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Number 545 • April 22, 2010 | Past Issues













1) Joe (and Everyone Else) Versus the Volcano

It’s often said that all disasters are local, but the recent ash plume from an Icelandic volcano has cast a shadow on the absoluteness of that statement. Eyjafjallajökull this week filled the skies with a cloud of thick ash that stopped European air traffic for six days, while those nearest the glacier-veiled volcano enjoyed clear days and relatively little fallout. Even more unusual, the economic impacts of the eruption were felt sooner than the environmental ones. Although not one life was lost, thousands mourned—most of them from airports.

The contrary nature of this particular disaster has provided a platform for many discussions, including the sustainability of our interconnected economies, our ability to respond to unexpected events, and our sometimes paltry efforts to mitigate the actions of Mother Nature.

“The eruption in Iceland is not large as volcanoes go, but the cloud over Europe has shed light on the awkward overlay of human commerce and a hot, churning, unpredictable Earth,” according to an article in the Washington Post. “It raises the question of what governments can do to prepare for—and adapt to—wild-card geological events that not only affect airliners but can also alter the planet's climate for years at a stretch.”

While the Eyjafjallajökull ash plume hasn’t reached high enough into the atmosphere to spark climate concerns, the reverberations from its grounding of airplanes have extended far and wide. “For all of the talk of globalization, we see what a global construct our sense of normality really is,” states a New York Times editorial.

One more immediate byproduct of the ash-imposed lack of air travel appears to be political angst. Predictably, airlines were unhappy with governments’ blanket closure of airspace.

“We are far enough into this crisis to express our dissatisfaction on how governments have managed it—with no risk assessment, no consultation, no co-ordination and no leadership,” the Guardian quoted International Air Transport Association Director General Giovanni Bisignani as saying Monday. “This crisis is costing airlines at least $200m a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business.”

Others have been less scathing, but agree that the decision making process behind the closures had been both opaque and disproportionate, according to an article in the New York Times.

The quiet in the skies hasn’t been entirely unappreciated. It seems many Brits like the quiet, others had fun launching a Dunkirk-style repatriation scheme (quickly nixed by the French), and the freeze even inspired a new magazine to be staffed entirely by bored, stranded people.

The broader lesson may be that, as with many other forms of disaster, our societies have been built right in harm’s way.

"Volcanic risk is actually rising, not because we're not doing our jobs, but because people are putting themselves nearer volcanoes, particularly with air travel," the Washington Post quoted U.S. Geological Survey geologist Marianne Guffanti as saying.

Wherever blame is placed, it’s unlikely to make much difference. Volcanic ash—particularly Icelandic volcanic ash—has long spurred political unrest. According to another Guardian article last week, an eruption of the Laki volcano from June 1783 to February 1784 caused famine and crop failures that ultimately led to the French Revolution. With Eyjafjallajökull acting unpredictably, and its last three eruptions followed by activity from its more fiery sister, Katla, chances are we haven’t heard the last from Iceland and beyond.

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2) National Flood Insurance Program: Back, Not Necessarily on Track

Congress reinstated the National Flood Insurance Program Monday. But the beleaguered plan is more than $18 billion in debt, and a strategy to put the program back on an even keel seems nearly unreachable.

According to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday, the NFIP is not “actuarially sound” and suffers from operational issues as well. The program, which was created in 1968 to fill gaps in private sector flood insurance, is poorly structured for providing coverage, the report stated.

“NFIP cannot do some of the things that private insurers do to manage their risks,” according to the report summary. “For example, NFIP is not structured to build a capital surplus, is likely unable to purchase reinsurance to cover catastrophic losses, cannot reject high-risk applicants, and is subject to statutory limits on rate increases. In addition, its premium rates do not reflect actual flood risk.”

Even so, a recent 18-day funding lapse that closed NFIP offices, leaving hundreds in home-buying limbo, highlighted the need for some sort of stopgap flood coverage. Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota estimated that 1,400 prospective homeowners a day couldn’t close on mortgages without access to the NFIP, according the Associated Press.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which operates the program, has made improvements, according to congressional testimony given by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate Wednesday. Among the advances he cited were the creation of an NFIP Reform Working Group, an extensive update of the nation’s flood insurance rate maps, and a push for community awareness and participation.

