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Number 541 • February 25, 2010 | Past Issues













1) Squall Over Hurricanes and Climate Change Beginning to Calm

Hurricanes have long created a storm of controversy in the climate science community—will human-induced climate change affect the intensity or frequency of tropical cyclones? Those arguments might soon die down.

A recent paper in the journal Nature Geoscience goes a long way toward reconciling some of the controversy, with several scientists who previously sparred now agreeing on some issues. The crux of the report is that fewer—but stronger and wetter—hurricanes are likely as a result of human-induced climate change.

The paper, “Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change,” found that it’s likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones “will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged owing to greenhouse warming.” The paper was written by an expert panel from the World Meteorological Organization to try to resolve some of the controversies

Even so, those tropical storms that do occur will be stronger and potentially more destructive, according to the paper.

“Some increase in the mean maximum wind speed of tropical cyclones is likely (+2 percent to +11 percent globally) with projected twenty-first-century warming,” the paper states. “The frequency of the most intense storms will more likely than not increase by a substantially larger percentage in some basins.”

An 11 percent increase in wind speed equates to a roughly 60 percent increase in damage, Massachusetts Institute of Technology climate scientist Kerry Emanuel told the Associated Press. Rainfall is also likely to increase by 20 percent within 100 kilometers of the tropical cyclone center, the article stated.

One notable aspect of the paper is that it sees two authors—Emanuel and National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Chris Landsea—in agreement. The two previously debated aspects of the hurricane-climate change nexus.

The report was careful to say, however, “it remains uncertain whether past changes in any tropical cyclone activity exceed the variability expected through natural cause, after accounting for changes over time in observing capabilities.” That is, because of the quality of available historical data on storm intensity and frequency, it can’t be said whether a climate change signature has yet been seen.

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2) Scientists Assess Haiti Damage from the Sky and on the Ground

A combination of weak building codes and poor construction are the main reasons for the widespread destruction caused by the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in Haiti, according to a recent damage assessment by a team of earthquake experts and engineers.

The perhaps unsurprising conclusion was outlined in a joint U.S. Geological Survey and Earthquake Engineering Research Institute Reconnaissance Team Report released February 18.

The five-member team studied buildings in Port-au-Prince and communities to the west of the city between January 26 and February 3. Of the 107 buildings in downtown Port-au-Prince surveyed, 28 percent had collapsed and another 33 percent were damaged enough to require repairs, according to the report. A similar survey of 52 buildings in Léogâne found 62 percent had collapsed and 31 percent required repairs.

“Usually when I go to earthquakes I find that the amount of damage is less than what appears on the television,” stated team member Marc Eberhard, a University of Washington civil and environmental engineering professor, in a press release. “In this case it was much more.”

The poverty of the people combined with the density of population and lack of building codes resulted in the widespread devastation, he said.

Reinforced concrete frames with concrete block masonry infill performed especially poorly, according to the report. Buildings with roofs made of lighter materials, such as tin or wood, performed better than those with concrete roofs and slabs.

“These observations suggest that structures designed and constructed with adequate stiffness and reinforcing details would have resisted the earthquake without being damaged severely,” the report stated.

In another assessment of damage from the Haiti quake, a team of more than 500 scientists from around the world examined high-resolution aerial imagery of the earthquake region to learn how many buildings collapsed or were heavily damaged. This new initiative, called GEO-CAN—the Global Earth Observation Catastrophe Assessment Network—was coordinated by ImageCat.

According to an ImageCat description of the process, “an area of some 300 square kilometers has been divided up into squares, and numbers of squares allocated for damage assessment to each GEO-CAN expert. The aerial imagery they are studying shows high-resolution images of houses, public buildings, cars and vegetation with detail that even shows the folds in tents in the temporary encampments. This is compared to imagery taken before the earthquake and buildings that have collapsed, or are heavily damaged are mapped.”

The results will be used to inform the reconstruction program in Haiti.

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3) United States Vulnerable to Cyber Threats—Real and Imagined

Government and business leaders learned last week that the United States’ cyberdefenses would surely crumble in the midst of a large-scale attack on the nation’s technological infrastructure. Then they learned we were in the throes of one.

