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Number 551 • August 12, 2010 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) Are We Seeing Clearly Now the Crude is Gone?

It’s going to be bright, bright, bright sunshiny day on the Gulf coast if federal officials charged with responding to the months-long BP oil spill are to be believed.

After months of dim news from the Gulf, officials last week were able to deliver twin beacons of hope. First, BP finally managed to stanch the tide of oil that had hemorrhaged from its deepwater well since April. And on the heels of that delayed success, a wondrous claim that nearly 75 percent of the spilled oil was either going or already gone. Hogwash, say scientists and residents alike.

“It’s not gone,” the New York Times quotes George Barisich of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Alliance as saying. “Mother Nature didn’t suck it up and spit it out.”

However, that's what federal officials are in effect claiming happened to some of the oil. According to the government’s tally, 24 percent of the oil was either chemically or naturally dispersed into tiny droplets that are “biodegrading quickly.” Another 25 percent is said to have evaporated, and 25 percent was either burned or collected at the wellhead or from the surface—leaving a mere 26 percent, or 1.3 million of the estimated 5 million-barrel total, to muck up the Gulf. 

“There's a lot of ... smoke and mirrors in this report,” Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald told the Washington Post. "It seems very reassuring, but the data aren't there to actually bear out the assurances that were made."

MacDonald is far from alone in questioning how the Pollyannaish report was derived. Many others have voiced similar concerns, including University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye.

“A lot of this is based on modeling and extrapolation and very generous assumptions,” Joye told the New York Times in a separate article. “If an academic scientist put something like this out there, it would get torpedoed into a billion pieces.”

Environmental chemist Jeffery Short, a former NOAA scientist who assessed the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill, echoed that sentiment.

"There's not enough information in there to make anybody with any kind of quantitative or ecological background believe it," he told Nature in an article published Wednesday.

The greatest room for error lies in the estimation of how much oil has dissolved, dispersed, or evaporated, which could be off by factors of two to three, Short told Nature. According to the article, the numbers in the federal report were based on a calculator used by the Coast Guard since June. Lead author of the report, NOAA’s Bill Lehr, told Nature that while scientists used conservative estimates, they were trying to create a simpler interpretation to answer the public’s questions.

"The decision was made—and people can argue whether that was right or not—to present the average values [without the uncertainties]," he’s quoted as saying.

None of this means a hill of oil droplets to Gulf Coast residents who have lost their livelihoods and stand to lose even more once the media spotlight turns away and cleanup efforts dissipate. Although the report’s rosy spin might help restore the decaying reputation of Gulf Coast seafood and tourism, the withdrawal of clean up efforts that accompany it leave fishermen like Acy Cooper between a rock and a hard place.

In a Monday Washington Post article about what the end of the spill will mean to residents, Cooper opined the loss of BP jobs, which are ending long before the seafood industry is ready to bounce back.

“If we get these shrimp and they get one person sick, you know how long it will take us to come back?" Cooper, who recently lost his place on a clean up crew, is quoted as saying. “We ain't through the cleanup. We can't go into recovery. It is not recovery. Somebody's lying.”

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2) Hip-Hop at the Helm: Why 'Clef Jean for President?

As far as Haitian politics go, you could probably find a worse presidential candidate than Wyclef Jean, a home-away-from-home-grown hip-hop artist known for running a wildly successful, albeit mismanaged, charity.

The problem is there couldn’t be a worse time to have an inexperienced statesman at the wheel. And there’s a chance that the Haitian-born Jean, who announced his bid for president on CNN last week, might just get to drive.

More than 30 candidates have stepped up to be the next Haitian president—including two former Haitian prime ministers, a former first lady, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, and a United Nations envoy. But with a reputation as a humanitarian hero, Haiti’s huge youth population in his pocket, and plenty of paycheck, Jean could have a fighting chance.

"He’s a very, very strong candidate," Florida International University political science professor Eduardo Gamarra told the Christian Science Monitor. "Especially when nobody else has the resources."

The 37-year-old Jean, who moved to Brooklyn when he was nine and shot to stardom in the 90s, has no experience with the convoluted and often bloody world of Haitian politics—characteristics that will make him a good president, he told CNN. Because he is “coming in neutral” after years of political unrest, Jean believes he’ll be able to build consensus between the business elite, religious factions, and other players in parliament.

“Basically when you vote for Wyclef Jean you vote for something new,” he said.

Aside from his novelty and celebrity, Jean garnered goodwill through the efforts of his Yéle Haiti foundation, which has helped Haitians affected by disaster since 2004 and raised $16 million to aid the country after the January 12 earthquake.

Despite everything in his favor, Jean still has some formidable obstacles.

The same foundation that earned him such regard was found to be questionably managed, filing late tax returns and paying Jean to perform at a benefit concert, according to multiple media reports. These might not be insignificant infractions for someone who would be called upon to administer billions in reconstruction funds to rebuild his collapsed country. And in any case, there's a lot more to know about replacing infrastructure than good fiscal management.

