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Number 547• May 20, 2010 | Past Issues













1) 15 Minutes Lost: Disaster Media Disses Tennessee Flooding

Earlier this month, Tennessee hosted an epic flood and nobody came. Oh, sure the Associated Press was there, but they attend everything. And later, when things were winding down, Anderson Cooper dropped in for a shot or two, but that was pretty much it. Mostly, it was just the local crews hanging out, doing what they do, but with a lot more water added. The Nashville flood was a dud.

Glib comparisons aside, the national media's lack of attention was a serious snub—not only in terms of marginalizing a significant disaster, but also in the blow it dealt to relief efforts. While disaster news coverage is often characterized as opportunistic, provocative, and careless, the Tennessee situation begs the question: is it preferable to no coverage at all?

Ironically, some of the same news outlets—including the Washington Post and Newsweek—that paid lip service to the flooding have expended quite a few inches pondering why they didn’t talk more about it. Their take on a missing story about three months of rain in less than two days killing 30 people? Probably what you’d expect.

According to most pundits, there are two reasons Nashville was a no-go for reporters—first, the flooding was poorly timed, conflicting with a Times Square bombing attempt and a burgeoning oil spill looming over four states. Also, it just wasn’t that compelling of a story.

“The ‘narrative’ simply wasn't as strong,” Andrew Romano writes in the Newsweek piece. “The problem for Nashville was that both the Gulf oil spill and the Times Square terror attempt are like the Russian novels of this 24/7 media culture, with all the plot twists and larger themes (energy, environment, terrorism, etc.) required to fuel the blogs and cable shows for weeks on end.”

Locals, in a sort of sour—or perhaps, sweet—grapes idealism, have interpreted that to mean their behavior was essentially too good for the news.

“It was not a PR nightmare,” writes Jan Morrison on the marketing blog Lovell Links. “It was handled with relative calm, an organized response and a lack of sensationalism.”

Nashville native Patten Fuqua devoted a post on his Section 303 hockey site to expressing a similar sentiment.

“A large part of the reason that we are being ignored is because of who we are,” Fuqua wrote. “Think about that for just a second. Did you hear about looting? Did you hear about crime sprees? No…you didn’t. You heard about people pulling their neighbors off of rooftops.”

Not all locals have been so equanimous. An oft-quoted rant by Betsy Phillips on the Nashville Scene Web site shows the outrage area viewers felt watching inane events parade across the screen without ever seeing “footage of the flood, news of our people dying.” An eloquent, but no less incredulous, column by Nashville news anchor Bob Sellers on the Huffington Post calls national news outlets to task not only for delayed response, but also for shoddy workmanship.

“I'm not surprised the national media came upon the story of the Nashville flood late in the game,” he writes. “There was a bomb scare on May 1st, the first day of the rains. Bombs in Times Square and oil leaks in the Gulf are significant stories. But even when they did discover the Flood of 2010, the minute-thirty pieces on network news showing inundated tourist destinations kind of missed the expanse of the event and the depth of its pain to the victims of a once in a lifetime flood.”

Regardless of the emotion invoked by the cold media shoulder, one might wonder, why do they care so much? According to many disaster experts, the media do little more than muck up an emergency: spreading myths and misinformation, getting in the way instead of helping, and capitalizing on sorrow. Maybe the folks down in Tennessee should count their blessings.

The problem is, without widespread media coverage, blessings might be all they have to count. Nothing whips up a donation frenzy like a solicitous news story and no national coverage equals no national sympathy. It’s a lesson organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have reconciled themselves to for some time.

“Many aid agencies regard media coverage of the world’s crises as selective and stereotyped,” the IFRC stated in its World Disaster Report 2005. “But they still crave publicity, hoping it will generate more funding and attention for disaster relief.”

With the latest estimates of property damage in the $2 billion range, belated media might be better than no media at all. As Romano states, it matters.

“Media silence means public ignorance, and public ignorance means fewer charitable donations, slower aid, and less political pressure,” he writes. “If that's not reason enough to cover the flood—to do our jobs—I don't know what is.”

