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Number 544 • April 9, 2010 | Past Issues













1) Shaky Ground: Quake Instability Is Far More than Earth Deep

A recent spate of earthquakes with wide-ranging levels of destruction highlights the many factors that play into survival and eventual recovery. From Haitians still far from normalcy after a magnitude 7.0 in January to Sumatrans unscathed by a 7.8 on Wednesday, its clear that earthquake impact is a volatile mix of earth, social, and economic whimsy.

The January 12 Haiti earthquake was more than twice as deadly as any previous 7.0 event, according to University of Colorado seismologist Roger Bilham. Bilham, writing in the journal Nature, points out one obvious reason for this enhanced damage:

“The buildings had been doomed during their construction,” he stated. “Every possible mistake was evident: brittle steel, coarse non-angular aggregate, weak cement mixed with dirty or salty sand, and the widespread termination of steel reinforcement rods at the joints between columns and floors of buildings where earthquake stresses are highest.”

Bilham rests the responsibility for the estimated 230,000 deaths, 1.5 million homeless, and countless injuries on “decades of unsupervised construction permitted by a government oblivious to its plate-boundary location.”

“In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction,” Bilham wrote. “It is time to formulate plans for a new United Nations mission—teams of inspectors to ensure that people do not construct buildings designed to kill their occupants.”

While Bilham points to failure at the juncture of the physical and political, others see the tremendous degradation of the natural environment as equally problematic.

“You and virtually all others talk about Haiti's recovery as though it were just a matter of better government and housing,” former Woods Hole Research Center Director George M. Woodwell wrote in a personal communication to the Natural Hazards Center.  “The very first requirement…is a sustaining and stable environment: a landscape that works to sustain life. A place for a government to stand and to build an economy.”

Without such sustainability, Woodwell points out in a lengthy post on his The Nature of Our House blog, improvements in the systems that allowed the destruction in the first place will tend toward future entropy. Instead, he posits, Haiti must look to rebuilding its ecological wealth.

“The first step for Haiti and for the world is to separate the scientific and technical from the social, economic and political: to ask the question ‘What will work?’ in an ecological and biological sense without, at least initially, involving social mechanisms or political or economic processes,” he writes. “Once the biophysical goals are clear, economic and political action has potential. Without clear biophysical goals, economic and political methods will founder....and will always founder.”

That’s not to say social structures such as insurance plans and building codes don’t have an important role to play. In other areas of the world, earthquakes of similar magnitude have wrought far less destruction in terms of both human life and monetary damage.

The 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile February 27 moved the city of Concepción about 10 feet to the west and shifted the earth’s axis enough to make each day 1.26 microseconds shorter, according to a CNN report on measurements by several university teams and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Even so, it was not as damaging as the less powerful Haitian quake, because of what the insurance company Swiss Re called “the highly advanced anti-seismic construction standards in Chile.”

Although the death toll topped 700, preliminary damage estimates issued by Swiss Re in early March put insured losses from the Chile quake at $4 to $7 billion. The tendency of Chileans to be insured, earthquake aware, and live in seismically sound structures certainly limited the damage.

According to one researcher, it’s higher per capita gross domestic product that really makes a difference in who lives and who dies in earthquakes.

A 2005 study by UCLA Institute of the Environment Professor Matthew Kahn found that 65 percent of disaster deaths from 1989 to 1999 happened in countries with a GDP of less than $760 per capita, according to a U.S. News and World Report article. After accounting for factors such as disaster prevalence and severity, Kahn still found that vulnerability to disaster shakes out to dollars and cents.

"In Chile, we know that they had better building codes," Kahn told the magazine. "A richer guy can afford a home built from better materials. In Haiti, many houses were built with cruddy materials."

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2) Getting Old Is Not for Wimps

Older Americans are at increasing risk of dying from injuries, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers found that Americans 65 and older had increased death rates between 2000 and 2006 from falls (42 percent increase), motorcycle crashes (145 percent), machinery accidents (46 percent), accidental poisoning (34 percent), and drowning (19 percent). Curiously, researchers Guoquing Hu and Susan P. Baker found that death from falls increased among older people, but the incidence of falls did not.

