change Adaptation Senior Technical Advisor
United Nations Development Program
New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: September 15, 2009
This position provides technical guidance and manages the UNDP Environment and Energy group, develops innovative policies, funding, and support partnerships, and identifies strategic projects. A master’s degree in climate change, geography, natural resources, or related field, 10 or more years of management experience, and experience creating environmental and sustainable development policy are required.


Deputy Director of Emergency Management
DuPage County
Wheaton, Illinois
Salary: $74,979 to $99,972
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages the office of emergency management’s daily operations, develops policies and procedures, assists in budget preparation, and acts as director in the director’s absence. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and five or more years experience in emergency preparedness, coordination, and emergency planning, including three years management experience, are required.


Fire Program Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $73,100 to $95,026
Closing Date: September 15, 2009
This position directs the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education programs, facilitates partnerships with national organizations, conducts research identifying new courses for state fire training agencies and fire departments, and makes training recommendations to senior management. One year of experience at GS-11 or above is 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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