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Number 542 • March 11, 2010 | Past Issues













1) Catastrophic Insurance: Is the Homeowner’s Defense Act a Good Offense?

Legislation that would put the federal government in the catastrophic insurance game had both sides playing defense in a congressional hearing Wednesday. The bill—H.R. 2555, also known as the Homeowner’s Defense Act—has been characterized as everything from balm for uninsurable homeowners to a license to develop in risk-prone areas.

Somewhere in middle field lies an attempt to protect citizens from dramatic insurance increases, non-renewal, and limited coverage, according to Congressman Ron Klein, D-Fla., who sponsored the bill with 70 other lawmakers.

“Increasingly, insurance companies are treating homeowners across the country like they have been treating Floridians for years—canceling policies and doubling or tripling rates in the wake of a single claim,” Klein said in a statement to the House Financial Services Committee at the hearing. “For millions of Americans, the question of a natural disaster hitting their home state is not if, but when. By spreading the risk, we can…bring down costs for homeowners across the country.”

Klein’s plan would allow states to opt in to a shared risk pool for varying types of disasters, resulting in lower premiums for homeowners, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor. It also establishes stronger building codes, provides training and equipment for first responders, and will save taxpayers from spending millions to bail out uninsured homeowners after a disaster, according to the article.

The bill has strong support from aid organizations, first responders, and emergency management officials, most notably former Federal Emergency Management Agency director James Lee Witt.

"To put it simply, the status quo is not acceptable,” Witt stated in a press release. “There is an urgent need for a…program that strengthens America's financial infrastructure, improves mitigation and readiness, and…assures that resources will be available to rebuild, repair and recover as quickly as possible."

Despite the glowing testimonials from Witt and other disaster experts, the bill isn’t without detractors. Among them are environmental groups concerned about development in areas vulnerable to risk and taxpayer advocates who say the bill will primarily benefit wealthy homeowners living on the coast.

“Although cloaked in the language of free markets and fairness, the legislation would be an enormous subsidy for people who choose to live in dangerous areas,” the Heartland Institute’s Eli Lehrer is quoted as saying in National Underwriter magazine. “If stupid, rich people want to build mansions on sand dunes, they are entitled to do so. But they shouldn’t get insurance subsidies from the taxpayers to do it.”
Some insurance industry organizations also opposed the bill, saying that it could “displace the private market,” according to National Underwriter. On the other hand, insurance companies such as State Farm and Allstate were supportive, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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2) GAO Wonders if FEMA’s Preparedness Message Is Getting Through

It’s unclear if the Federal Emergency Management Agency has the American public dancing to the beat of its preparedness drum, according a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. A lack of strategy and accurate performance data, however, could be keeping the agency from rocking out readiness, though, the report found.

A GAO investigation into challenges faced by FEMA community preparedness programs, including Citizen Corps and the Ready Campaign, found that the program’s impacts were difficult to evaluate because there wasn’t a good system for analyzing performance data, the data were collected by sources other than FEMA, and there was no strategy for correlating the programs with overarching national preparedness goals.

“While FEMA identifies community preparedness as an important part of its national preparedness strategy, FEMA lacks accurate performance information…that would enable it to determine whether these programs are operating in the communities in which they have been established,” the report stated. “Challenges in measuring the performance of these programs stem in part from FEMA lacking an overall strategy for achieving community preparedness or defining how these efforts align with the larger National Preparedness System.

Among the GAO’s recommendations for helping the agency get its groove on were creating a strategy for the programs, setting milestones for strategy implementation, and identifying ways to keep Citizen Corps participation active. The agency agreed with the GAO assessment.

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3) Helping the Helpers Help Themselves

Surprising as it might seem, many community organizations that provide everyday assistance to others aren’t prepared to fall on hard times themselves. When faced with disaster, how can community aid organizations make sure they will still be providing services instead of scrambling to pick up the pieces of their broken operations?

Natural Hazards Center Researcher Brandi Gilbert will discuss organizational preparedness for disaster in a webinar aimed at community-based organizations and nonprofits. Gilbert, who participated in a study examining the preparedness of 93 San Francisco Bay Area organizations, will highlight the need for readiness, how to leverage communication and social media resources, and ways to assure continuity of operations.

The May 31 webinar, sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service and HandsOn Network, is free. For more information and to register, visit In the Wake of Disaster—How Will You Respond?

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4) Keep Up With the Latest at the Natural Hazards Center

The Natural Hazards Center is pleased to unveil a completely new system to keep you abreast of our latest news and publications. With one stop at our new information update page, you can make sure we have your most current information, adjust your subscription preferences, and even sign up for our new Natural Hazards Observer e-mail notifications. So if we haven’t heard from you in a while, stop by. It’s the best way to make sure you don’t miss out!

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5) Natural Hazards Observer Now Online

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the March 2010 Observer include:

— A Thousand Barking Dogs
—Twitter Quakes
—Training Veterinarians in All-Hazards Response
—U.S. Officials Encourage Haiti-Led Reconstruction Efforts

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the March and past Observers or sign up to receive e-mail notifications letting you know when the latest Observer is available.

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

Call for Applications
Summer Institute for Advanced Study of Disaster and Risk
Beijing Normal University
Deadline: May 15, 2010

Beijing Normal University is now accepting applications for its 2010 Summer Institute for Advanced Study of Disaster and Risk. The program, to be held August 2-13 in Beijing, gives doctoral students, researchers, and junior faculty an opportunity to study with hazards experts from around the world. For applications materials in English, visit the 2010 Institute 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]

Stop Disasters!
If you’ve caught yourself shaking your head at the latest building failures, evacuation follies, or general ill-preparedness for disasters, here’s a chance to do it your way. Stop Disasters!, an addictive game created by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, lets you pick from various disaster scenarios such as earthquake, tsunami, and wildfire. With a limited budget to build safely, get prepared, and communicate, it’s up to you to keep your city safe when disaster strikes. 


