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Number 536 • November 19, 2009 | Past Issues













1) Rotten at the Corps: Judge Rules Army Corps Mismanagement Caused MRGO Blight

A federal judge issued a stinging blow to the Army Corps of Engineers Wednesday for its role in mismanaging the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), which subsequently caused millions of dollars in flood damage during Hurricane Katrina. The decision—the first to hold a federal agency liable for Katrina damage—could have far-reaching implications as others in the affected area file suit.

Homeowners along the 76-mile shipping channel claimed Army Corps negligence “destroyed protective wetlands and turned the shipping channel into a speedway for storm surge that flooded thousands of homes during the 2005 hurricane,” according to a March article in the Times-Picayune. Although both sides requested summary judgment at that time, the case was set for trial. Federal District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. issued his ruling late Wednesday.

“It is the court’s opinion that the negligence of the corps, in this instance by failing to maintain the MRGO properly, was not policy, but insouciance, myopia and shortsightedness,” Duval wrote in the ruling, according to the New York Times. “The corps had an opportunity to take a myriad of actions to alleviate this deterioration or rehabilitate this deterioration and failed to do so. Clearly the expression ‘talk is cheap’ applies here.”

That talk could become a lot more expensive thanks ruling encourages others to file suit. Although the Times-Picayune reports the four plaintiffs in the case will receive a little more than $700,000 total, an Army fiscal report estimated damages could be as much as $500 billion in future claims, according to the New York Times. Approximately 80,000 people live in the affected area, which includes St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward, the New York Times article stated.

Duval ruled that a law protecting the government from lawsuits for the failure of flood control measures did not apply to the MRGO, a navigation channel.  He also rejected Army Corps arguments that maintenance decisions were “discretionary policy judgments of … professional staff and thus protected under federal law,” according to the Times-Picayune.

"Ignoring safety and poor engineering are not policy, and clearly the Corps engaged in such activities," Duval is quoted as saying.

The Army Corps will appeal the ruling, according to the New York Times.

“All of these claims are currently the subject of litigation before the Federal District Court in New Orleans,” Corps spokesman Ken Holder said in a statement. “Until such time as the litigation is completed, including the appellate process up to and through the U.S. Supreme Court, no activity is expected to be taken on any of these claims.”

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs’ lawyers plan to travel to Washington to request the Obama administration grant a universal settlement that would cover all those affected by the MRGO flooding, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"We're hoping the new administration and the new Congress will view this decision in a new light," litigator Pierce O'Donnell told the Times-Picayune. "This decision should act as a catalyst to finally work out a settlement for all the people of New Orleans."

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2) No Chemistry between Lawmakers and Industry on Security Bill

A bill aimed at shoring up security at chemical and water treatment facilities passed the U.S. House early this month, despite concerns of industry leaders. The chemical security bill would allow the Department of Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency to gauge potential risks posed by chemical stores and suggest alternate chemicals or processes to ensure safety.

Although the bill, long-supported by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, is considered a compromise by those on both sides of the issue, industry leaders are concerned federal interference might lead to burdensome costs or inadequate products, according to an article in the Times-Picayune. An editorial in the New York Times, however, characterized the bill as “a carefully written compromise that is more than accommodating to the concerns of industry.”

“It focuses only on the highest-risk plants, and it would make them use safer chemicals or processes only when the Department of Homeland Security determines that they are feasible and cost-effective,” the editorial states.

Along with the use of those “inherently safer technologies,” detractors also opposed provisions that would allow citizens to file lawsuits against facilities that violate regulations and give states the power to establish tougher rules, according to an Associated Press report. Companies that use dangerous chemicals already do enough to regulate themselves, according to some lawmakers and professional organizations.

“I would suggest that those facilities are more secure than most federal buildings because there is so much at stake,” lawmaker Steve Scalise told the Picayune before the bill passed 230-193. “What this is about is radical environmentalists coming in and trying to impose new policies that [they] call inherently safer technology...what it means is that there are some people in the federal government who want to go in and tell manufacturing companies which products to use in their manufacturing facilities.”

Supporters, though, say the bill will not only prevent terrorists from targeting facilities that use dangerous chemicals and the nearby transportation infrastructure, but also keep communities safe during natural disasters and possibly limit harmful emissions.

“[The bill] will finally establish a comprehensive chemical security program to protect the millions of Americans who live and work in the danger zones around these facilities,” U.S. PIRG public health advocate Liz Hitchcock told the Associated Press.

