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Number 559 • December 16, 2010 | Past Issues













1) WikiLeaks Cables Reveal a Deluge of Disinterest in Disaster

The latest batch of WikiLeaks government cables has uncovered a flood of previously unknown information—including a lack of political interest in disasters, even those occurring on embassy doorsteps.

If the leaked cables are any indicator, U.S. embassies around the world pay little attention to natural hazards and disasters in the nations where they are based. Despite the potential for disasters to seriously disrupt international relations (Natural Hazards Observer, March 2009), the cables don’t reveal much State Department fretting about catastrophic events, preparedness, or response.

The Natural Hazards Center’s Dan Whipple pored through most of the cables released before December 12 and found a curious silence on hazards, even when countries were experiencing disasters. China, for instance, suffered an earthquake in May 2008 in which 50,000 people were killed, but the available Beijing cables don’t mention the shaking. In fact, the first cable to come from the Chinese capital after the quake was an August 10 update on security and diplomacy during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

The embassy in Brazil did prepare a lengthy assessment of a November 2009 blackout in that nation.

“Brazil experienced a blackout that plunged 18 of Brazil's 27 states into darkness for periods ranging from 20 minutes to 6 hours,” the cable states. Although there were early fears of sabotage, the incident was eventually attributed to equipment and human failures. While the cable indicated that this was an opportunity for the U.S. government to be communicative with Brazil, it was in terms of generating electricity, not responding to massive infrastructure deficiencies. U.S. Forest Service work on Brazilian forest management and wildfires, however, is one of the few cases in which a natural hazard is directly addressed in the cables.

There is one area of interest to hazard professionals and the State Department that gets discussed a lot—nuclear weapons proliferation and potential acquisition by terrorists. This concern is expressed in cables from nations where these issues are very high on the list—Russia, South Korea, Iraq—but also a few places that aren’t so infamous.

Caracas, for instance. A cable from there assesses the likelihood that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will develop nuclear energy, although the title—Venezuelan Scientists Say Nuclear Energy Program Political Hot Airseems to discount the idea.

For most hazards professionals with an interest in international affairs, the cables hold little outside of nuclear concerns. But if WikiLeaks releases the text of all 251,000 cables listed in the database, Dan's going to have a lot more reading to do.

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2) Is the Sun about to Set on the Bright Future of Public Health Preparedness?

States are really beginning to shine when it comes to being ready for pandemics, bioterrorism, and disaster, according to a recent report on public health preparedness. That glowing assessment, however, could be soon blotted out by looming budgetary clouds.

The state of public health preparedness is as bright as it’s been in ten years, according to the eighth annual Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism. The report, produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, scores state health preparedness based on 10 factors, including funding commitment, incident response capacity, and community resilience.

This year’s evaluation ranked 14 states at a nine or higher, while three states—Arkansas, North Dakota, and Washington—scored a perfect 10. Only two states—Iowa and Montana—received a rating of five, and none received lower than that.

“The scores reflect nearly ten years of progress to improve how the nation prevents, identifies, and contains new disease outbreaks and bioterrorism threats and responds to the aftermath of natural disasters,” a Trust for America’s Health release stated.

Still, while the states' headway in advancing public health preparedness is laudable, they might not be able to keep the ball rolling without proper funding, Trust for America’s Health Director Jeffery Levi wrote in the Huffington Post.

“…We’re beginning the slide back to the pre-September 11 world,” he wrote. “If we continue, our country will have persistent and prevalent gaps in our ability to respond to a major health emergency.”

The report found that 33 states and the District of Columbia had slashed public health spending in 2009. For 18 of those, it was the second year they had to make such cuts, according to Levi. In some cases, the H1N1 pandemic helped increase scores by providing dedicated—albeit one-time—funds for disease prevention. It’s unclear if the 2010 picture will be as rosy, with deep budget cuts and lack of outbreak angst, but it is certain there will be a ninth annual report to give us a snapshot, Levi said.