"Alcohol is another contributing risk factor worthy of consideration," said senior author Guoqing. "Given the association between alcohol and injury, recent documented increases in alcohol problems among the elderly may be another partial explanation for the increase in severe falls."

"Our findings reveal significant increases in death rates from several different injury causes," co-author Baker said. "While the overall change in injury mortality among persons 65 and older was small, this study identifies important causes worthy of further investigation."

The research appeared in the February 2010 issue of the journal Injury Prevention.

Motorcycle crashes?

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3) Have You Updated Your Natural Hazards Observer Subscription?

We’ve gotten a great response to our new Natural Hazards Observer e-mail notification list, which sends subscribers a convenient link every time an electronic edition of the Observer is ready. But with our print edition of the Observer on a hiatus until November, we want to make sure no one gets left out.

If you haven’t already, simply go to our new information update page, enter as much information as you’d like and click the “Subscribe me to the Observer” button. You’ll be added to the e-mail list, but your print subscription preferences will remain the same.

Even if you're not interested in the Observer e-mail list, you might want to take a moment to update your information securely online. It’s the best way to make sure we’re square when the Observer returns to print.

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4) Mary Fran Myers Award Deadline Approaching

There's only one week left to nominate someone for the 2010 Mary Fran Myers Award! The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

To be eligible, an individual must have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The award winner will be invited to participate in the 35th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on July 10-13 and will be acknowledged in the Workshop program. Workshop fees will be covered. Travel to and accommodations at the Workshop are the winner's responsibility.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  • Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  • The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae
  • A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  • An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization

Nominations should be submitted to by April 16, 2010.

Questions can be directed to Elaine Enarson at or to Kristinne Sanz. For more information, visit the award page on the Natural Hazards Center Web Site.

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5) Last Chance to Enter the Student Paper Competition

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop, but the opportunity is fading fast. Students have until April 15 to submit their entries to our Fifth Annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. The competition is open to students enrolled in graduate or undergraduate classes for at least one term of the 2009-2010 academic year.

For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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

Call for Student Abstracts
Eighth Conference on Public Health and Disasters
UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters
Deadline: May 3, 2010
The UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters is accepting student abstracts for poster presentations at its Eighth Conference on Public Health and Disasters to be held May 16-19 in Torrance, California. Posters must be authored solely by the student to be eligible. Students are expected to remain by their poster during the presentation. More information and an application form can be found at the link above.


Call for Participation
Healthcare Emergency Manager Salary Survey
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: Before May 1, 2010
The International Association of Emergency Managers is asking for emergency management personnel in healthcare to take a quick survey regarding their salary, organization, and background. All information is anonymous. Results of the survey will be posted on IAEM listservs and on May 1.

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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]

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate has created a new simulation and training software that models evacuation from large stadiums and sports complexes. SportEvac lets users try to evacuate up to 70,000 people under numerous emergency scenarios. The software is now being tested in Mississippi college sports stadiums and will soon be available to other universities and professional sports venues.


Craft Emergency Relief Fund
Many disaster preparedness and recovery efforts are understandably focused on protecting and restoring "essential" services. The Craft Emergency Relief Fund, though, knows that after disaster, the art show must also go on. The group works to keep craft artists on their feet by providing emergency relief funding for artists, resources for artist preparedness and risk management, and advocacy and research.


This Is Public Health
You’ve heard of public health, but do you actually know what it is? If not, just look for the label. The Association of Schools of Public Health has launched a campaign to show how prevalent public health efforts are in our daily lives by slapping a sticker on them. The Web site offers free labels in three different sizes and a map of “This Is Public Health” sticker sightings.


Great Hurricane Blowout
The Great Hurricane Blowout—a six-phase program that takes users step-by-step through the process of building a comprehensive preparedness plan—kicked off last week. Experts will guide participants in interactive exercises during April and May, leading to complete preparedness when hurricane season starts June 1. Stick with it through the end, and enjoy a special “Dine in the Dark” meal using celebrity recipes to create a delicious dinner right from your disaster supply kit.

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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]

April 22, 2010
Flood Fighters 2010
City Security and Resilience Networks
Manchester, England
Cost and Registration: $521, Open until filled
This conference discusses best practices to protect businesses, staff, and infrastructure from severe weather and flooding events. Session topics include the human impact of flooding, the role of business in economic recovery, how business can most effectively engage with first responders, and government response to flooding.


