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Number 554 • October 7, 2010 | Past Issues













1) Getting Deep: Commission Finds Handling of Deepwater Less Than Transparent

When it came to clear communication and unambiguous leadership in handling the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the administration’s devotion to transparency was little more than skin deep, according several draft reports released Tuesday by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Willful miscommunication, speciousness, and obfuscation, on the other hand, might have run as deep as the well itself. The report skewers the government for lack of veracity in communicating to the public and laissez-faire response leadership.

"By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem," the commission writes in a draft titled The Amount and Fate of the Oil.

The commission is far from the first entity to question government flow estimates. Almost from the first days of the spill, independent scientists publicized flow rates of more than thirteen times the "meager" 5,000 barrels a day cited by official sources. Even within the administration there was conflict, according to the New York Times, with the Office of Management and Budget denying a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration request to release its worst-case estimates.

Similarly, the scientific community met glowing White House reports in August—which claimed up to 75 percent of the spilled oil was gone—with a collective snort of derision.

The off-estimates are more than just a matter of bad faith and public relations. Because BP’s liability will be partially based on how much oil flowed into the Gulf, adequate estimates—or the lack of them—will be key.

“That meant the administration had an extra responsibility to do its own objective analysis," Joe Romm of Climate Progress is quoted as saying by National Public Radio. "It was a big deal, and it should have been pursued more systematically.”

The commission, established by the president in May, also questioned objectivity and accountability of the administration, indicating that BP was essentially in control of many aspects of the response.

“Investigating why people had the perception that BP was ‘running the show,’ the commission found that BP was, in fact, running the show,” wrote Grist’s Brad Johnson, citing report findings that in some instances the Coast Guard actually reported to BP employees. Rather than taking a strong leadership role and guiding response, Unified Command “primarily functioned as a national coordination and communications center to deal with high-level political and media inquiries,” the commission wrote.

In addition, the commission learned that BP had skirted the unified command in dispersing response funds directly to states and communities—whose responders had been ignored by federal officials—giving them “reason to believe that BP controlled the means and the methods of the response,” the report stated.

The commission expects to issue its final report on January 11, 2011. Discussions on its preliminary findings will be held October 13 and will be broadcast on the commission Web site.

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2) Seeing Red: Toxic Sludge Spill Came From Nowhere, Bringing Burning Questions

After years of quietude in an isolated reservoir, a river of iron-red sludge broke free and raged though several Hungarian villages Monday, leaving in its wake questions about its long-term environmental impacts.

The initial onslaught of what the mining industry calls red mud—the remainders of refining bauxite into alumina (which is not aluminum)—left four people dead, three missing, and scores of others suffering from chemical burns, according to multiple news reports. It’s still unclear what caused the undoing of the reservoir holding the sludge (see it pre-collapse here).

In the days that followed, workers raced to keep the toxic torrent from reaching the Danube for fear it would travel to other European locales. Although that battle was lost Thursday, environmentalists still have hopes that the impacts will be minimal and remain in Hungry, according to a Reuters article.

“Based on our current estimates, it (pollution) will remain contained in Hungary, and we also trust that it will reach Budapest with acceptable pH values,” Gabor Figeczky, Hungarian branch director of the environmental group WWF, told Reuters.

The red mud, which has a high alkalinity that makes it caustic like lye or bleach, entered the Marcal river first, killing all wildlife, according to the article. Although its pH had lowered by the time it hit the larger Raba and Mosoni-Danube, it was still a threat. Response workers added tons of plaster and acetic acid to the water in an attempt to further neutralize the pH—with fair results. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the polluted water that entered the Danube had a pH of 9, as opposed to the Marcal’s contaminated pH of 13. The Marcal's normal pH is near 7.

The alkalinity of the mud, however, may be just the beginning of the environmental woes caused by the spill. According to the industry publication MetalMiner, the red mud slurry could contain a variety of heavy metals depending on the source of the bauxite being refined.

Testing of red mud from a Turkish site demonstrates that “the waste can contain thorium and uranium and confirms it can be highly caustic,” the article states. “The majority of the constituents are relatively harmless, iron oxide, aluminum oxide, silica and sodium, titanium and calcium oxides. It’s the minor constituents and caustic pH of this sludge that could prove to be the most dangerous contaminants.”

The tragedy is reminiscent of the December coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, but regulatory officials say a red mud spill couldn’t happen in the United States because the waste storage method differs. According to an Associated Press article, alumina manufacturers in the United States dry their mud before storing it. Although they have to take precautions against the material becoming airborne, it allows them to recycle caustic soda, which is a key ingredient in extracting the ore.

The difference in mud storage methods might be why the Hungarian sludge spill is thought to be the first of its kind. That leaves responders and environmentalists in the lurch when it comes to approaching cleanup and recovery, Marton Vau of Greenpeace Hungary told the Christian Science Monitor.