“We feel it is incredibly important to conduct this report because the public deserves to know how prepared their states and communities are to respond to public health emergencies,” he wrote. “We want to shine a light on preparedness because all Americans have the right to expect fundamental health protections during public health emergencies no matter where they live.”

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3) Not Taken For Granted: Quicker Quick Response Evaluations in the New Year

The immediate nature of most disasters means researchers need to be quick on the draw to collect perishable data. Now we at the Natural Hazards Center are pleased to announce we’re quicker, too.

In the past two years, we’ve made significant improvements in how we evaluate and score proposals for our Quick Response Grant Program. Those changes, which include a blind evaluation based on a weighted criteria and ranking system, allow us to turn our program on a dime—and that has allowed us to make a noteworthy change in how we’ll process grant proposals in the future.

For the 2011 program year, we've eliminated the fall preapproval process and will evaluate proposals submitted to study specific disasters as they occur, saving you the guesswork of writing about events that haven't happened yet. We'll still have the same application requirements, but will be able to provide more support to potential applicants than ever before.

With that in mind, we've created an e-mail list where we'll distribute the new guidelines and keep you in the loop throughout the year—sign up today (you don't have to reenter all of your info—just your name, e-mail address, and check the QR box), so you’ll be ready to enter the field tomorrow.

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4) Mappy Holidays to You and Yours—and the Natural Hazards Center

Even if you don’t have a curmudgeonly geographer or discerning seismologist on your holiday list, maps can make a lovely gift. Now, thanks to a generous offer by The Old Map Gallery in Denver, the gift of a map can also be a gift to the hazard community.

For the remainder of the year, Old Map Gallery owners Curtis and Alanna Bird will give the Natural Hazards Center 10 percent of the profit from purchases made by DR readers. You can shop using the link above—which puts a special NHC donation request item in your cart—or visit the store in the LoDo Tattered Cover building and mention you'd like your purchase to benefit the Hazards Center. Either way, someone you love will get a great gift, and so will we.

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5) DR Takes a Holiday

‘Tis the season for taking a break—even from DR. The newsletter will be on a hiatus during the holiday season, so look for DR 540 to return January 13. We’ll start the new year with the same great disaster news you can use, and you’ll start with one less thing to catch up on in your inbox.

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

Call for Applications
2011 DHS Scholarship and Fellowship Program
Department of Homeland Security
Deadline: January 5, 2011
The Department of Homeland Security is accepting application for its 2011 Scholarship and Fellowship program. The program supports students interested in using science and technology to develop counter-terrorism measures. Students currently studying engineering, technology, math, or a homeland security research area—including community and infrastructure resilience, emergency preparedness and response, social and behavioral sciences, and transportation security—are eligible to apply. Application guidance and an online scholarship form are available on the program Web site.


Call for Comments
Transportation of Hazardous Materials, Highway Routing
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Deadline: January 13, 2011
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is accepting comments on extending a program that collects information from states and tribes. The information is used to designate highway routes and restrictions for the transport of hazardous materials. The FMCSA is seeking comment on ways to reduce the burden of collection, the appropriateness the collection request, and other feedback that could be used to enhance the usefulness of the data collected.


Call for Evaluators
Comprehensive Disaster Management Harmonized Implementation Programme
Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: January 15, 2011
The United Kingdom Department for International Development is requesting proposals for a mid-term evaluation of the Comprehensive Disaster Management Harmonized Implementation Programme. The program, which is managed by the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency, is a five-year effort to enhance institutional support for and community resilience to climate variability and disaster. The two-person evaluation team should have at least five years of evaluation experience and include at least one disaster risk reduction specialist with extensive Caribbean knowledge. Contact Cisne Pascal or Lisa Rodriguez for more information.


Call for Proposals
Disaster Resilience for Rural Communities
National Science Foundation and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Deadline: March 4, 2011
The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are accepting proposals for engineering, social, behavioral, or economic research that promises to enhance the resilience of rural communities to disaster. The agencies expect to support multiple proposals of $400,000 or less, up to a total of $2 million. More information on proposal criteria, budget requirements, and submission are available online.

