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Number 561 • January 27, 2011 | Past Issues













1) So Long Scarlet Slurry? Retardant Use Under Environmental Fire

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire retardant, at least in some of the hardest-to-reach U.S. wildfire areas. Lately, however, the U.S. Forest Service has had to take a hard look at whether the much-photographed red slurry they use to preserve federal lands from fire is doing more harm than good.

At least one group—and a federal judge—has said that might be the case. U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy has given the USFS until December 2011 to determine if the picturesque retardant, which is a mixture of water and ammonium-based fertilizer, is a threat to fish and plants, according to an Associated Press article.

The ruling, which was handed down in July, comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, an environmental group that has been working to limit the use of retardants since 2003. The group contends that fighting fires with water would be equally effective and less damaging to the forest.

“The Forest Service needs to come up with retardant policies that address how, when and where they are going to use retardant, and in a way that fully protects the water, the fish and the rare plants,” FSEEE Executive Director Andy Stahl told the Missoulian. “One sensible thing to do would be to use water to fight fires instead of toxic retardant. What a wonderful idea.”

A previous suit filed by FSEEE resulted in the Forest Service conducting a court-mandated environmental assessment. Molloy's July 2010 ruling addresses concerns that the environmental assessment, which claimed the retardant had insignificant environmental effects, wasn’t vigorous enough. Malloy found that study, plus similar opinions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, arbitrary and capricious, according to the AP.

The Forest Service maintains that, while protecting wildlife habitat is one of their top concerns, using the retardant is often the best defense, especially in steep or rugged areas or when dealing with large fires. The USFS has to weigh damage from fire as well as retardant, said spokeswoman Jennifer Jones.

"Millions of acres of national forest are at risk of uncharacteristically large and severe wildfires that can cause long-term damage to fish and wildlife habitat as well as humans, and retardant is a useful tool in fire suppression both in the wildlands and near communities," Jones is quoted as saying in the Missoulian.

According to USFS guidelines, retardant cannot be dropped within 300 feet of a waterway. Even when that mark is missed, the Forest Service claimed that over eight years and 128,000 retardant drops there were only 14 cases of slurry harming fish and plants. Stahl said even that is too much.

“If a farmer took a 3,000-gallon truckload of liquefied fertilizer and dumped it in a creek, that farmer would be in jail in a heartbeat,” Stahl told the AP. “But when the Forest Service does it, everybody looks the other way because it is a war on fire.”

The Forest Service plans to release its newest draft environmental impact statement on fire retardant use for public comment soon. Progress updates are available on the USFS Aerial Application of Fire Retardant Web page.

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2) Imagining ARkStorm: California Dreamin’ of So Much Winter Rain

Between earthquakes, wildfires, landslides, and flash flooding, it seems California's perils know no bounds. Still, up until now, residents weren’t preoccupied with fears of being washed off the face of the earth. Enter the ARkStorm scenario.

Despite its biblical-sounding moniker, ARkStorm is a scientific model of the economic, social, and environmental impacts from a mammoth winter storm hitting the West Coast. The hypothetical results are nightmarish—more than 6,000 square miles of flooding, 1.5 million people displaced, $725 billion in damages and clean up costs, and decades before the state reaches anything like recovery.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project used past weather events and climate models to project the “scientifically realistic” storm scenario, released earlier this month. Using data from two relatively recent (1962 and 1986) storms placed back to back, the project conjures up a megastorm that could produce precipitation levels not seen in hundreds of years.

“The model is not an extremely extreme event,” stated Lucy Jones, the project’s chief scientist, in a USGS release. “We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes.”

The most recent events paralleling the theoretical storm occurred during the winter of 1861-1862. According to New York Times, that deluge filled California’s Central Valley, covered one-third of the taxable land, and left the state bankrupt. With millions of more residents to be affected today, a similar event would wreak havoc nationwide.

"If we had a catastrophic disaster that takes down the California economy, that is a problem of national significance," USGS Director Marcia McNutt told the Times.

Flood threats, however, have a hard time capturing imaginations in a place where earthquakes loom ever present.

“For a lot of people in California, we don't think of ourselves as being this flood-prone,” ARkStorm co-author and disaster recovery expert Laurie Johnson told the Sacramento Bee. "It's just too difficult to comprehend."

Perhaps for the average Californian—but not for the scientists, emergency planners, disaster researchers, and policy makers who make up the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project. The project is in the business of using scientifically supported dark imaginings to motivate people to prepare. Its ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario helped thousands conceptualize a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. The hope is that ARkStorm will similarly raise public awareness and preparedness.