The Cyber ShockWave, an elaborate, four-hour-long exercise, was hosted February 16 by the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center in an attempt to gauge how the government and private sectors would respond to a serious cyberthreat—in this case a simulated attack that shut down 60 million cell phones, crashed the Internet, and caused widespread blackouts. To make simulated matters worse, the exercise also factored in homemade bomb explosions and a Category 4 hurricane on the Gulf Coast.

An attack of such magnitude would “almost certainly” overwhelm the current cybersecurity system, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

"We were trying to tee up specific issues that would be digestible so they would become the building blocks of a broader, more comprehensive cyber strategy," Michael V. Hayden told the Washington Post. Hayden, a former CIA director under President George W. Bush, created the Cyber ShockWave exercise.

A real cyberattack of less melodramatic—but nonetheless staggering—proportions was brought to light the day after the exercise. According to the Wall Street Journal, an 18-month-long coordinated attack on global computer systems has affected more than 75,000 computers at over 2,500 companies so far. The attack is ongoing.

"It highlights the weaknesses in cyber security right now," Adam Meyers, a senior engineer who reviewed the attack information at government contractor SRA International, told the Journal. "If you're a Fortune 500 company or a government agency or a home DSL user, you could be successfully victimized."

The exercise may have worked to generate new cybersecurity ideas. Participants, including White House staff, intelligence and homeland security officials, and business leaders realize more needs to be done. Among the suggested actions were drafting legislation to define government authority during an attack. The simulation showed the private sector, which owns most networks, could not respond adequately to such a calamity, according to the Post article. Privacy concerns were also discussed.

“Americans need to know that they should not expect to have their cell phone and other communications to be private—not if the government is going to have to take aggressive action to tamp down the threat,” Jamie S. Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton, told the Post.

Bold ideas during the exercise included nationalizing U.S. industries, rationing fuel, and using the military for retaliation against responsible parties. The exercise was public and aired on CNN.

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

Call for Proposals
Rapid Response Research (RAPID) on the Effects of the 2010 Haitian Earthquake
National Science Foundation
Deadline: March 5, 2010
The National Science Foundation is accepting rapid response research proposals to study the effects of the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti. Research should focus on areas that require urgent access to perishable data. When possible, researchers should foster intellectual collaboration with their Haitian counterparts. Most awards will be under $40,000. For more information and proposal guidelines, see the Dear Colleague letter at the link above.


Call for Nominations
Blanchard Award for Academic Excellence in Emergency Management Higher Education
North Dakota State University
Deadline: March 5, 2010
North Dakota State University is now accepting nominations for the Dr. B. Wayne Blanchard Award recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to emergency management higher education. Submissions should be a one-page summary of the nominee’s contributions. More information is available at the link above. Questions can be sent to Carol Cwiak.

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5) 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]

Public Health Ethics in Disasters
Ethical questions in public health can be difficult during the best of times, but disasters can mix ethical dilemmas with the need for snap decisions. To get ahead of that dynamic, the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has compiled a disaster ethics overview, guidelines, and resources ranging from decision making to research to vulnerable populations.


EPA Rulemaking Gateway
The Environmental Protection Agency has just launched a new Web site to keep the public better informed of its rulemaking process from start to finish. Visitors to the site have a multitude of ways to examine rules currently underway—search the site by the rulemaking phase, topic, or even by the group or subject it’s likely to affect.


GAO Report on Disaster Assistance
Disaster assistance for permanent housing following the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes was more likely to benefit homeowners than renters, according to this recently released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO looked at who got the money, how far it went toward meeting housing needs, and how difficult the application process was to navigate. The office concluded that Congress would need to give states’ guidance on how to more evenly distribute the funds if it wants to better target renters’ needs.


Although billed as a public health-homeland security-crisis communications blog, you can never be sure what useful information will turn up in this thoughtful collection of writings. On any given day, pseudonymous public preparedness advocate Jimmy Jazz might devote the In Case of Emergency blog to social networking, thoughts on the media, or the latest mapping software. Whatever the topic, you’ll find lots of links to good information and an interesting synthesis of the latest news and reports.


The Extraordinaries
What if volunteering was as easy as updating your Facebook status or texting your best friend? The Extraordinaries takes our society’s gnat-like attention span and uses it for good by matching technophiles with short information processing jobs that need a human touch. Although the volunteer-matching site offers many projects, most recently it’s been putting people to work—using their computers or cell phones—tagging pictures from the Haiti earthquake to help identify the dead or missing.