"The most serious part of this disaster is that there is no experience of a catastrophe like this," he said.

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3) Rate Your State: CDC Report Looks at Public Health Preparedness Nationwide

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released its third report detailing preparedness and response activities across the nation. Public Health Preparedness: Strengthening the Nation’s Emergency Response State by Stateexamines the ability of state health departments and some localities to respond to health threats caused by disaster, disease, and chemical dangers. Two previous reports, released in 2008 and 2009, dealt with similar capacity assessments.

States are in great shape when it comes to making laboratory assessments of risk, communicating danger to the public and authorities, and distributing supplies in response to an event, according to the recent report.  A few areas might be slow to activate their emergency operations centers, the report found, and others lack robust laboratory facilities and resources.

Despite the increasing level of state preparedness touted in the report, the CDC made five recommendations. Those include: continue identifying service gaps, develop lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic, provide funds to hire skilled and capable public health and lab workers, expand performance measures and accountability, and promote healthy communities to improve resilience to threats.

The data analyzed in the report range from October 2007 to September 2008, with some 2009 data also included. Data was collected from all 50 states and Chicago, the District of Columbia, Los Angeles County, and New York City—local governments directly funded by the CDC. Individual fact sheets are available for each locality.

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4) Time to Put in Your Two (or more) Cents about Next Year's Hazards Workshop Program

The Natural Hazards Center wants to hear your ideas for session topics and speakers for its 2011 Annual Workshop. But think quick—the submission period will be open for a limited time.

The 36th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop will be held Saturday, July 9 through Tuesday, July 12, 2011, at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, Colorado.

The Workshop exists so researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and students from far-flung corners of the hazards and disasters community can meet and discuss the latest developments in their fields and how society might best respond. We need your help figuring out who needs to be there and what they should talk about.

Please take a moment to fill out our online form—as many times as you like—before November 21, 2010. We'll take your ideas, fuse them together, and look forward to a new set of lively conversations in July.

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5) The Natural Hazards Center Is On the Move

After spending decades in our quaint little houses on Grandview Avenue in Boulder, the Natural Hazards Center will be moving on up to some modern digs.

On October 14, NHC staff will join our Institute of Behavioral Science comrades in a brand new building at the end of the street. The four-story building is the culmination of years of effort to get the institute's diaspora—previously housed in nine separate campus locations—under one roof.

To see the finishing touches go on our new home, check out this webcam. Our new library and meeting rooms will be on the first floor, Hazards Center offices will be on the second.

We hope for a seamless transition as we move our offices and library a block east, but bear with us. It won’t be long before we’re settled into our new home at 1440 15th Street, Boulder, CO, 80302. (You can reach us by mail at 483 UCB, Boulder, CO, 80309).

Staff phone numbers and e-mail addresses will remain the same, so we’ll never be out of touch. Be sure to stop in for a tour next time you’re in town.

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

Call for Posters
Risk Analysis in Action
Society for Risk Analysis
Deadline: October 18, 2010
The Society for Risk Analysis is accepting abstracts for posters to be presented at its annual meeting from December 5-8 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Multidisciplinary posters related to risk perception, assessment, management, and communication will be accepted online. See the meeting Web site for poster guidelines.


Call for Papers
Disaster Management 2011
Wessex Institute of Technology
Deadline: As soon as possible
The Wessex Institute of Technology is accepting abstracts of papers to be presented at the Disaster Management 2011 conference, which will be held May 11-13 in Orlando, Florida. Abstracts of 300 words or less should be submitted. Full papers for abstracts submitted must be presented at the conference and will be published in Transactions on the Built Environment.Full details on the submission and acceptance process are available on the Web site.

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

Adapting to Climate Change: A Planning Guide for State Coastal Managers
This guide was developed by NOAA Ocean and Coastal Resource Management as a way to help states protect their coasts against threats posed by climate change. The 138-page guide gives an overview of how coastlines might be threatened, tells how to assess vulnerability and establish adaptation goals, and makes suggestions for implementing a plan. Appendices have resources for federal funding, regional climate affects, and laws governing adaptation.


USGS PAGER with Economic Loss and Casualty Info
The U.S. Geological Survey Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response—or PAGER—system just got an upgrade. The alert system, which previously delivered notices based on magnitude and location, will now feature estimated economic loss data and casualties. The loss information will be color-coded according to four levels of needed response, ranging from green for no response to red for international response. PAGER alerts are available within 30 minutes of an earthquake and also include other information about the quake area, such as vulnerable buildings, previous incidents, and possible tsunamis and landslides.