May 19-23, 2010
International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Baltimore, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $635 before April 19, 2010, Open until filled
This conference prepares hazmat responders by examining the latest products and methods in hazmat responses. Session topics include first responders and terrorist attacks, the Hazmat IQ system, maritime hazmat response, hazardous materials in the flood environment, threat and vulnerability analysis, and the fundamentals of atmospheric monitoring.


June 7-10, 2010
13th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Conference
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: See Web site
This conference encourages and supports inter-school dialogue on a variety of issues and facilitates communication between the Emergency Management Higher Education Project and university and college representatives. Issues to be addressed include challenges in developing new programs; international disaster management; improving the relevancy of and interest in hazards, disasters, and emergency management courses; and incorporating experiential and service learning in the classroom.


June 8-12, 2010
The International Emergency Management Society 17th Annual Conference
The International Emergency Management Society
Beijing, China
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference promotes the exchange of information and innovative methods to improve national and international mitigation of, response to, and recovery from emergencies and disasters. Session topics include establishing emergency management systems; global earthquake catastrophe emergency response, rescue, and recovery; handling emergencies from a national point of view; a Nepalese perspective on the effects of climate change; and the application of spatial technology in emergency management.


June 10-11, 2010
First Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) Annual Conference
Ambulance Hazardous Area Response Team
Liverpool, England
Cost and Registration: $532, Open until filled
This conference highlights the work of hazardous area response teams and examines the fundamentals of national resilience and emergency preparedness. Session topics include the view from the front line, HART and its effects on the national ambulance service, Hurricane Katrina and other major events, and Haiti: the UK’s response to an international tragedy.


July 12-15, 2010
Rebuilding Sustainable Communities with the Elderly and Disabled People after Disasters
University of Massachusetts Boston
Boston, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $300, Open until filled
This conference examines long-term sustainable community recovery and rebuilding needs in post-disaster environments. Specific issues to be addressed include the status of elderly and disabled people after disasters, the participation of the elderly and disabled in local, regional, and national post-disaster reconstruction policies, plans, and programs, and the role of women with disabilities in formulating and implementing reconstruction policies.

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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.]

Public Education Advisor
Joint Centre for Disaster Research
Wellington, New Zealand
Salary: $51,367 to $73,027
Closing Date: April 16, 2010
This position coordinates research activities between and with emergency management and research personnel, advises personnel of development opportunities, promotes resilience-building activities, and contributes to "research to practice" initiatives. A master’s degree in education, emergency management, or related field and the ability to maintain relationships with external agencies while managing multiple tasks are required.


Associate Director
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Madison, Wisconsin
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: June 1, 2010
This position assists the executive director in managing organization activities and finances, developing positions on national policy, and building relationships with Congress, agencies, and other organizations. A bachelor’s degree, ten years in a management position, experience in floodplain management disciplines, and successful project development and completion are required.


Research Associate
University of Ulster
Coleraine, Ireland
Salary: $38,194 to $41,735
Closing Date: April 19, 2010
This position conducts research on coastal adaptation to climate change, communicates results to stakeholders, develops Web-based adaptation resources, and contributes to publications. A degree in geography, environmental science, or a related field, relevant postgraduate research experience in climate change adaptation and science, and knowledge of environmental decision making, public participation, and integrated coastal zone management are required.


Head of Organizational Development
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development
Various Locations, United Kingdom
Salary: $46,428 to $59,774
Closing Date: April 18, 2010
This position secures and manages institutional funding to support emergency response and humanitarian programs, assists in building long-term capacity, develops evaluation systems that demonstrate the effectiveness of organizational development activities, identifies learning needs, and commissions external consultants to address those needs. A master’s degree or relevant experience, ability to identify and design organizational development interventions, and knowledge of evaluation processes are required.


Emergency Education Program Manager
Concern Worldwide
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 15, 2010
This position supports the education coordinator in developing the emergency education program, manages various aspects of the program, assists in managing and training staff, and represents the organization at education cluster meetings to ensure the organization's work is linked to the broader national emergency and transition response. Fluency in French and Creole, working knowledge of English, and experience in implementing education or children's rights programs, working in emergency situations, and program evaluation 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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