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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]

Disability Prepared
All talk and no action is sometimes as bad as no talk and all action—that’s why a new site launched by the University of Kansas' Research and Training Center for Independent Living aims to get people talking about best practices to help people with disabilities weather disasters. Center staff have collected the resources they found most helpful and paired them with a variety of tools—Facebook, Twitter, a forum, and a blog—meant to let others weigh in. Those with tips and tales of disability preparedness gone right should head on over—site organizers want to hear from you.


FEMA: The Blog
It was only a matter of time, and now the time has come—the Federal Emergency Management Agency has joined the blog rolls. So what can a reader expect from the “first-ever FEMA blog?” A lot, according to social-media-savvy Administrator Craig Fugate, especially two-way communication. “This won’t be another way to put out our press releases—this is a way to communicate directly with you,” he writes in the first entry. The blog will soon highlight emergency management insights and innovations from FEMA and beyond, Fugate says. Guest bloggers are already volunteering.


U.S. Fire Administration Fire Estimates
The latest data in the U.S. Fire Administration’s Fire Estimates series have been released. The series contains graphs and summaries of information collected by the National Fire Incident Reporting System from 2003-2009. Visitors can download PDFs or view fire trends ranging from residential fire deaths to nonresidential economic losses.


All Hazards Preparedness for Agricultural Threats
Homes on the range are far from hazard-free, and now there’s a site made especially for farms in harm’s way. Prep for Ag Threats takes a rural perspective of a variety of dangers, allowing visitors to easily find information on how a given disaster might affect their home, family, livestock, crops, and business. With topics that include natural and manmade hazards, biological threats, and general preparedness, farmers will have lots of help when they cowboy up to their next disaster.


Stuff Ex-Pat Aid Workers Like
We thought Stuff Ex-Pat Aid Workers Like might be a handy gift guide for filling the stocking of your favorite Red Cross volunteer, but instead we found a quirky, often tongue-in-cheek look at the experiences of those who pitch in during disasters and humanitarian emergencies around the world. From the scatological perversity of parasite infections to a poignant treatise on the solace of having a driver, this blog offers insights into the real life of aid workers.


Coastal County Snapshots
This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tool breaks building in flood zones down to a simple equations, such as “People+Floodplains=Not Good.” And while that might seem like a no brainer, the snapshots show how U.S. coastal counties’ realities add up or don’t. (About 99 percent of the people in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, for instance, live in a floodplain along with 89 percent of the critical facilities and 95 percent of the roadways.) Data on vulnerable populations, infrastructure, environment, and demographics is all available at a glance.

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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]

February 11-12, 2011
REDI V Conference
Rotarian Emergency Disaster Initiative
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Cost and Registration: $225 before December 31, open until filled
This conference will help nonprofit leaders and volunteers assess their community's ability to withstand disaster. Developed for Rotary Clubs following Hurricane Katrina, this year’s conference will feature a keynote speech by retired general Russel Honoré and sessions on creating emergency operation plans, evaluating resources and needs pre-disaster, and partnering with government and private organizations.


February 22-23, 2011
10th Annual Emergency Management Conference
Conferenz and New Zealand Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management
Wellington, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $1,180, open until filled
This conference will look at disaster management through the lens of the Canterbury Earthquake that struck Christchurch in 2010. Themes will include communicating in disaster, developing successful emergency teams, national and local response, and multiagency coordination.


March 1-5, 2011
EMS Today
Journal of Emergency Medical Services
Baltimore, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $430 before February 4, open until filled
This conference will leverage JEMS’ leadership in prehospital care education to provide continuing education, industry discussion, and networking for emergency medical providers, firefighters, and other response personnel. The program is divided into advanced and basic life support, EMS leadership, and special focus tracks. In addition, exhibitors will be unveiling the latest in emergency equipment and attendees will have a chance to participate in emergency-themed games and contests.