Living on the Real World
Living on the Real World is a blog that grapples with issues of human resource consumption, sustainability, and vulnerability in the face of climatic and environmental reality. Engagingly written by American Meteorological Society policy director Bill Hooke, the blog aims to jump start thinking about the problems of living in an overextended world and how we can work together to change that reality.


National Disaster Recovery Fund
The National Disaster Recovery Fund has been created by Volunteer USA to help nonprofits and volunteer organizations assist with recovery and long-term rebuilding after a disaster. According to organizers, the fund will work with state leaders to fill in the gaps in government response using community-based volunteers for rebuilding projects ranging from basement fixes to roof repair.


iMap Weather
There’s lots of weather apps out there, but iMap has the advantage of being slick and fun to use. You can find forecasts, radar and satellite images, and info on tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, and other severe weather. This one-stop weather spot also allows users to upload weather photos, videos, and comments and have personalized forecasts sent to their inboxes.

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

October 24-26, 2010
National Flood Workshop
Weather Research Center
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $295 before October 8, open until filled
This workshop will discuss the meteorological and hydrological aspects of floods, advancements in field data acquisition and flood modeling, and floodplain management and mitigation regulations. Session topics include flood response and recovery, coastal flooding, and inland community hurricane impacts.


October 26, 2010
Disaster Resilient Design
Disaster Roundtable of the National Academies
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled.
This workshop will identify the intersection of sustainability and disaster resilience, examine new models for disaster-resilient design research, and look at ways to integrate green design with disaster resilience principles.


November 12, 2010
Wildfire: Economics, Law, and Policy
University of Chicago Law School and the University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This symposium will discuss the effects of wildfire policy, the costs and appropriate levels of prevention, suppression responsibility, and if existing incentives result in efficient action. Session topics include the history of wildfire liability, federal wildfire management budgets, and the relationship between federal environmental law and wildfires.


November 12-13, 2010
Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation
American Planning Association
Chicago, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $565 before October 20, open until filled
This workshop will address techniques for implementing hazard mitigation and climate adaptation policies and programs. Topics include principles of mitigation and adaptation, hazard-specific planning and implementation, and best practice case studies.


November 15-16, 2010
Climate Change and Impact Assessment
International Association for Impact Assessment
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $425, open until filled
This symposium will examine infrastructure project design and operational management strategies to lessen the impacts of climate-induced changes in water availability and extreme weather. Session topics include mitigation and adaptation, assessing risk and vulnerability, and insuring against climate change.


November 15-18, 2010
Sixth International Conference on Forest Fire Research
University of Coimbra
Coimbra, Portugal
Cost and Registration: $824, open until filled
This conference will discuss recent advances in forest fire research and present new methodologies and results from pilot programs. Conference topics include fire prevention, behavior, safety, and ecology; meteorological and climatic factors; socioeconomic factors; and the wildland-urban interface.

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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.]

Emergency Response Team Coordinator
International Rescue Committee
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position helps manage emergency response teams, establishes emergency support functions, fills in for field leaders as needed, evaluates emergency interventions, and coordinates training. A master’s degree, eight years working in developing countries, and five years of leadership experience in complex humanitarian or emergency situations are required.


Director of Emergency Management
York County
York, Pennsylvania
Salary: $46,831 to $79,613
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position directs the emergency management program’s daily operations, manages the county’s NIMS implementation, and coordinates emergency management activities and communication. A bachelor’s degree or eight years in planning, communication, or a related field and the ability to obtain a Pennsylvania professional emergency manager certification are required.


Emergency Management Coordinator
City of Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Salary: $71,268 to $89,088
Closing Date: November 1, 2010
This position assists the division manager during emergencies, coordinates emergency and disaster response and operations, and directs special projects. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field, four years in an analytical or project management position, and three years in emergency management are required.


Mass Care/Sheltering Coordinator
American Red Cross
San Diego, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position helps with disaster services and mass care planning, teaches disaster services courses, coordinates community training, and supports planning for catastrophic disaster response. A bachelor’s degree in a related field; three years of experience in emergency management; and experience planning, training, recruiting, and supervising staff are required. Applicants must be able to accept disaster assignments nationwide.


Associate Faculty
Royal Roads University
Victoria, British Columbia
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: December 15, 2010
This position will teach a new curriculum of classroom and online emergency management courses for students with limited disaster management experience. The introductory curriculum includes courses in disaster and emergency management theory and practice, community resilience, and research methods. Applicants should contact the program head for job requirements.


Emergency Management Specialist, GS-12
Army Corps of Engineers
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Salary: $68,809 to $89,450
Closing Date: October 14, 2010
This position oversees the Natural Emergency Preparedness Program, provides engineering assistance in natural disasters, develops yearly planning and training programs, and manages the flood rehabilitation, emergency drinking water, and emergency drought assistance programs. One year of experience at GS-11 or above is 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.
University of Colorado at Boulder

Natural Hazards Center
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