The bill, which could affect more than 6,000 facilities nationwide, was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on November 9, according to Library of Congress records.

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3) Vaccine Vacillation: What do Americans Really Think About the H1N1 Vaccine?

Fifty percent don’t want it. Seventeen percent don’t trust it. Forty percent want it but can’t get it, but 92 percent of those said they’d keep trying. Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning health providers to be on the lookout for injection usurpers. So goes the great American ambivalence for the H1N1 vaccine.

With vaccine scarce and—by some accounts—in high demand, it’s difficult to get a handle on exactly what U.S. citizens think about the much lauded and maligned inoculation. Although polls for the Los Angeles Times and by the Harvard School of Public Health (which reported the numbers above) seem to underscore national indecision, recent reports of vaccination line jumpers and charlatan cure-alls point to a country that fears both flu and vaccine.

“There is a peculiar duality in the collective cultural mind just now, a kind of pandemic doublethink,” writes Dr. Perri Klass in the New York Times. “Many [doctors] are answering frantic calls from people desperate for the vaccine. But at the same time, we are all coming up against parents who are determined to refuse that same vaccine.”

In search of a reason, Klass contacted University of Texas history professor and polio epidemic expert David M. Oshinsky. According to Oshinsky, America’s irresolute attitude could be the result of a false sense of security cause by a lack of modern epidemics.

“People had a sense of risk versus reward and listened to public health officials,” he said of past situations. “That to me is probably the biggest issue of all. You’re dealing with parents who’ve never seen a smallpox epidemic, a polio epidemic.”

Whether their message is met with indifference or enthusiasm, health officials said they would continue to spread the word, hoping to reach the 159 million people in priority vaccination groups and 250 million total, according to the Washington Post.

"Whether it's an anthrax attack or a pandemic,” said Paul Jarris of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, “the question is: How do you get to people?"

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4) Speak Now: The Natural Hazards Center is Requesting Workshop Session Ideas

The Natural Hazards Center wants to hear your ideas on session topics for its 2010 Annual Workshop.

The 35th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop will be held Saturday, July 10 through Tuesday, July 13, 2010, at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, Colorado.

At the Workshop, hazards researchers, practitioners, and students discuss the latest issues in hazards and disasters and improving society’s response to those issues. But these discussions don’t happen in a vacuum—that’s why we need your input.

We’ll take your thoughts, mix in our own, and try to stir up some of the stimulating exchanges for which our Workshop is known. So, please take a moment to fill out our online form before December 16 and let us know what you want to talk about in July.

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

Call for Papers
International Community on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management
Deadline: November 30, 2009
The deadline to submit full research papers for presentation at the International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management has been extended. This year’s conference, to be held in Seattle May 2-5, will focus on defining crisis management in an increasingly interconnected world. More information on full paper submission, as well as works-in-progress and practitioner support, can be found on the conference Web site.


Call for Comments
National Flood Insurance Program Stakeholder Input
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: December 5, 2009
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting comments on the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA would like to hear from stakeholders in real estate, land use planning, insurance, emergency management, and others interested in challenges facing the program. To submit ideas visit the comment page, or learn more about the program at

Call for Applications
Summer Research Institute for Undergraduates
University of Delaware Disaster Research Center
Deadline: February 12, 2010
The Disaster Research Center will accept ten students from multiple disciplines to participate in the Summer Research Institute for Undergraduates. The nine-week program provides training and mentoring in disaster social science research. A stipend, transportation, and lodging are included. Students entering their junior or senior year in Fall 2010 are eligible. Students underrepresented in graduate schools are encouraged to apply. For more information, visit the Research Experience for Undergraduates Program 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]

DHS Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources
Protecting the multitude of systems that make our daily life possible isn’t easy—especially when they stretch across the public and private sectors. Now the Department of Homeland Security has a Web site that makes it easier to bridge the gap between preparedness efforts. With resources on protection programs and offices, publications, and online trainings, this site can help private and government managers keep their shows on the road.


Ready LA
How many ways can you compile the information needed before, during, and after disaster? Check out the City of Los Angeles’ new Web site and see. Visitors can keep up to date on local news and find what they need sorted by type of hazard, group, zip code, or a variety of other factors. With resources for all stages of disaster, Ready LA is the place to go before and after catastrophe strikes.