March 21-24, 2011
Coastal GeoTools 2011
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Cost and Registration: $350 before January 31, closes February 22
This conference will further the creation of “Digital Coast,” a web platform that will provide geospatial data, tools, and training for coastal resource managers. Among topics to be addressed are GIS mapping of sea level rise, creating usable Web sites and toolkits for marine resources, sharing geospatial information via the Web, and using Google tools to display data.


April 4, 2011
Greenhouse 2011: The Science of Climate Change
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Queensland, Australia
Cost and Registration: $990 before January 21, open until filled
This conference will discuss climate change science, current issues and events, and possible adaptation strategies. Session topics include extreme events and community resilience, transferring science into policy, climate variability, and the impacts of adaptations.


April 10-15, 2011
34th International Symposium on Remote Sensing of Environment
International Center for the Remote Sensing of Environment and others
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $759 before January 5, open until filled
This conference will examine the Global Earth Observation System of Systems and how it will open doors for operational environmental monitoring. Topics to be discussed include disaster reduction and response, monitoring and mitigation of urban environments and cultural heritage, societal benefits of earth observations, limited water resources, and forest and ecosystem diversity.

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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 Preparedness Capacity Building Officer
Relief International
London, UK
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: December 17, 2010
This position will lead the newly formed emergency preparedness capacity building effort, including designing training programs, managing budgets and donor reporting, conducting outreach sessions, and completing project evaluations. A master’s degree in public health, disaster management, or international affairs; three years of humanitarian experience; and in-depth knowledge of disaster risk reduction and preparedness are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Project Officer
United Nations Development Programme
Maputo, Mozambique
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: December 21, 2010
This position will coordinate United Nations Development Programme disaster risk reduction activities for Mozambique. Duties include drafting disaster policy, analyzing strategies for coordination and implementation, developing relationships between national staff and consultants, and promoting risk reduction, preparedness, and prevention knowledge. A master’s degree in international development or a disaster-related field, five years of experience in project management and two in disaster risk reduction, and strong leadership skills are required. Previous UN or UNDP experience is preferred.


Emergency Management Specialist
City of Boulder
Boulder, Colorado
Salary: $39,550 to $47,450
Closing Date: December 22, 2010
This position provides support and project management services for the Boulder Office of Emergency Management. Duties include acting as logistics chief for emergency operations centers, responding to disasters in the city and county, representing the OEM at community meetings and events, coordinating public communication, and managing grants. A bachelor's degree in public administration or emergency management, the ability to communicate with the public and government officials, and experience with emergency management software such as Web EOC are required.


National Disaster Housing Task Force Supervisor, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $123,758 to $155,000
Closing Date: December 22, 2010
This position will lead the National Disaster Housing Task Force, providing program oversight, recommending policies and initiatives, and creating guides and plans to improve disaster housing resources and help transition disaster victims to permanent housing. Extensive management experience, knowledge of disaster housing logistics, and one year of experience at GS-14 or above are required.


Communities of Practice Facilitator
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
New York, New York
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: December 31, 2010
This position will coordinate three communities of practice related to humanitarian negotiations, gender equality, and disaster risk reduction. Duties include responding to queries, facilitating discussions, maintaining and updating online resources, and developing new products such as a potential newsletter and additional communities. A master’s degree in social sciences, communication, or development planning; five years of development or humanitarian experience; and advanced skill in technologies such as wikis, blogs, and Web design are required.


Hazard Mitigation and Emergency Management Practice Leader
Michael Baker Jr.
Phoenix, Arizona (negotiable)
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: April 28, 2010
This position is responsible for hazard mitigation and emergency management business development, sales, and projects in the federal water services area of Michael Baker Jr. Duties include managing staff, developing strategic business plans, and providing technical assistance. Experience developing complex hazard mitigation plans; understanding of emergency management practices, including state and federal emergency management regulations; and the ability to garner contracts and maintain an extensive network of professional contacts are required. Reference IRC42959 in the keyword section when applying.

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