We learned two very valuable things from the [NFIP Reform Group] listening sessions,” Fugate stated in the testimony. “First and foremost, we learned that the NFIP still provides an essential service to the American people that would be otherwise unavailable or unaffordable. Second, we confirmed that the NFIP requires meaningful reform.”

The GAO recommends that those reforms include stepping up rates to reflect risks and providing more oversight of companies that sell flood policies. The current NFIP funding extension is set to expire again on May 31

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3) Learn More About NHC Research in Haiti on Tuesday’s Webcast

Sometimes research just can’t wait. Neither can some actions. So when Natural Hazards Center Assistant Research Director Leisel Ritchie had a chance to collect data and help build shelters for Haitians displaced by the January 12 earthquake, she headed to Haiti.

Since then, Ritchie has returned to the earthquake-ravaged country several times, collecting perishable data while working with organizations that provide temporary shelters with an eye toward long-term rebuilding.

Ritchie’s experience as one of the first researchers in the field will be featured in a special National Science Foundation Webcast at 2 p.m. Eastern on April 27. Along with geophysicist Eric Calais and structural engineer Reginald DesRoches, Ritchie will talk about the value of rapid-response research and preliminary findings from Haiti. NSF’s Dennis Wenger will discuss how disaster research is used to save lives.
Visit the special report site, Learning from Haiti: Rapid Response Research, for researcher biographies, video and photographs, related resources, and to learn how to tune in to Tuesday’s Webcast.

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4) Natural Hazards Center Library Project Features Children in Disaster

Researchers studying children in disaster will soon find a unique resource at the Natural Hazards Center. The Natural Hazards Center Library has received a $5,000 Carnegie-Whitney Grant to create Children of the Storm, an annotated bibliography and associated database of resources related to children and disaster.

This project is an attempt to critically review and highlight best practices pertaining to children in disaster. The ultimate goal of Children of the Storm is to produce a comprehensive database and physical section of the Natural Hazards Center Library that will be publicized and presented at the 2010 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, in July.

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

Call for Abstracts
National Flood Workshop
Weather Research Center
Deadline: April 28, 2010
The Weather Research Center is accepting abstracts for oral and paper presentations at its National Flood Workshop to be held October 24-26 in Houston. Abstracts should be 350 words or less and cover various aspects of flooding, including meteorological or hydrological conditions, technology, modeling, and floodplain management. Visit the conference Web site at the above link for topic ideas and more information on how to submit an abstract for consideration.


Call for Papers
Technology for Hope and Help Conference
National Institute of Science, Space, and Security Centers
Deadline: May 1, 2010
The National Institute of Science, Space, and Security Centers is accepting papers for presentation at its Technology for Hope and Help Conference to be held June 22-24 in Colorado Springs. Academics, policy makers, and practitioners are encouraged to submit papers on topics such as connectivity and interoperability needs, technical issues in response, and technology to better support first responders. More information and submission requirements are available at the link above.


Call for Nominations
National Citizen Corps Achievement Awards
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: May 17, 2010
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting nominations for the 2010 National Citizen Corps Achievement Awards. The awards recognize Citizen Corps Councils and members whose innovative practices lead to excellence in emergency planning, problem solving, and collaboration and can be emulated by other communities. Activities and programs held between January 1, 2009, and May 17, 2010, will be considered. Nomination guides and applications can be accessed at the award Web site linked above.

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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]
Whether you’re new to or an old fan, there’s plenty to love about the site’s recent facelift. The folks at the Department of Homeland Security have dolled up their usual offerings to include a blog, news stories, and a focus on field technology. Resources are easily found by discipline and there’s even space to tell tales of your own first response successes. Of course all the same great grant, training, and library resources are still available, too.


American Radio Relay League
While organizations large and small grapple with the impact of new social media, it might be a good time to remember the original. Amateur radio operators have been providing disaster communications since the earliest days of the medium and the American Radio Relay League Web site helps them know what to do. With information on emergency certification, preparedness, and responding to disaster, the ARRL site is a great resource for operators and emergency organizations alike.


Failing Gracefully
Success is never assured and for those times that we must fail, the idea of failing gracefully prescribes a gentle crash with little burn. In this blog, science journalist Mason Inman ruminates on how our world might fail a little more gracefully and dishes up a lot of great resources in the process. Alongside Inman’s informal posts, the site features links to his work in Science, New Scientist, and Nature, top-notch book and article suggestions, and a collection of quotes pertaining to “finding resilience in uncertain times.”


