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Number 534 • October 22, 2009 | Past Issues













1) Third Typhoon No Charm for Philippine Evacuation and Warning Strategies

As the typhoon-battered Philippines braces for its third major storm in less than a month, one silver lining might be the pre-emptive evacuations that have been organized in the last few days. Or maybe not. 

''Some people are just really stubborn and refuse to leave,'' Cordillera Regional Civil Defense Chief Olive Luces told the Associated Press Saturday.

Despite recalcitrant evacuees, the thousands evacuated from the path of Typhoon Lupit—expected to make landfall in the northern part of the country today—can be seen as an improvement over responses to September’s Typhoon Ketsana,  Typhoon Parma earlier this month, and subsequent landslides. Government warning and response has been severely criticized in the wake of the serial disasters, which have left more than 850 dead and thousands displaced, according to a Reuters report.

"The government is simply not accountable to the people when it comes to disaster," University of the Philippines Community Development Professor Emmanuel Luna, who specializes in disaster risk reduction, told Reuters.

Among the many criticisms of government response are claims of inadequate storm tracking and mapping, failure to provide timely and serious alerts, and a hodgepodge of make-do warning systems that includes banging on methane tanks or painting danger lines on buildings, according to the article. The current administration’s inability to stem the tide of trash in the capitol, keep squatters from camping in dangerous flood zones, or end corruption that drains government funds are seen as adding to disaster woes.

“We have floods every year. But every year, we are unprepared," resident Ramil Digal Gulle is quoted by Reuters. "How do you explain the fact that the government can spend millions upon millions on so many other projects, but could only produce two rubber boats to rescue scores of residents trapped in a flooded Marikina village [in Manila]?"

Although some of the government condemnations stand, officials deny claims that victims of Ketsana, Parma, and recent landslides weren’t given adequate warning of the danger. In some cases, according to the AP, landslide victims recounted watching water leach into their walls and floors but didn’t leave their homes.

Even after the previous storms’ death tolls, officials said many of those urged to evacuate were taking the wait-and-see approach. Rescue workers who are already in the area attending to the displaced warned help might not be available if they stayed, according to an AlertNet article.

"Our aid workers are already overstretched due to the massive relief efforts that we've been doing in the past three weeks," World Vision’s Filomena Portales said. "If Lupit batters the communities who have yet to recover from the previous wreckage, it would be harder for us to reach those in need."

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2) Suing for Katrina: Court Allows Litigation Based on Long Line of Climate Links

This is the house that Jack built. This is the hurricane that blew down the house that Jack built. These are the plaintiffs who sued the companies that emitted the gases that caused the climate change that created the conditions that spawned the hurricane that blew down the house that Jack built.

And the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says that’s a good enough story to let a case brought by Mississippi property owners against oil and coal companies go forward, according to a recent post in the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

The conservative court reviewed Comer v. Murphy Oil USA to determine if the plaintiffs “injuries were ‘fairly traceable’ to the defendant’s actions,” according to the post. Despite the Mother Goose-style chain of causation, the appeals court said that public and private nuisance, trespass, and negligence claims must be considered. Claims of unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and civil conspiracy were dismissed.

Although the ruling means little more than a court date for filers of the suit, it could have a greater impact on climate change litigation overall, according to one mass tort expert.

“With this decision, you are now pretty well assured of seeing others file these kinds of claims, ” J. Russell Jackson told the Wall Street Journal.

In his own blog posting on the topic, though, Jackson indicated that such cases remain difficult to bring and win.

“It seems clear that the Comer decision will provide some encouragement to plaintiffs' lawyers who dream of scoring a lucrative victory in climate change litigation,” he wrote.  “But when one examines the opinion closely, it is clear that such cases still are plagued with significant causation problems that will present early and frequent opportunities for defendants to move for dismissal or summary judgment.”