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2) America Has Climate Choices, But How Will It Decide?

The climate is warming, it’s warming because of human activity, and it’s time to do something about it.

These are the conclusions of America’s Climate Choices, a series of studies released Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. Three reports in the series—Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change, and Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change—were released at news conference and Webcast featuring interviews with lead authors. Two more documents will be released later this year.

“The state of climate change science is strong, and the scientific community needs to continue to expand on its understanding, and focus on when and where the most severe impact will occur,” NAS President Ralph Cicerone said.

The first report, Advancing the Science of Climate Change, isn’t likely to surprise most people who’ve followed the issue.  Stanford University’s Pamela Matson, who shepherded the report, said the work emphasizes clear conclusions about what we’ve learned so far.

These include that the earth is warming—the past decade is 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on average than a decade one hundred years ago—surface and ocean temperatures are increasing, the sea level is rising, and ecosystems are being affected. Concentrations of greenhouse gases are increasing and “there are clear fingerprints that link them to human activities,” she said. The laws of physics—in the incarnation of the enhanced greenhouse effect—assure that warming will continue into the future.

From a hazards perspective, the consequences of a warming globe are also unsurprising. We can expect more and more severe heat waves, stronger ocean storms, heavier rainfalls, and alterations of traditional hydrology. The curveball, as the two subsequent reports make clear, is where these events occur. That will depend on regional climate factors, an area of research and knowledge that is less certain.

Keeping with the same old story theme, the contentious issue of how we address these problems hasn’t gotten any less ambiguous either. Robert Fri of Resources for the Future said that while his group—which produced Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change—didn’t identify a specific target for U.S. carbon emissions, other research suggests the nation needs to limit emissions to less than 170-200 billion tons between 2012 and 2050 if warming is to be curbed. At current rates, this “budget” would be exceeded well before 2050. Furthermore, the technology needed to meet this carbon emissions budget isn’t available.

“Even if all available and emerging technology—efficiencies, renewable, nuclear, carbon capture and storage for coal plants and biofuels—even if all those can be deployed to their fullest technical potential, it’s clear that we will still need new and additional emission reduction options if we’re going to meet that budget,” Fri said. “And so, a principal conclusion of our report is that the country needs both a prompt and a sustained national commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” The national commitment should also include “potential equity implications…with special attention to disadvantaged populations,” he said.

Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change calls for a carbon pricing system, although it does not address whether to use cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, a combination, or some other scheme. The financial incentive would be used to drive new technologies in both government and private sector initiatives.

The third report, Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, tackles the decision processes needed to address climate change impacts. Because climate change will impact the Gulf Coast differently than the Northwest and the Rockies differently than California, local and regional actions must set the pace.

“Adaptation to reduce vulnerabilities associated with likely impacts of climate change cannot be accomplished by the federal government or any other single decision maker alone,” the report states. “The challenges are too diverse, the contexts are too different, and too many parties have knowledge and capacities to contribute.… Adaptation planning and action will be required across all levels of government as well as within the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and community organizations.”

Despite the time and expertise that went into the long-awaited reports, even their recommendations are subject to uncertainty. Even in the best-studied arena, no one can predict regional impacts with much confidence or say if the climate system has a “tipping point” at which abrupt change occurs. As one questioner at the press conference pointed out, it’s unclear if we would recognize abrupt climate change if it were to occur. The summer Arctic may be ice-free within a decade. Is that abrupt climate change? And whether it is or not, what are consequences? No one knows.

Two additional reports in this series will be released later this year. Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change will examine how to best provide decision makers with information on climate change. A final summary report, America's Climate Choices, will offer a scientific framework for the policy decisions underlying the nation's efforts to confront climate change.

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3) The Natural Hazards Workshop Is On the Way

Planning has begun for our 35th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop and each day we’ll be bringing you Web updates on schedules, speakers, and all the thought-provoking sessions our Workshop is known for. This year’s theme will be Larger Disasters: New Risks and New Opportunities.

Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Director for Civil Works Steven L. Stockton will deliver a keynote address and we’ll have plenary sessions on 2010 Haiti earthquake, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the America's Climate Choices study.

New this year is a special half-day pre-Workshop session on earthquake early warning technology and policy presented by the Western States Seismic Policy Council.

Registration is by invitation only. Visit our registration page if you’d like to request or haven’t received an invitation. You’ll need your e-mail invite to register, so make sure we have your current information by using our sign up page. And you can always get Workshop updates and the latest in hazards news from our Twitter feed.

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4) Oil Spill Resources Available from the Natural Hazards Center

Although the full impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are yet unknown, previous technological disasters can give us insight into what to expect. The Natural Hazards Center has collected a variety of Web links, video, news, commentary, bibliographies, and other academic resources to keep you in the know as the Deepwater Horizon situation advances. Our continuously updated resource page—which includes information on the Exxon Valdez, Selendang Ayu, and Rhode Island North Cape oil spills—will continue to advance along with the situation.

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

Call for Abstracts
IRCD Researchers Meeting
International Research Committee on Disasters and the Natural Hazards Center
Deadline: June 4, 2010
The International Sociological Association's International Research Committee on Disasters is accepting abstracts for presentation at the IRCD Researchers Meeting immediately following the Natural Hazards Center Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on July 13-14. Hazards and disasters research from any discipline will be considered. For abstract guidelines and electronic submission information, visit the IRCD Researchers Meeting Page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.


Call for Nominations
Firewise Leadership Awards
Firewise Communities
Deadline: July 30, 2010
Nominations are now being accepted for the 2010 Firewise Leadership Awards recognizing individuals and organizations that advance wildfire mitigation in the wildland–urban interface. Eligible nominees might have promoted agency or community collaboration, advocated communication or information programs, implemented engineering innovations, or made other improvements in mitigation. Visit the Firewise Awards Web site for nomination guidelines and a list of past award winners.

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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]

Oil Spill Academic Task Force
With sludge from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill projected to hit Florida beaches, the state’s academic community has mobilized to assess and model the spill's coastal impact, evaluate risks and logistics, and coordinate citizen response efforts. The Task Force Web site has information on all aspects of the disaster, including mapping and tracking the oil and ecological, economic, and legal implications.


StormSmart Connect
For those working to protect communities along U.S. coasts, the ever-growing StormSmart Coasts Network is a great resource that just got a little greater. StormSmart Connect is the latest cool tool in the network’s repertoire: kind of like Facebook for coastal concerns. The easy-to-use interface lets members collaborate, share documents, form groups, and otherwise keep up with the people they need to know.


A Timeline of National Science Foundation History
The National Science Foundation turns 60 this year and the occasion is a great opportunity for a little stroll down memory lane. The NSF has put together a fun and interactive timeline that lets users easily scroll through the organization's milestones in advancing science and engineering.


USGS WaterAlert
Thanks to a little help from the U.S. Geological Survey, the river can now tell you when it’s about the flood. And if you’d like it to send you a handy text or e-mail warning, that’s no problem either. When you sign up for WaterAlert, surface water, ground water, water quality, or precipitation data can be sent from USGS water gages directly to your phone or e-mail. Data is sent in real time via satellite, so when the gages know the water is rising, so will you.


A Vision for Technology-Mediated Support for Public Participation and Assistance in Mass Emergencies and Disasters
Although social media remains a little harnessed—and for many, little understood—resource, its use in recent disasters leaves little doubt that it will play a significant future role. The authors of this report examine how a symbiotic system of computational tools and social media might allow citizens to play a reliable role in crisis communications. Topics for research include the quantity and quality of information, mechanisms for ensuring information trustworthiness and security, and new information extraction techniques, according to the report abstract.

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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]

May 24-29, 2010
Recent Advances in Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics
Missouri University of Science and Technology
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $825, open until filled
This conference will share advances in geotechnical earthquake engineering and soil dynamics and provide a clear direction for future research. A special session will examine the seismic activity and geotechnical aspects of the 2010 Haitian and Chilean earthquakes.