“The time to begin taking action is now, before a devastating natural hazard event occurs,” McNutt stated in the USGS release. “This scenario demonstrates firsthand how science can be the foundation to help build safer communities.”

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3) Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition Now Open

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop if chosen as one of the two winners of our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters.

The competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students enrolled for at least one term of the 2010-2011 academic year. Papers must be submitted by April 15, 2011. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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4) Apply Now for the Mary Fran Myers Scholarship

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship Committee is now accepting applications. Recipients will receive financial support allowing them to attend the 2011 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, July 9-12. Recipients may also stay through July 13 to attend either the International Research Committee on Disasters or the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association add-on events for researchers and practitioners, respectively. Scholarships can cover part or all of transportation, meals, and registration costs.

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship is awarded annually to at least one potential Workshop participant. Recipients are recognized at the Workshop and may be asked to serve as panelists, where they can highlight their research or practical experiences with hazards and disasters.

As the longtime co-director of the Natural Hazards Center, Myers recognized that many of the people and organizations that could benefit from and contribute to the Workshop—including local practitioners, students, and international professionals—were among those least likely to afford it. The scholarship was established in 2003 to fulfill Myers’ request that qualified and talented individuals receive support to attend.

Hazards practitioners, students, and researchers with a strong commitment to disaster management and mitigation and who reside outside North America or the Caribbean are eligible to enter. Eligibility is based on current place of residence, not citizenship. Applicants from North America and the Caribbean will be eligible for the scholarship in 2012. Previous attendees of the Natural Hazards Workshop are not eligible for the 2011 Mary Fran Myers Scholarship. Preference is given to those who can demonstrate financial need.

For more information on past scholarship winners and how to apply, visit the Mary Fran Myers Scholarship pageat the Natural Hazards Center Web site. Applications must be received by March 28.

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

Call for Proposals
Global Earthquake Risk, Socio-Economic Impact Module
Global Earthquake Model
Deadline: January 31, 2011
The Global Earthquake Model is accepting proposals for the development of a meta-model to assess the social and economic impacts of earthquakes, including methods, tools, and indicators appropriate for forming an assessment toolbox. Proposed budgets should be in the range of $1 million and are subject to peer review. Awards are expected to be announced in April.


Call for Nominations
National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Deadline: February 19, 2011
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is accepting nominations for its National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee. Committee members advise NIST on the Disasters and Failures Program, which coordinates data collection and studies of natural and man-made hazards, the performance of the built environment in response to hazards, emergency response and evacuation procedures, and the social impacts of disaster. Nominations should include the nominee's field of expertise, record of service, and willingness to serve on the committee. Self-nominations are acceptable.


Call for Applications
Natural Catastrophes Graduate Course
University of Iceland Earthquake Engineering Research Center
Deadline: February 21, 2011

The Earthquake Engineering Research Center at the University of Iceland is now accepting applications for a graduate level course on natural catastrophes, to be held May 30 to June 18 in Selfoss, Iceland. Students will learn about disaster management, community impact, and risk assessment surrounded by potential disasters ranging from volcanic eruption to glacial flooding. Accommodations are provided. For more information on credits and how to apply, visit the 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]

Prepare My Business
The U.S. Small Business Administration has teamed up with business continuity vendor Agility Recovery to offer a range of information on keeping small businesses running after a disaster. The no-nonsense site offers easy-to-access resources, advice on preparedness, and a series of webinars that will make it easy for small business owners to work continuity training into their harried schedules.


Australian Library and Information Association Disaster Recovery Project
The Australian Library and Information Association began its disaster recovery project shortly after the 2009 bushfires raged in Victoria. Originally a way to shore up the collections of affected libraries, the project has expanded to include links to disaster resources and general guidance on disaster training and recovery. Perhaps unique is the emphasis on helping libraries recover from disaster, with tips on how to salvage water- and smoke-damaged records and disaster planning templates for libraries.


First Responder Communities of Practice
This new site from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate seems akin to Facebook with a focus on emergency management and homeland security. Billed as a “vetted, professional networking” site, members need to supply proof of eligibility, including a “sponsor” to vouch for them (those working in response and homeland security fields are welcome to join with a nod from a government official). Once approved, members are invited to use a variety of technologies to collaborate on areas of interest.


FEMA’s Children’s Working Group
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has devoted a Web page to the progress of its Children’s Working Group. Visitors can learn more about the group, which is tasked with insuring that children's interests are integrated into emergency planning, and access resources on children and disasters. A working group newsletter is also available.


An Achilles Heel in Emergency Communications
This two-year study,subtitled The Deplorable Policies and Practices Pertaining to Non-English Speaking Populations,examines emergency communications to Spanish speakers in West Texas and finds both broadcast media and government agencies severely lacking in their ability to get emergency information to Latinos. An 80-person forum attended by public and private sector representatives did result in a number of recommendations to address the issue.


Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has updated its Comprehensive Preparedness Guide to emphasize emergency planning methods that engage the entire community. The guide, which reflects the trend toward more integrated, flexible, risk-based planning, will be useful to a variety of disciplines charged with assessing risk.

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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]

March 17-19, 2011
Building Resilience II
New Orleans, Louisiana
American Society of Civil Engineers and the Environmental Defense Fund
Cost and Registration: Not posted, open until filled
This workshop, now its second year, will develop strategies to help Louisiana delta communities avoid hurricane impacts and recover more quickly when they strike. Among topics to be discussed are resilience and adaptability, creating political will to build long-term strategies, overcoming unsustainable policies and practices, and creating a culture of resilience for the future.


March 21-24, 2011
Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $250 before February 25, open until filled
This conference will examine the gaps in and barriers to radiation emergency preparedness, ways to improve planning for and recovery from radiation emergencies, and how to build strong stakeholder networks. Topics include logistical and communication issues during response, reception centers and sheltering, gaps in capacity, and psychosocial behavior in radiation emergencies.


April 15-17, 2011
Wildland Fire Litigation Conference
Ken Roye
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference addresses legal implications of wildland fires, including firefighting cost recovery, fire and the Federal Tort Claims Act, non-intentional arson, and fire forensics. Power line fires, geospatial technology, and case studies from Australia and Southern California will also be discussed.


April 26-27, 2011
Partners in Emergency Preparedness
Washington State University
Tacoma, Washington
Cost and Registration: $250 before February 21, open until filled
This conference will discuss earthquake research, contingency planning, school preparedness, public health preparedness, and public information. Session topics include business continuity, pediatric disaster response plans, incident command for community organizations, and the National Commission on Children and Disasters' recommendations.


April 26-27, 2011
Emergency Action Planning for Dam Safety
Association of Dam Safety Officials
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $250 before April 15, open until filled
This seminar will cover a number of considerations in dam emergency planning. Topics include creating and testing emergency action plans, developing inundation maps, and incident command basics. Several tabletop exercises will be offered.


May 1-5, 2011
Integrated Medical, Public Health, Preparedness and Response Training Summit
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Grapevine, Texas
Cost and Registration: $450 before March 1, open until filled
This conference will focus on building relationships between public health organizations and response workers, determining all-hazards approaches to public health, and increasing public health preparedness. Topics include standard of care during crises, using home care and hospice to increase surge capacity, mass fatality planning, and evacuating at-risk individuals.

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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.]

National Disaster Risk Management Technical Specialist
United Nations Development Program
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: January 28, 2011
This position will develop the disaster and climate risk reduction initiative in Uzbekistan by identifying needs, building partnerships, and analyzing areas of integration. Duties include coordination of post-disaster activities, such as emergency assessments and recovery needs. A master’s degree in social science or a disaster-related field, five years of management and planning experience, and field experience in disaster zones are required.


Organizing Disaster Research Assistant
Goldsmiths University
London, UK
Salary: $47,358 to $51,291
Closing Date: February 3, 2011
This position will conduct qualitative research on the relationship between civil protection and the population in Switzerland, especially how the state influences social order during disasters. A PhD in sociology, anthropology, or a related field, ethnographic field research experience, and the ability to assist in project development and data analysis are required.


Surge Capacity Specialist, GS-11/12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $62,467 to $97,333
Closing Date: February 3, 2011
This position supports the Disaster Workforce Division in deploying FEMA personnel during an emergency, including coordinating the day-to-day operations of the disaster deployment program, developing deployment procedures, and identifying training and staffing needs. One year of experience at GS-10 or above is required.


Hazard Mitigation Project Manager
Boulder, Colorado
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 11, 2011
This position will manage and develop hazard mitigation plans for state and local governments, including coordination, data collection and documentation, and evaluation of existing capacities and cost effectiveness. A bachelor’s degree in planning, emergency management, or a related field and at least two years of mitigation experience are required. Experience with FEMA, post-disaster grant programs, and federal energy assurance planning guidelines are preferred. To access job details, enter 1918BR into the careers keyword search field.


Long Term Community Recovery Reservist
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Salary: $31.91 to $37.09 hourly
Closing Date: Open until filled
Reservists hold temporary positions and serve intermittently to lead efforts in community planning, economic development, infrastructure planning, and health and social services in disaster-damaged communities. Duties include identifying funding and recovery resources, planning, and providing technical assistance. The required skills vary, but include the ability to travel, coordinate field set up, and manage operations.

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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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