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3) Sediment Could Keep Parishes Afloat

With each hurricane, a little more of New Orleans and the surrounding area washes out to sea. But according to scientists as the University of Texas-Austin, the answer to the Big Easy’s disappearing delta could lie at the bottom of the Mississippi River.

A computer model of a disputed plan to reroute sediment-filled water to the delta area from the river channel downstream of the city shows such a measure just might work, according to a National Science Foundation press release. While naysayers have said the river’s sediment is too depleted by dams on the upper Mississippi to do much rebuilding, the model showed the plan could effectively reclaim about half the acreage expected to disappear over the next century, according to the release.

“These authors present the possibility that through numerical modeling, coordinated with river channel diversions on the Mississippi Delta, we can begin to restore wetlands and build new land,” stated H. Richard Lane, program director in NSF's earth sciences division.

The report, led by geologists David Mohrig and Wonsuck Kim, was released in the American Geophysical Union’s Eos this week. NSF funded the research.

In addition, rebuilding the delta could also provide protection for storm surges occurring up river, regaining some of the natural balance lost to levees built below New Orleans, the release stated.

Meanwhile downriver, Plaquemines Parish has a similar idea for protecting itself by using the Mississippi to rebuild marshes and barrier islands that could slow the approach of a storm. Not only would the idea—which also includes a cypress-lined ridge—be a novelty in hurricane mitigation, it would also be cheaper and quicker to build than projects proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to an article in USA Today.

“They're demonstrating how this could effectively be done,” Office of Coastal Activities Director Garret Graves told USA Today.

Computer simulations of 38 Parish projects planned by the Army Corps found those projects would reduce storm surge by only about half a foot in most places. The new natural barrier model—which was developed with help from Louisiana State University’s Hurricane Center—showed up to six feet of surge protection, cost savings of $500,000, and a completion date of about 30 years earlier than the Army Corps’, according to the article.

Although there has been concern from environmentalists about how building the barricades might effect wetlands in the area, the Army Corps was unruffled by the idea of the parish taking its protection into its own hands.

“This is the kind of response we would like to see by other parishes, the state, and even other agencies," Troy Constance, who manages coastal restoration programs in Louisiana for the Army Corps, is quoted as saying in the article. "The idea of taking the initiative to move forward on something like this is highly supported by us.”

The plan is awaiting federal permits, the article stated.

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4) Getting it Together: NGO-Government Collaborations Beginning to Flourish

Past U.S. disasters have left little doubt that when calamity strikes, government response and recovery is far from the only aid game in town. Although faith- and community-based organizations play an important role in cleaning up catastrophes, little has been done to assure these nongovernmental organizations are coordinated or equipped to roll up their sleeves and join forces with officials.

That trend is beginning to change, however, as state and local governments form coalitions that guide organizations providing emergency response. Missouri is the latest state—joining Florida, Texas, and a few others—in forming an alliance between emergency managers and NGOs, according to a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Missouri Governor’s Faith-Based and Community Service Partnership for Disaster Recovery, created by executive order last month, joins 16 state departments with groups ranging from the Missouri Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster to the Missouri Catholic Conference in an attempt to more effectively respond to emergencies. The director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives—a federal group similar to the Missouri partnership—called the plan a model for other states, according to the Post-Dispatch article.

“Missouri has a long history focusing on liaisons with faith-based and community organizations specifically dedicated to disaster,” David Myers told the Post-Dispatch.
“Missouri's footprint on this is visionary.”

It’s a vision, though, not shared by all. Although it’s hard to argue against better-prepared volunteers, many are worried about how the separation of church and state are handled in such alliances.

The concern of discrimination on religious grounds has been around since George Bush created his faith-based social initiative early in the decade. Although some have called for the initiative to be revamped so that religious organizations that receive federal money cannot hire or fire based on religion, that gap has yet to be closed.

In Missouri, where organizations won’t be funded by the state, the worry is that those stricken by disaster might endure unwanted religious enlistment—and while officials claim churches operate by a “gentleman’s agreement” not to preach to the disaster weary, they themselves suggest it.

