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Number 548 • June 3, 2010 | Past Issues













1) No Helping Handouts: BP Slow to Accept Assistance with Oil Cleanup

Since the Deep Horizon platform exploded in April, there’s been no shortage of helping hands offering technology that might help clean up the oil seeping into the Gulf. The problem is that BP doesn’t seem to want a leg up.

The story is the same from Hollywood to Houston to The Hague; from a lone inventor to movie icons to European governments; from free offers to those that tie up resources—thanks but no thanks.

“I've gone down every path I could to get to BP,” Houston inventor Stephen Dvorak said in an interview with Culturemap Houston. “It's like Alice in Wonderland, there's 50 doors and they all lead back to the same Web site, same phone hotline.”

Dvorak invented a device he calls the SQUID (for Super Quick Underwater Incident Device) that would allow oil to rise through a flexible shroud to the surface where it could be collected. Although he’s reached out to various state and federal officials, including the Coast Guard, he can’t seem to get any love for his idea.

It’s not so strange, perhaps, that a little-known inventor with an unpatented technology can’t get the ear of a frenzied oil company scurrying to fix a very big mess. But the Dutch government, with tried and tested technology in hand, got much the same treatment.

Within three days of the platform explosion, BP was approached by makers of a sweeping arm system that removes oil from seawater, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor. When no reply was forthcoming, the Dutch government used political connections to make the Coast Guard aware of the technology, according to the article. More than a month later, six of the systems—which skim oil and water from the ocean’s surface into a tank where they’re separated—are on their way to the Gulf on loan from the Netherlands. The system can collect about 20,000 gallons of oil every three days, making a month’s delay significant.

“With this amount of oil, you should try to remove it as soon as possible,” Wierd Koops, who helped invent the system, told the CS Monitor. “Nature will do the rest.”

Where inventors and diplomats have struggled, Hollywood has made a bit of headway. BP agreed to test six experimental “Ocean Therapy” units developed by Waterworld actor Kevin Costner and his brother Dan, who is a scientist. The machine, which spins the oil from the water, has been licensed by the Department of Energy since 1993, according to a New York Daily News report.

“It's like a big vacuum cleaner,” Costner's business partner, John Houghtaling told the News. “The machines are basically sophisticated centrifuge devices that can handle a huge volume of water."

Costner’s Ocean Therapy machines, which come in varying sizes, clean all but one percent of the oil from the water, according to the Los Angeles Times. The largest could clean more than 200,000 gallons of water a day, Houghtaling said. As of late May, BP hadn’t agreed to actually use Costner’s machines, just test them. One reason BP might be wary of technologies like the Dutch system and Ocean Therapy are Environmental Protection Agency regulations that limit returning oiled water to its source, according to the CS Monitor.

Other technologies have also been spurned. A drive to create environmentally sound booms from hair and used nylons, for instance, was rebuffed as infeasible even though they’ve been used in other cleanup efforts, such as the 2007 Cosco Busan spill off the coast of San Francisco. And to prove BP isn’t star struck, James Cameron told the Daily Mail that he was “graciously turned away” after offering the company use of his fleet of submarines and the deepwater filming expertise he gained filming projects such as Titanic and The Abyss. Perhaps the Coast Guard will take him up on the offer.

“The government really needs to have its own independent ability to go down there and image the site, survey the site and do its own investigation,” the Mail quotes him as saying. “Because if you're not monitoring it independently, you're asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene.”

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2) Infectious Disease Eradication: Where Almost There Meets Never Gonna Happen

Putting an end to diseases of all kinds has long been on the wish list of scientists and those stricken. But while it might be human nature to yearn for a pestilence-free tomorrow, those in the eradication trenches know that some battles will be won and others are losing fights.

The worldwide eradication of polio is an ethical obligation the developed world should shoulder, according to a Perspectives piece in the Lancet. No sooner said than done…or at least begun.

The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund launched an effort in April to vaccinate 77 million children in 16 West African countries against the disease. In May, WHO vaccinated 1.1 million children in Tajikistan after a polio outbreak there. Tajikistan has seen 129 confirmed polio cases over the last few months; 83 percent were in children under five. Two deaths have been confirmed. This is the first outbreak of polio in WHO’s European region since it was declared a “polio-free zone” in 2002, according to a report from IRIN.  By the end of May, 6.3 million doses of vaccine had been distributed.

Since the introduction and widespread use of polio vaccine began in the 1950s, the disease has retreated. It is endemic in only four countries—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

Claudia Emerson, program leader in ethics at the University of Toronto’s McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health and lead author ofthe Lancet paper, states that polio is close to eradication. When the Global Polio Eradication Initiative was launched in 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio. In 2009, only 1,600 cases were reported. Only one disease—smallpox—has ever been eradicated.