“Haiti needs … someone who knows how to get things done and knows how to build schools, hospitals and neighborhoods, as well as sewer systems, electric grids and roads. Someone who can feed the people and give them jobs. Someone who can rebuild Haiti and ultimately restore its dignity,” wrote Marjorie Valbrun in an Open Letter begging the star not to run. “Frankly, Wyclef, that someone is not you.”

More immediately, Jean’s right to run for president is being questioned on grounds that he might not meet residency and other requirements. That matter will have to be decided by Haiti’s Centre Electoral Provisoire, which is expected to provide a final candidate list on August 17.

Jean’s biggest obstacle might be one faced by all the candidates—the apathy of a nation where an estimated 1.6 million people are still homeless, hunger and joblessness are widespread, and years of corrupt politicians have left little hope for improvement.

“It’s difficult for Haitians to have any faith in the election, we are so used to politicians taking advantage of us,” 27-year-old Anise Ulysse told the Christian Science Monitor. “The people living on the streets have other things to think about.”

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3) The New 911: Social Media Seen as Emergency Option, Ready or Not

Love it or hate it, social media is changing the way we communicate, even in emergencies. And according to a recent Red Cross Poll, emergency responders better start loving it. The poll, which surveyed more than a 1,000 people, found one in five would turn to social media for help if they weren’t able to reach 911—and 74 percent of those would expect a response in less than an hour.

Social media has been both extolled and vilified as an emergency management tool for some time now, but no clear victor has emerged. The Red Cross poll may indicate the public has moved beyond that debate. They simply expect emergency agencies to be down with the latest technology.

“The social web is creating a fundamental shift in disaster response—one that will ask emergency managers, government agencies and aid organizations to mix time-honored expertise with real-time input from the public,” American Red Cross President Gail McGovern stated in a press release. “We need to work together to better respond to that shift.”

So far, much of the conversation around social media and emergency management has focused either on how agencies can leverage the communication capacity of applications such as Facebook and Twitter or how they can use the aggregated information from those sites to better respond to emergencies.

In general, social media—paired with traditional communication channels—are seen as an acceptable way to get the word out. Many agencies have Twitter accounts where they post alerts and there are many campus and citywide systems, such as AlertDC, set up to text users in emergencies. The burgeoning mediums can also be used to receive information. The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service both have programs where user reports on events such as earthquakes and tornadoes are analyzed by scientists to recreate an “on-the-ground” perspective.

What’s missing—and what the survey indicates is needed—is a direct connection to responders during any emergency. Despite the fact that many emergency social media sites specifically state that visitors should not report emergencies via that medium, the Red Cross poll showed 69 percent of respondents thought agencies should be monitoring their social streams for calls for help.

“The first and best choice for anyone in an emergency situation is to call 9-1-1,” McGovern stated. “But when phone lines are down or the 9-1-1 system is overwhelmed, we know that people will be persistent in their quest for help and use social media for that purpose.”

The Red Cross commissioned the online poll—which includes information about respondents' social media familiarity and use and across age groups—in preparation for its Emergency Social Data Summit on today. The summit will include discussions on the handling of emergency calls made via social media. Those interested can follow up online by a variety of methods.

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

Call for Proposals
Sociolegal Studies and Disaster Workshop           
Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law
Deadline: September 30, 2010
The Oñati International Institute is accepting proposals for participation in a unique workshop that will facilitate conversations between the fields of sociolegal and disaster studies. Lodging will be provided for the workshop, which will be held July 21-22, 2011 near Bilbao, Spain. The Institute is seeking a broad range of participants to discuss interdisciplinary perspectives related to law, disaster, and social science. Junior faculty and graduate students will be favored. Conference papers will be published. For a detailed version of the call for proposals, contact Tom Birkland or Susan Sterett.

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Call for Nominations
Assessment of the National Weather Service Modernization Program Committee
The National Academies
Deadline: None stated
The National Academies is accepting nominations for committee members who will perform an assessment of a $5 billion investment made in the 1980s and 90s to modernize National Weather Service technology and advancing weather forecasting. The committee will analyze what’s been done and give recommendations for future action. Committee members with expertise in weather forecasting, emergency management, social sciences, and technology are especially sought. Visit the assessment Web site above for full details.

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5) 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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/.]

National Dialogue on Preparedness
If you’ve got an opinion on what needs to happen to get the U.S. public more prepared for disasters and emergencies, the National Dialogue on Preparedness Web site is accepting suggestions until August 31. The site also allows visitors to vote and comment on the concepts submitted, resulting in finely tuned recommendations. These final suggestions—only 48 have been submitted so far—will inform the congressionally mandated task force as it puts improve American preparedness.

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Ch16.Org
Channel 16—a name taken from the frequency of an international distress signal—is a collaboration aimed at delivering humanitarian and crisis news on the ground. Billing itself as a frontline for response, the site has a variety of tools for reporting eyewitness accounts of events and resources on how to take action.