“Send a youth group from your church out into the local community to hand out information," the Post-Dispatch quoted Jackson County Emergency Management Director Mike Curry as telling a group of church and government officials gathered at a Missouri State Emergency Management Meeting. “They'll appreciate it, and we're all interested in church growth.”

Religious issues aside, NGOs can often bring more to the human side of disaster recovery than government response, and a recent report, The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Long-Term Human Recovery after Disaster: Reflections from Louisiana Four Years After Hurricane Katrina, found that deploying them early could speed community recovery.

“Human recovery includes things like rebuilding people's social routines and a community's support networks—actions that help restore a community's physical and mental health,” said behavioral scientist and lead author Anita Chandra in a press release. “This is the kind of work nongovernmental organizations can do so well.”

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

Call for Presentations
20th World Conference on Disaster Management
WCDM and the Canadian Centre for Disaster Preparedness
Deadline: December 6, 2009
Presentation abstracts are now being accepted for the 20th World Conference on Disaster Management to be held June 20-23, 2010, in Toronto, Canada. Submissions should be related to this year’s theme: “Twenty Years of Progress—Are We Prepared to Face Future Challenges? Emergency Management and Business Continuity Working Together.” Information on submission guidelines, selection criteria, and speaker compensation can be found on the online submission site.


Call for Papers
Great Southern California Shakeout Issue
Earthquake Spectra
Deadline: See Below
Papers are now being accepted for a special issue of Earthquake Spectra focusing on the 2008 Great Southern California Shakeout Scenario. Papers can be related to earth science, engineering, social science, or response exercises. Papers must be submitted online by January 1, 2010; however, authors are encouraged to send an abstract to guest editors before formal submission. Guest editors are: Keith Porter, Ken Hudnut, Sue Perry, Mike Reichle, Charles Scawthorn, and Anne Wein.


Call for Proposals
Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities
National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture
Deadline: January 20, 2009
The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are accepting proposals for research that advances disaster resilience in rural communities. Applicants must address rural community hazard mitigation, preparedness, emergency response, or disaster recovery. For a list of preferred emphases and an application package, visit the Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities proposal site.

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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]

Firefighter Math
Some people couldn’t do algebra or calculus to save their life, but firefighters might have to. The U.S. Forest Service’s Firefighter Math site can help those battling blazes add one more lifesaving tool to their kit. This self-paced course gives an overview of the basics, before getting specific with formulas to figure water capacity and pressure, burn rates and mapping, fire behavior, and need-to-know calculations.


Glacier Hazards and Society
Rising sea levels are far from the only hazard posed by climate change ice melt. Even high in the mountains, glacial movement puts people at risk from avalanches, landslides, and floods. For that reason, glacial experts from Washington and Lee University created the Glacier Hazards and Society Web site to raise awareness and facilitate glacial research. With a searchable reference database and dozens of links to glacier hazard information, this site is a great place to get the down low on dangers from up high.


This hurricane season might go out like a lamb, but a good storm site is always handy to have. With Emicus, you get a wealth of free tools that will allow you to alert family members of your location, track weather, find food or medical treatment, and share information with the community.


Flu.Gov Vaccine Locator
Although the vaccine supply isn’t what was promised, can still help you find a vaccination location near you. Click on the interactive map to find both seasonal and H1N1 vaccines in your area, as well as flu and antiviral information for individuals, healthcare workers, and government agencies.


Climate Compass Blog
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change recently created a blog to share its thoughts on climate change. According to the site’s first entry, posts by the Center’s analysts, scientists, and economists will focus on policy, climate science, low-carbon technology, economics, corporate strategies to address climate change, and communicating these issues to policymakers and the public.