GAO Report on FEMA Long-Term Disaster Recovery
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Long-Term Community Recovery branch is useful, but could benefit from some clarity and follow-through when assisting governments recover from disaster, according to this report by the Government Accountability Office. The GAO found that while FEMA long-term recovery assistance was valued by state and local officials, the criteria for when FEMA offers the assistance was vague. The extent of the assistance was also problematic, being implemented too soon in some cases and not extending long enough in others.


START Background Report: On the 15th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing
In conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has released a background report on the state of terrorism in the United States. The report has information on terrorist groups from the 1970s to present, types of terrorist attacks and weapons, facilities targeted for attack, and other data.

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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]

April 28-29, 2010
Inclusive Hurricane Preparedness Conference
EnableUS and Community Emergency Preparedness Information Network
Biloxi, Mississippi
Cost and Registration: $400, open until filled
This conference examines the challenges of responding to the disabled during hurricanes and emphasizes building relationships and integrating disability assistance organizations during planning and preparedness. Topics include building community partnerships, long-term recovery, using social networks, and accessible shelters.


May 5-7, 2010
Midwest Emergency Preparedness and Response Conference
Winnebago County Local Emergency Planning Committee
Rockford, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $125, open until filled
This conference presents an overview of changes in emergency management information and regulations. Session topics include hazardous materials response, forensic investigation and scene preservation, behavior-based safety applications, and lessons learned from H1N1.


May 19, 2010
Engineering Sustainability in the Face of Natural Hazards
University of Colorado College of Engineering and Applied Science
Boulder, Colorado
Cost and Registration: Free, no registration required
This symposium uses recent disasters to examine creating sustainable built environments. Topics include natural hazards and sustainability, lessons learned from Haiti, and development challenges.


May 26, 2010
2010 Coastal Resilience Symposium
Rice University
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $25 before May 15, open until filled
This symposium addresses coastal vulnerability to hurricanes and major storms. Topics include coastal threats, risks and vulnerabilities, structural and non-structural options, and public policy issues.


June 18-20, 2010
2010 Rural Fire Service Association Conference
Rural Fire Service Association
Rydges Lakeside Canberra, Australia
Cost and Registration: $750 before May 7, 2010
This conference looks at bushfire fighting, hazard reduction, emergency communications, community relations, firelines, and volunteer issues. Experts will share experiences and best practices bushfire fighting.

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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.]

Seismology Consultant
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Armenia and Tajikistan
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 25, 2010
This position will complete an in-depth seismological survey in Armenia and Tajikistan and determine needs for the organization, funding, and digital network expansion. A master’s degree in geology, seismic engineering, or a related field, seven years experience designing, operating, and managing seismological services, and fluency in English and Russian are required.


Corner Alliance, Inc.
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position assists emergency planners, documents development, assesses emergency plans, and analyzes and implements policies. A background in continuity of operations, corporate business continuity or crisis management, Federal Emergency Management Agency planning guidelines, or an understanding of the National Capital Region emergency coordination framework is required.


Program Specialist
University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon
Salary: $38,000 to $50,000
Closing Date: May 5, 2010
This position performs planning duties related to community, regional, and statewide emergency management planning. The program specialist provides project management and guidance in pre-disaster mitigation, catastrophic recovery planning, and disaster resistance, develops training programs, and coordinates outreach activities. A master’s degree in emergency management, public policy, or a related field and a year of experience in project management, land use planning, emergency management, or plan development are required.


Earthquake Response Programme Manager
Children’s Charity
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: May 7, 2010
This position will create a large-scale, child-focused earthquake response program in Haiti. Duties include supervising the program, coordinating funding, and establishing accountability. A bachelor’s degree in development or a related field, five years management experience in a development organization, and experience in disaster response programs are required.


Urban Risk Reduction Intern
United National International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Kobe, Japan
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 22, 2010
This position coordinates the Asia Regional Task Force on urban risk reduction, collects information on urban risk reduction campaign cities, and analyzes online dialogues on resilient cities. Enrollment in a post-graduate studies and experience in urban and environmental planning, natural sciences, or a related field are required.


Project Officer
International Medical Corps
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: May 15, 2010
This position manages the monitoring and evaluation process for the PREPARE project, prepares quarterly and annual project reports, and assists in project management. A bachelor’s degree, five years project management experience, and experience monitoring and evaluation are required.

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