May 31-June 4, 2010
Cities on Volcanoes 6
Technological Institute for the Renewable Energies, Tenerife, and the Cities and Volcanoes Commission
Tenerife, Spain
Cost and Registration: $419, open until filled
This conference will promote improved volcanic risk management in densely populated volcanic regions by sharing knowledge and experience. The positive aspects of living in volcanically active environments will also be examined. Session topics include understanding volcanic hazards, volcanic risk education and outreach, and volcanic crisis management on active volcanic islands.


June 23-25, 2010
Second International Conference on Modeling, Monitoring, and Management of Forest Fires
Wessex Institute of Technology
Kos, Greece
Cost and Registration: $1,752, open until filled
This conference will discuss all aspects of forest fire research, as well as the development of computer applications that could reduce loss of life and property. Topics covered will include fire propagation, firefighting strategies, and the economic, ecological, social, and health effects of fires.


July 6-7, 2010
Geoinformatic Forum Salzburg
Centre for Geoinformatics and Institute for GIScience
Salzburg, Austria
Cost and Registration: $317 before May 28, 2010
This conference will examine interdisciplinary hazard and climate change research and the methods used to assess, quantify, and represent vulnerability spatially. Session topics include spatial approaches to vulnerability assessment, mapping urban vulnerability from a multi-hazard perspective, and disaster resilience and vulnerability.


August 11-12, 2010
Fifth Annual Disaster Planning for Hospitals Conference
World Research Group
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This conference will help hospitals effectively prepare for disasters, create efficient disaster plans, and manage logistical and financial recovery plans. Conference topics include increasing surge capacity, forming hazmat emergency teams, and a look at lessons learned from the Haiti disaster.


July 28-30, 2010
Shanghai Disaster Risk Reduction Forum
Development Information Network, Local Governments for Sustainability, and others
Shanghai, China
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This forum will discuss disaster risk reduction, facilitate communication between Chinese officials, and foster multi-stakeholder partnerships that reduce disaster risk at the sub-national level.

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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.]

Senior Scientist
Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion
Toronto, Canada
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: June 11, 2010
This position assists in developing agency strategies, policies, and training activities; leads research initiatives; and coordinates collaborative research activities. A master’s degree and experience in education, project management, and emergency management research are required.


Hurricane Program Manager, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $87,292 to $113,478
Closing Date: May 25, 2010
This position evaluates the effectiveness of hurricane planning programs and their integration with federal-level plans and performs required long-range planning.  One year of experience at GS-12 or above is required.


Senior Disaster Preparedness and Planning Delegate
American Red Cross
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: May 28, 2010
This position is responsible for disaster preparedness activities, assessing disaster risks and vulnerabilities, analyzing disaster response mechanisms, and identifying the needs of vulnerable populations. A bachelor’s degree in disaster management or a related field; seven years experience in emergency humanitarian response, two of which should be in a developing country; and one year in project management are required.


Emergency Management Planning Section Coordinator
City and County of Denver
Denver, Colorado
Salary: $49,038 to $78,235
Closing Date: May 28, 2010
This position maintains the city emergency operations plan, plans for special events, evaluates incidents, and coordinates agency and city response. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and two years emergency management experience are required.


Supervisory Exercise Program Specialist, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $123,758 to $155,500
Closing Date: May 24, 2010
This position serves as the exercise planning branch chief, overseeing staff, developing programs to improve response to terrorism and catastrophes, and advising on the implementation of national exercise activities.  One year of experience at GS-14 or above is required.


Emergency Planning Coordinator
Washtenaw County
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Salary: $43,743 to $62,262
Closing Date: May 25, 2010
This position supports homeland security and emergency management projects, coordinates disaster response and exercise planning, manages county emergency action guidelines, and responds to crises. A bachelor’s degree in public safety or a related field and four years of professional experience, including two years as an emergency manager or disaster planner, 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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