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Online Hurricane Response Training
This free online course is aimed at helping emergency managers make sound decisions when their communities are threatened by hurricane conditions. The course includes information on storm climatology, possible impacts of storm activity, preparedness and response tools offered by federal agencies and analyzing information to formulate plans.

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CalAdapt
Sure the icecaps are melting and temperatures are rising, but how’s an average Joe supposed to know what that means in his neighborhood? CalAdapt can help him figure it out—as long as he lives in California. The California Energy Commission has released a prototype of its CalAdapt Web site that lets visitors use Google Earth to view customizable climate change scenarios from the entire state or just their driveway. The site is slated to be complete by September, but you can play with climate data, sea level rise, wildfire frequency, and snow pack projections right now.

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Pacific Disaster Center Disaster Alerts
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you have a direct line to minute-by-minute disaster information from around the world, including maps, disaster status, and links to more information. The Pacific Disaster Center has created a free app that uses the DisasterAWARE system to keep you informed. Visit the PDC Web site for screenshots and downloads.

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6) 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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]

September 13-14, 2010
Social Media for Responders
Crisis Communications Network
Charlotte, North Carolina
Cost and Registration: $795, open until filled
This conference will discuss how first responders can use social media to improve public communication. Conference topics include overcoming social media challenges, the future of social media for emergency responders, and measuring the effectiveness of a social media presence.

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September 14-17, 2010
CESA 2010 Annual Conference and Training
California Emergency Services Association
Monterey, California
Cost and Registration: $650, open until filled
This conference will tackle emergency management challenges, educate attendees on emerging technologies and best practices, and offer opportunities to cultivate professional relationships. Topics will include disaster recovery, potential issues in facility restoration, and social media in emergency management.

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October 29 to November 4, 2010
IAEM 58th Annual Conference 2010
International Association of Emergency Managers
San Antonio, Texas
Cost and Registration: $530 before September 1, open until filled
This conference will be a forum for ideas on current trends, topics, and the latest emergency management tools and technology. Conference tracks include mitigation and recovery, vulnerable populations, communications and technology, and weather.

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November 2-5, 2010
Floodplain Management Association Annual Conference
Floodplain Management Association
Henderson, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $385, open until filled
This conference will discuss strategies to meet changing floodplain regulations and make future policy recommendations. Session topics include tribal floodplain management, dam and reservoir operations in arid regions, levees, and flood risk.

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November 23-24, 2010
Dealing with Disasters International Conference
Northumbria University
Newcastle, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $298 before October 15, open until filled
This conference examines disaster resilience, response, and recovery in the contexts of the environment, economy, and social impacts. Conference themes include rights-based approaches to disaster reduction, urban disaster planning and infrastructure, and community-to-community development.

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November 24-26, 2010
Commonwealth Climate Change Communication Conference
London Metropolitan University
London, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $473, open until filled
This conference will discuss methods of education and communication that increase climate change knowledge and identify solutions to reduce current and future impacts on Commonwealth nations. Conference topics include climate capacity building, communicating climate change to different audiences, and the international climate change information program.

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7) 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.]

Emergency Preparedness Director
University of Miami
Miami, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages all university emergency response plans, develops business continuity and disaster recovery plans, and collaborates on the improvement of department emergency plans. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or related field and five years of emergency preparedness and management experience are required.

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Emergency Management Planner
Hagerty Consulting
Evanston, Illinois
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position represents the Federal Emergency Management Agency in developing regional and state emergency operations plans, facilitates workshops, collaborates with stakeholders, and analyzes data. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field, five years of emergency management or public safety experience, and knowledge of state and federal emergency planning is required.

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Assistant Director for Emergency Management
ADRA International
United States
Salary: $65,655 to $76,721
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position assists with the management of federally funded international emergency programs, pursues new funding, develops program proposals, and serves on emergency response teams. A master’s degree in emergency management or a related field, at least three years international emergency management experience, and experience planning U.S. emergency projects are required.

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Urban Shelter Manager
Cordaid
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: August 22, 2010
This position creates community-based shelter programs, manages program finances and contracts, and develops relationships that support long-term development. A master’s degree in science, civil engineering, or a related field, eight years professional experience, previous community-based shelter program experience, and conversational French are required.

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Mitigation Planner
IEM
Various U.S. Locations
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position helps develop hazard mitigation plans and communicates client emergency management needs during IEM product development. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field, three years mitigation experience, and special knowledge of mitigation planning are required.

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Emergency Management Planner
City of Hampton
Hampton, Virginia
Salary: $47,952 to $77,162
Closing Date: September 7, 2010
This position designs city emergency, hazards mitigation, and preparedness training plans, coordinates emergency action during crisis, and increases public awareness of emergency information. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field and experience in research, analysis and evaluation, and hazard mitigation or emergency management are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to jolie.breeden@colorado.edu. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail jolie.breeden@colorado.edu.
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