“Polio is next in line,” Emerson stated. “It’s really running a marathon. We’re close to the finish line and it doesn’t make much sense to stop short of the finish line. We have a moral duty to do that.”

Polio isn’t the only affliction scientists want to see heading for the exit. A May 14 special issue of Science focused on eliminating malaria.

“The global research community must take up the challenge to work toward the eradication of malaria,” wrote Seattle Biomedical Research Institute’s Stefan Kappe and co-authors. They promote using a strategy that would kill the parasite in the mosquitoes that carry the disease.

With nearly 250 million cases of malaria causing about 800,000 deaths annually, quashing it will be more difficult than stamping out polio—if not impossible.

“Basically, we haven’t got a hope in hell of eradicating malaria,” McGill University biologist Jonathan Davies said in an interview with the Natural Hazards Center. “There are several strains going around. There are animal reservoir hosts. Even if we removed it from the human population, it might then re-infect us in the future through an animal host.”

Davies said that it is often easier and cheaper to control diseases in affected populations. Reducing a disease's prevalence in its area of greatest impact is more effective and efficient, he writes in an article published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

 “With polio, the difference is that we have it within our grasp,” he added. “We could actually eliminate this disease. At the moment, it’s really not feasible for malaria. Even within the United States, there have been huge efforts to remove the vector, there’s still malaria present in the U.S., just at a very low level, a low prevalence.”

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3) Brenda D. Phillips: 2010 Mary Fran Myers Award Winner

The Natural Hazards Center and the Gender and Disaster Network are happy to name Brenda D. Phillips as the 2010 Mary Fran Myers Award winner. The Mary Fran Myers award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Phillips work on gender is distinguished for both innovation and the holistic way in which she approaches the disadvantages faced by women in the disaster. Because these disadvantages are clustered with factors that compound female vulnerability, Phillips looks at gender as enmeshed in a wider pattern of disadvantage and discrimination. Her take on improving resiliency sees women not as potential victims, but as essential and untapped resources. Her research, much of which is framed by a social justice perspective, has been instrumental in spotlighting issues of domestic violence following disaster.

As a professor in the Fire and Emergency Management Program at Oklahoma State University, Phillips strives to ensure emergency responders are well-grounded in social vulnerability issues and is dedicated to instilling new professionals with a passion for building community disaster resilience. A senior researcher with the Center for the Study of Disasters and Extreme Events, she is among the first women worldwide to attain full professorship in an emergency management program. That accomplishment was thanks in part to the support and dedication of her colleague, Mary Fran Myers.

Phillips, a founding member of the Gender and Disaster Network, was recommended for this recognition based on prodigious writings, keen analyses, and an unstinting commitment to increasing gender and disaster knowledge. Her leadership—often behind the scenes—has enriched disaster scholarship, empowered students, and inspired a new community of practice.

For a more on the award and to see past winners, visit the Mary Fran Myers Award site.

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4) Natural Hazard Center Workshop Abstracts Deadline Extended

If you’ll be heading to the Natural Hazards Center Workshop in July, there’s still time to submit a poster or abstract telling people about your current work. We’ll accept abstracts for publication online and in our print program until June 11.

The 35th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Application Workshop will be held July 10-13 in Broomfield, Colorado. For more information and instructions on how to submit an abstract, visit our abstract guideline page.

Please note that abstract submissions are not the same as session proposals. Sessions and participants have already been selected.

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

Last 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.

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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]

Pew Internet Government Online Report
People are finding online government increasingly useful, if the findings of a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project study are any indication. The late 2009 phone survey found that 82 percent of the more than 2,000 people interviewed had some sort of online interaction with federal, state, or local government in the previous year. More than 30 percent supplemented more formal government contact with information from some sort of social media, such as blogs, text messages, video, or social networking. Although the survey indicated more highly paid and educated people tended to seek information online, the spread of users across races was roughly equal.


Managing the Risks of Climate Change Interactive Guide
How can a local community prepare for the effects of climate change when the world’s leaders and scientists can’t even agree on what should be done? Arctic and northern communities can use a unique tool presented by the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources. Local stakeholders can plug in data to make their case locally and get step-by-step guidance in assessing and making decisions to decrease their individual risk. Although geared toward Northern communities, the guide has good advice for local climate change fighters in any corner of the globe.


Visualizing the Oil Spill Map
This is your neighborhood. This is your neighborhood covered with a Deep Horizon-sized oil spill. Any questions? Those looking for perspective on the mammoth Gulf oil spill only need to enter their zip code to see the scope of the disaster transposed on their hometown. The unnerving results are brought to you in real-time using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NASA, and others.