Whether you’re looking for a slick way to illustrate an evacuation route or trying to visualize vulnerable populations in a pandemic, mapping technology can be invaluable—but small nonprofits rarely have a cartographer on the payroll. That’s where MapTogether comes in with free training, software, and other resources. Check out their site for examples of how their tools can be applied to public safety, disaster preparedness, and relief efforts.


Before an earthquake rocks their bottom line, QuakeSmart will help companies reinforce their business plans against disaster. Part of a FEMA Mitigation Directorate project to get communities back on their feet after disaster, QuakeSmart offers companies resources to analyze risk, keep employees safe, and join the preparedness conversation.


Making the Most of Social Media
Okay, you can’t take it any more—you’re ready to set your local government up on Twitter, Facebook, and RSS just to get the social media worshippers off your back. Before you do, take a moment to read Making the Most of Social Media: Seven Lessons from Successful Cities. The University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government examined governments using social media and condensed that information into a handy guide for any organization about to dip its toes into this vast sea.


Heritage Preservation’s Risk Evaluation and Planning Program
This site is the result of a recent program that tried to determine how risk evaluation coupled with preparedness measures might keep cultural and historic artifacts safe during disaster. Having determined that risk evaluation is an important first step in emergency planning for cultural institutions, Heritage Preservation has shared the information—including lessons learned, tools and tips, and project news—on a page dedicated to the effort.

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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]

March 31-April 2, 2009
2010 Virginia Emergency Management Symposium
Virginia Emergency Management Association
Hampton, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $225
This year’s theme is “Heads Up! Changes in Emergency Management.” Topics include the 2009 November Nor’easter, the D.C. Metro transit train crash, and urban search and rescue in Haiti.


April 23-25, 2010
Fourth Annual Wildland Fire Litigation Conference
Ken Roye
Reno, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $575, open until filled
This conference will address fire investigation, forensics, damages, and legal issues related to wildland fires. Sessions include “Meteorology and Wildland Fires,” “Lightning Forensics,” and “Ethics and Professional Responsibility in Mass Tort Litigation.”


May 11-13, 2010
18th Annual Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Conference
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Cost and Registration: $380 before March 15
This year’s conference, titled “United in Waves of Hope and Help,” will offer expert presentations to improve VOAD members’ skills, services, and organizational practices. Session topics include long-term recovery training, technology and holistic community readiness, and community emergency planning for special needs populations.


May 16-19, 2010
Eighth UCLA Conference on Public Health and Disasters
University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Public Health and Disasters
Torrance, California
Cost and Registration: $395 before April 16, Open until filled
This conference will promote dialog between local health departments and others to improve emergency public health preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. Topics address emergency public health issues, mass shelters, hospital and community clinics as partners in disaster response, and the escalation of response from emergency to disaster.


May 23-28, 2010
24th Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Florida Emergency Preparedness Association, National Weather Service, Florida State Emergency Response Team, and American Red Cross
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Cost and Registration: $150 before March 26, Open until filled
This conference will identify ways to improve hurricane preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation by discussing all aspects of hurricane threats. Topics include lessons learned, new strategies, the availability of federal and private assistance to local governments, and the role of emergency management throughout the disaster cycle.


May 26, 2010
2010 Coastal Resilience Symposium
Rice University
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $25 before May 15
This symposium seeks a more resilient Houston region by discussing what to expect if a Hurricane Ike-sized storm makes landfall southwest of Houston, especially with new growth in low-lying areas. Sessions will discuss risks and vulnerabilities, structural and non-structural mitigation options, and coastal and public policy issues.


This conference, featured in DR 540, has been canceled. Check their Web site for further information.

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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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.]

Program Officer, Haiti
World Vision UK
Buckinghamshire, England
Salary: $39,371 to $44,671
Closing Date: March 16, 2010
This position will lead the World Vision UK response to the Haiti earthquake, manage new and ongoing projects, and increase public awareness, influence policy, and enhance information sharing. Three years of nongovernmental organization work, including two in developing countries, and experience in relief and rehabilitation program design, project cycles, and proposal development are required.


Health and Disaster Management Program Manager
Australian Agency for International Development
Jakarta, Indonesia
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 21, 2010
This position manages health, gender, and disaster management programs, develops program strategies, and maintains databases and reference materials. Previous project management, development, and analytical skills are required.


Deputy Director, GS-14/15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Biloxi, Mississippi
Salary: $96,690 to $147,857
Closing Date: March 23, 2010
This position manages disaster recovery and mitigation operations, coordinates long-term recovery needs with state, tribal, and local agencies, and develops recovery plans. One year of experience at GS-13 or above is required.


Operations Management Delegate
American Red Cross
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 24, 2010
This position coordinates and implements American Red Cross projects in Haiti; analyzes the effect of social, political, and economic trends on strategic plans; and promotes program development. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and seven years experience are required, including three years as a senior field representative for a large philanthropic agency, international organization, or the Red Cross.


Statistician, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $74,872 to $97,333
Closing Date: March 31, 2010
This position reviews fire incident information, performs statistical analysis of the national fire problem, designs customized computer techniques for data collection and analysis, and consults with fire program specialists. A degree in statistics and one year of experience at GS-11 are required.


Recovery Specialist/GIS Technician
James Lee Witt Associates
Various Locations
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: March 31, 2010
This position manages disaster response and recovery data, develops maps and other visual products, conducts fieldwork, and instructs new GIS users. A bachelor’s degree in geography, cartography, or a related field, five years experience developing disaster management applications, and five years experience with ArcGIS 8.3 or higher 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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