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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]

November 10-13, 2009
Glacier Hazard Workshop 2009
University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Science
Vienna, Austria
Cost and Registration: $444, open until filled
This workshop will review glacial and permafrost hazard assessment methods, identify research gaps, outline existing and future climate change impacts, and encourage the exchange of ideas between the scientific community and policy makers.


November 10-11, 2009
Fourth International Conference on Impacts of Climate Change on Natural Resources
Egyptian Society for Environmental Science
Ismailia, Egypt
Cost and Registration: $400, open until filled
This conference examines the ecological impacts of climate change, including desert climate change, climate change and risk assessment, rural development impacts, and socioeconomic indicators.


November 23-25, 2009
Fourth International Workshop on Sumatra Tsunami Disaster and Recovery
Syiah Kuala University Tsunami and Disaster Research Center
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Cost and Registration: $100, open until filled
This workshop commemorates the 2004 Sumatra Tsunami and encourages attendees to exchange recovery knowledge and experience that will improve social resilience. Strategies integrating lessons learned with international disaster risk reduction efforts will be discussed.


December 2-3, 2009
Designing Fire Safety into Residential Construction: Perspectives, Ideas, and Trends
Underwriters Laboratory
Phoenix, Arizona
Cost and Registration: $99, open until filled
This symposium will discuss designing fire safety into residential buildings. Topics include scientific results of lightweight test material, smoke characteristics, and advances in smoke alarm technology. Topics related to home fire safety, insurance, and fire prevention will also be covered.


February 1-19, 2010
39th Regional Training on Disaster Management
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Cost and Registration: $2,740, open until filled
This course addresses strategies and systems for disaster prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery, as well as disaster management implementation issues and how to best use emergency coordination centers during disasters.


February 3-5, 2009
National Evacuation Conference
Stephenson Disaster Management Institute and the Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $350 before November 30, open until filled
This conference encourages an interdisciplinary exchange on a range of evacuation issues, including mass evacuations from disasters, challenges of special needs populations, evacuation planning and modeling improvements, and national policy development.

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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.]

Senior Health Advisor
Save the Children
Home-based, with deployment to assigned countries
Salary: $46,602
Closing Date: November 8, 2009
This position provides humanitarian response to emergencies and natural disasters. Fluency in English, the ability to cope with stressful situations, and a background in child protection, logistics, nutrition, health, food security, program management, or related expertise are required.


Local Governance and Climate Change Specialist
United Nations Capital Development Fund
Multiple locations
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: October 30, 2009
This position assesses local and national climate change adaptation capacity, provides technical support for UN Capital Development Fund programs, and develops local governance and climate change adaptation guides. A PhD in architecture, environmental management, social science, or a related field, 10 years experience in environmental and disaster risk reduction, and experience in local capacity development are required.


Geospatial Project Manager
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Carbondale, Illinois
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 1, 2009
This position assesses natural and technological hazards and develops predisaster mitigation plans. A PhD, or master’s degree plus 3 years of GIS experience emphasizing geospatial science, hazard modeling, or mitigation, are required.


Technological Hazards Program Specialist, GS-5
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $32,769 to $42,601
Closing Date: October 23, 2009
This position reviews state and local plans, prepares data for senior specialists, tracks the status of state and local preparedness programs, coordinates drills and exercises, and prepares exercise reports and findings. One year of experience at GS-4 or above is required.


Sea Level Rise and Climate Variability Postdoctoral Researcher
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 10, 2009
This position investigates ocean warming and sea level rise and provides improved estimates of the uncertainty of historical sea level records. A PhD in oceanography or remote sensing and a strong background in data analysis are required.


Deputy for Planning and Preparedness
Multnomah County Emergency Management
Portland, Oregon
Salary: $57,511 to $88,778
Closing Date: November 3, 2009
This position develops countywide emergency preparedness plans, coordinates related programs, evaluates disaster response capabilities and vulnerability, and analyzes disaster preparedness operations and response and recovery trends. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and five years management experience, including two in emergency management, 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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