Pandemic Response Plan Template
This free template, offered by eBRP Solutions, includes an overview of what to expect during an pandemic flu outbreak, how to conduct a risk assessment and plan for manpower shortages, how to set up an emergency operations center, and other response techniques to keep businesses up and running. Checklists, resources, and staffing strategies are included.


The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, or ALNAP, works to bring together those who respond to natural disasters and human conflicts. The site has a wealth of useful information on ALNAP network events and initiatives, forums, blogs, and reports based on the organization’s “real-time evaluations.”


Disaster Mitigation for Historic Structures: Protection Strategies
The Florida Divisions of Historical Resources and Emergency Management and 1000 Friends of Florida have partnered to help owners of historic properties prepare for disasters. The guide offers mitigation measures that can be incorporated without compromising the historic integrity of buildings or neighborhoods, as well as resources for funding retrofits.

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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]

December 8-10, 2009
Istanbul International Conference on Seismic Risk Mitigation
Seismic Risk Mitigation and Emergency Preparedness Project, World Bank, and others
Istanbul, Turkey
Cost and Registration: Not Posted
This conference examines international experiences in seismic risk mitigation, seismic risk reduction in Turkey since the 1999 Marmara earthquakes, and how shared experiences can improve risk mitigation in urban areas.


December 8-11, 2009
Inter-Regional Workshop on Indices and Early Warning Systems for Drought
World Meteorological Organization
Lincoln, Nebraska
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This workshop assesses meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological drought indices, reviews their strengths and limitations, and develops guidelines for implementing and improving drought warning systems.


January 2-6, 2010
Community-Based Disaster Risk Management Training Course
Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief—India
Dhulikhel, Nepal
Cost and Registration: $375
This course describes basic concepts of community-based disaster preparedness, provides insight into disasters and development, covers concepts of risk and vulnerability assessment, and addresses difficulties in identification and analytics.


January 11-13, 2010
Second Annual Crisis and Emergency Management Conference
National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference assists organizations in response, preparation, and recovery from emergencies and disasters, examines the latest intelligence in crisis and emergency management, and provides insights into the future of the industry.


February 4-6, 2010
Ninth Annual New Partners for Smart Growth
Local Government Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and others
Seattle, Washington
Cost and Registration: $359, open until filled
This conference examines the latest smart growth research, implementation, best practices, policies, and codes. Session topics include models for adapting to urban climate change impacts, recovery and resilience planning, stormwater management, and more.

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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.]

Louisiana Transitional Recovery Office Director, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: $111,760 to $145,290
Closing Date: December 1, 2009
This position coordinates relationships among federal, state, and local voluntary relief organizations and agency staff following a major disaster, establishes recovery and mitigation operations, and directs federal agencies in supporting state and local agencies in meeting long-term disaster recovery needs. One year of experience at GS-14 or above is required.


Hazard Mitigation Planner
CSA International, Inc.
Stuart, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position does hazard-related planning, primarily for public sector clients.  Planning topics include all-hazards mitigation plans, post-disaster redevelopment plans, wildfire mitigation plans, and more.  A master’s degree in urban and regional planning or a related field, knowledge of hazard mitigation or disaster recovery planning, and excellent verbal and written communication skills are required.


Coordinator of Safety Planning
University of Massachusetts Office of the Vice Chancellor
Boston, Massachusetts
Salary: $70,000 to $80,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position plans, organizes, and manages emergency response, develops emergency action plans and training, and enhances emergency preparedness policies. A bachelor’s degree and five years experience in administration, strategic communications, emergency planning, or business operations are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist
Pan American Health Organization
Bridgetown, Barbados
Salary: $53,628
Closing Date: December 10, 2009
This position provides technical support to the Caribbean Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Plan and the National Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan and organizes disaster management training. A bachelor’s degree in health services management or a related field and knowledge of emerging public health issues and program management principles are required.


Emergency Program Manager
Mercy Corps
Various locations
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: January 15, 2010
This position deploys to emergency areas to provide initial assistance, emergency plans assessment, and response. A master’s degree in a relevant field, five years of field experience, and two years experience in emergency relief are required.


Rural Disaster Prevention Project Manager
Arche Nova
Yangon, Mayanmar
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 30, 2009
This position supervises disaster prevention projects in cooperation with the German Foreign Ministry. Theoretical and practical experience in international project management in Southeast Asia, disaster prevention, community development, implementation of relief projects, and financial administration are required.

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