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6) 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]

March 3-5, 2010
LiDAR 10
Intelligent Exhibitions
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $525, open until filled
This forum will examine developments in LiDAR technology and recent projects worldwide. Sessions devoted to the Haiti earthquake will examine how LiDAR is being used to assess damage and future earthquake probability. Other sessions will include the use of LiDAR in coastal mapping, FEMA RiskMAP, mobile mapping, and erosion assessment.


March 4-7, 2010
2010 National Association of Environmental Law Societies Annual Conference
National Association of Environmental Law Societies and Loyola College of Law
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference—themed “Staying Afloat: Adapting to Climate Change on the Gulf and Beyond”—will examine ways to combat and adapt to climate change using environmental law. Environmental justice on the Gulf Coast will be discussed. Sessions will cover adapting to rising sea levels, loss of coastal wetlands, international environmental law, and more.


May 25-28, 2010
UN-SPIDER Regional Workshop: Building Upon Regional Space–Based Solutions for Disaster Management and Emergency Response for Africa
UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and UN Economic Commission for Africa
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Cost and Registration: See Web site
This conference will promote access to and use of space-based technologies for disaster management and emergency response in African communities, including identifying existing successful initiatives.


March 28 to April 1, 2010
2010 Wildland Urban Interface
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Reno, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $425, open until filled
This wildland fire community conference will address the growing wildland-urban interface problem. Education tracks include operations, community protection, and wildland fire policy. Attendees may participate in several certification courses offered by the National Wildfire Coordination Group and on the National Incident Management System.


April 7-9, 2010
Fifth Annual Emergency Preparedness and Service Restoration for Utilities Summit
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $1195 before March 12, open until filled
This conference will identify lessons learned from recent disasters and best practices for utilities developing emergency service restoration plans. Sessions will be devoted to emergency preparedness, communications, service restoration, mutual assistance, vegetation management and a mock exercise.


April 12-14, 2010
Emergency Media and Public Affairs 2010 Conference
Emergency Media and Public Affairs
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $893, closes April 9
This conference will introduce organizations to the rise of social networking and new approaches to communicating with people in emergencies. Session topics include analyzing the value of social media in disaster management, caring for journalists in the field, understanding emergency operations priorities, and the impact of changes in freedom of information laws.


April 13-14, 2010
TIEMS First Workshop in Latin America and the Caribbean
The International Emergency Management Society
Santiago, Chile
Cost and Registration: See Web site
This workshop examines emergency and disaster management experiences in the Latin American and Caribbean Region.

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7) 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.]

Chief Technical Specialist
UN Development Programme
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: March 4, 2010
This position supports disaster risk reduction activities, including by coordinating projects in high disaster risk areas and assisting with disaster awareness programs. A master’s degree in public administration, disaster management, or a related field, seven years of development programming experience, and project management abilities are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 5, 2010
This position organizes and produces lessons-learned documents from national forums on early warning, develops training products, and assesses early warning systems and related development strategies. A master’s degree or equivalent experience in international development or a related field, knowledge of the disaster risk reduction process, five years of experience in disaster risk reduction, and two years of international experience are required.


Storm Prediction Center Director
National Weather Service
Norman, Oklahoma
Salary: $119,554 to $179,700
Closing Date: March 8, 2010
This position supervises implementation of new technology and techniques at the SPC, oversees evolution of SPC products, manages research, coordinates communications with other agencies, and identifies employee training needs. A degree in meteorology, atmospheric science, or a related natural science and one year of similar specialized experience are required.


Emergency Planner
James Lee Witt Associates
Sacramento, California
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position conducts homeland security and emergency management research, produces technical documents, executes project plans, and assists clients with developing emergency and mitigation plans in accordance with federal and state requirements. A bachelor’s degree and five years experience in homeland security, hazard mitigation, emergency management, or business continuity planning are required.


Senior Project Manager—Contingency Operations
Washington, DC
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages multiple programs, structures proposals, and executes contingency operations at disaster sites. A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related technical or business field, 15 years of relevant experience, and a history of extensive work with Federal Emergency Management Agency operations are required.


First Responder Program Division Director
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC
Salary: $119,554 to $179, 700
Closing Date: March 5, 2010
This position develops and implements directorate-level outreach to emergency preparedness and first responder communities at the regional, state, local, and tribal levels and establishes policies for the management of first responder programs. One year of experience at GS-15 or above is required.

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