University of Colorado at Boulder CU-Boulder Home CU-Boulder Search CU-Boulder A to Z Campus Map

Number 563 • February 24, 2011 | Past Issues













1) Not Quite the Usual Suspect: FEMA and the New Zealand Earthquake

You probably expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to a major earthquake—just not to one in New Zealand. That’s what happened Tuesday, though, when a 6.3 magnitude temblor gave FEMA’s Deputy Administrator Timothy Manning a chance to roll up his sleeves and get to work.

Manning—who is trained as an EMT and firefighter, in addition to being a geologist—was in New Zealand to learn more about the country’s recovery from a quake that struck about 35 miles northwest of Christchurch in September. When Tuesday’s quake hit, Manning was waiting at the airport to depart, he told PBS.

“As we evacuated the airport building I did call home to my wife and let her know I was okay. And then I responded to a request from the police asking for volunteers in the crowd of evacuees in the airport asking for anybody who might be able to help,” he said.

Manning joined a busload of responders, doctors, and construction workers that headed into the city to help with search and rescue. As of Wednesday, he was still working with state officials while keeping the folks back home updated.

I was supposed to leave yesterday but skipped the evacuation flights in order to stay here,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I'm here for as long as I'm needed.”

While Manning’s spontaneous rescue junket might seem coincidental, it’s less surprising considering the working relationship FEMA has built with New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence. In fact, the two agencies signed a memorandum of cooperation just two months ago, formalizing the countries’ commitment to collaborating on disaster research and response.

“Close collaboration with our international partners is essential to building our resilience to disasters,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a December news release. “I look forward to working with our emergency management partners in New Zealand to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and keep our citizens safe.”

A similar bargain was struck between New Zealand and the DHS in January 2010, but with a science and technology focus. Both agreements pave the way for information sharing, leveraging research funding, and integrating the countries’ private and nonprofit partnerships.

“Given our hazards and geographical isolation, it is important that we have strong relationships that help us manage risks and seek assistance in a major disaster,” Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management John Hamilton told the New Zealand Press Association. “Having the relationships, knowing how to immediately contact each other and understanding how to work together are crucial to a speedy, well-directed response. The bigger the disaster, the more important the prior-arrangements and planning become.”

Outside of USAID's deployment of some of its FEMA-backed urban search and rescue teams, it’s a little early to know what the U.S. role in New Zealand earthquake response will be and how the memorandum will come into play. By all accounts, New Zealand is ahead of the game in earthquake preparedness, building code implementation, and emergency response.

“As was obvious from how far they had come in recovery from the last earthquake and what I've seen in the last 24 hours, they are very good here,” Manning told the Post Wednesday. “New Zealanders have a strong sense of community and are very well prepared and have come together very well.”

Back to Top

2) Here Comes the Sun: How Solar Weather Can Wreak Havoc—Or Not

Those disappointed by the lack of flair in last week’s solar flare should look on the bright side—there will be more opportunities to experience technological disruption courtesy of the sun’s magnetism.

“This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco told attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Although scientists expected the February 14 solar flare—the largest in four years—to have more of an impact, the phenomenon was dulled by a lucky alignment of the flare’s and Earth's magnetic fields, according to Wired Science. Had the two not been so magnetically simpatico, results could have ranged from wide-scale disruption of communications systems to power outages and GPS failures. As it was, the flare did little more than brighten up the northern lights.

“There were some nice displays of aurora, but you had to live in Finland, northern Canada or Alaska to see them,” Joe Kunches, a forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center, told Wired. “This one was the lowest storm category that we even pay any attention to.”

The geomagnetic storms are assigned categories ranking from G1 to G5. Although last week’s hit turned out to be a G1, it could just as easily have been higher. That’s because a flare’s magnetism can align with Earth’s in such a way that it either keeps charged particles from entering Earth’s magnetosphere or lets them in, as Wired explains it. There’s no way to know how the magnetism of each solar burst will line up, but the more particles at the party, the more ruckus raised.

“Power grids, air traffic control systems, and intelligent transport systems need to be looked at,” the Toronto Star quoted Stephan Lechner of the European Commission Institute for Protection and Security of the Citizen as saying. “And would our financial trading places have to shut down if the accuracy of the time stamp for an electronic order was not given any more?”