Oil Reporter
While this nifty smartphone app has opened a direct line from responders working in the Gulf to the public, it can do a lot more than pass along oil spill news. The free download can also be customized (with or without the help of some hard-volunteering geeks) to suit the data collection, mapping, and other needs of response organizations. Pictures, texts, and video are geotagged, while users are given easy access to important resources and volunteer information.


Zombie Epidemic Map
Why are zombie epidemics so much more fun to model than real disasters? We don’t know, but at least they get folks thinking. Here’s one of the latest, featured on the College Life Web site. According to the site, the mapmakers used immigration, population, climate, and agricultural data to develop this slick graphic tracking a year’s worth of zombism in the United States.

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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]

June 8, 2010
Space Weather Enterprise Forum 2010
The National Space Weather Program
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $50, open until filled
This forum will raise awareness of space weather and its effect on society, as well as emphasize research and the protection of critical infrastructure. Topics include identifying ways to increase awareness, build resiliency, and improve communication.


June 16, 2010
Framing the Flood: Building a Common Floodplain Management Strategy, Absent Common Ground
The Floodplain Management Association
Yuba City, California
Cost and Registration: $165, open until filled
This meeting will discuss public awareness and responsiveness to floodplain management with an emphasis on interest-based programs, effective communication, and public involvement. Session topics include interest-based planning, managing conflict, and sustaining involvement using adaptive management.


June 22-23, 2010
Technology for Hope and Help
The Association for Enterprise and Information and the National Institute of Science, Space and Security Centers
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $795 before June 18, open until filled
This conference will address the capacity of advanced information technology to promote more effective coordination, communication, and connectivity among disaster responders. Session topics include lessons in information sharing from Haiti, governance and risk, multi-agency first response command, and scenario planning.



September 13-17, 2010
30th International Conference on Lightning Protection
University of Cagliari
Cagliari, Italy
Cost and Registration: $611 before July 20, open until filled
This conference will focus on the scientific and technical aspects of lightning protection. Topics include lightning protection for buildings and electric power systems and ways to improve the protection of people, animals, and property.


September 19-23, 2010
Dam Safety 2010
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Seattle, Washington
Cost and Registration: $700 before August 24, open until filled

This conference examines dam safety, engineering, and technology in the United States. Session topics include stress therapy, seismic issues, quick thinking in emergencies, private dams on federal property, and engineering solutions for levees.

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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.]

University of North Texas
Denton, Texas
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position teaches undergraduate Emergency Administration and Planning Program courses and core courses in hazard mitigation, preparedness, and disaster response and recovery. Applicants may be “all but dissertation” in emergency management or a related field.


Administrative Analyst II
Howard County
Columbia, Maryland
Salary: $55,057 to $88,795
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position assists in developing emergency plans, training sessions, and presentations; supervises emergency management projects; and prepares technical documents. A master’s degree and two years of research, planning, or management experience are required.


Executive Director
Florida International University International Hurricane Research Center
Miami, Florida
Salary: $160,000 to $190,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position leads International Hurricane Research Center planning, develops research programs and initiatives, maintains a dialogue with institutional partners, and oversees grants. A PhD in engineering, earth science, or social science; previous research experience in hurricanes or natural disasters; and a history of obtaining external funding are required.


National Flood Insurance Program Trainer
Morristown, New Jersey
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position develops curricula and conducts online and in-person training for the National Flood Insurance Program, serves as a subject matter expert, and assists with state insurance filings. A bachelor’s degree in adult education or a related field, five years of public speaking experience, the ability to travel extensively, and NFIP knowledge are required.


Shelter Expert
The Haven Community Foundation
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: June 24, 2010
This position manages the Foundation’s shelter program, develops projects, oversees finances, and trains staff. A bachelor’s degree in engineering or construction, housing construction knowledge, one year of leadership experience, and two years of overseas experience are required.


Disaster Veterinary Officer
World Society for the Protection of Animals
Bogota, Columbia
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: June 30, 2010
This position manages veterinary disaster field operations, assesses risk reduction plans, creates a regional network for reduction strategies, and evaluates all Society-funded emergency disaster interventions. Applicants must be qualified veterinarians, have experience working with animals in difficult circumstances, have training and management experience, and be able to swim at least 200 meters.


Disaster Service Planner
Illinois Emergency Management Agency
Springfield, Illinois
Salary: $50,268 to $73,560
Closing Date: June 7, 2010
This position performs planning and preparedness duties for the Bureau of Disaster Preparedness and assists state agencies and local governments in disaster preparedness activities and training. A bachelor’s degree or equivalent professional experience in planning, public administration, or a related field; two years planning experience; and a working knowledge of statistical methods 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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