Although the answer is unclear—new safeguards against solar activity are constantly being sought—it’s most likely yes. Since the last cycle of heightened sun action (known as solar max) in 2000, we’ve become increasingly vulnerable, geomagnetically speaking.

In 1859, when the strongest recorded solar storm struck, there was little to disrupt besides telegraph transmissions, and even those weren’t too unmanageable. Since then, less powerful storms have shut down phone service across an entire state and left Quebec without power for 12 hours. Although there’s no point in wringing hands over what solar impacts the future might bring, sitting on them isn’t likely to do the trick either, Lubchenco points out.

“This recent solar flare really illustrates that we need to pay attention to space weather,” she told the AAAS meeting, according to Wired. “The watchword is, predict and prepare.”

Back to Top

3) Disaster Planning Handicap: Los Angeles Isn’t Prepared to Protect the Disabled

It will soon be safer to live with a disability in Los Angeles, but it took a two-year court battle to do it.

Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the city to address gaps in its emergency preparedness plans that leave approximately 800,000 disabled residents unprotected in emergency situations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“Because of the city's failure to address their unique needs, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to harm in the event of an emergency or disaster,” U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall ruled, according to the article.

The plight of the disabled during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita prompted the class-action suit, filed in 2009 by Los Angeles resident Audrey Harthorn and the disability rights group Communities Actively Living Independent and Free, according to the Associated Press.

An examination of Los Angeles’ emergency operations plan indicated that city’s disabled residents could be equally compromised. Among the issues not addressed by the existing plan are access to emergency shelters, transportation and evacuation assistance, and medication storage and dispensation at shelters, according to a press release.

Although city attorneys argued that gaps in the plan should be filled by the American Red Cross, as well as “personal preparedness,” Judge Marshall gave L.A. three weeks from her February 10 ruling to meet with the plaintiffs and craft a plan, according to the Times.

Shawna Parks, of the Disability Rights Legal Center, which helped represent the plaintiffs, told the Times she expected the case to set a standard for other communities.

“It was the first case that's addressed it,” she said. “It sets a precedent that makes a lot of other jurisdictions pay attention.”

Back to Top

4) Envelope, Please: Interior Department Makes List of High-Risk Federal Agencies

No one wants to land a spot on the Government Accountability Office High-Risk List. Fortunately, only one federal agency is slated to get the dubious honor this year and the prize goes to—the Interior Department for abysmal oversight of the oil and gas industry. The Department can thank the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for calling attention to its mismanagement of natural resources.

“It's better late than never, but it shouldn't have taken the worst ecological disaster in history for GAO to place this program onto the high risk list,” Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told the Washington Post.

Three issues landed the Interior Department on the naughty list—dubious revenue collection policies, staff turnover and training problems, and questions about whether these problems can be managed while Interior's oil and gas program undergoes a complex post-spill reorganization. The accompanying report criticized Interior for not implementing GAO's previous recommendations, but acknowledged that establishing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement will quell some of the issues.

That effort is continuing and “has dramatically increased safety standards and oversight of the oil and gas industry,” Department Spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff told the Post.

The GAO list and report identifying "programs vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement" have been updated at the start of each Congress since 1990. And while Interior's oil and gas program joins 29 other programs already on the list, in this fiscal climate it shouldn't count on escaping Congress' attention by getting lost in the crowd.

“[The report] is especially relevant at a time when our nation's budget deficits are at historic levels and we have to spend every taxpayer dollar as if it were our own,” Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Liberman (I-Conn.), told the Post.

--Allison Taylor

Back to Top

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

Call For Comments
Unmanned Aerial Systems for Disaster Response
Federal Communications Commission
Deadline: February 28, 2011
The Federal Communications Commission is seeking input on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or balloons that could be deployed to disaster sites to assist in situation assessments. The Commission is particularly seeking comments regarding coordination and management of deployments, adverse effects of deployment, classes of equipment to be used, and coordination with satellite and communication infrastructure.


Call for Nominations
Blanchard Award for Academic Excellence in Emergency Management Higher Education
North Dakota State University
Deadline: March 5, 2011
North Dakota State University is calling for nominations for the 2011 Dr. B. Wayne Blanchard Award for Academic Excellence in Emergency Management Higher Education. The award recognizes emergency management community members that have advanced higher education in the field. Nominations should be one page and explain what the nominee has contributed. Self-nominations are acceptable.


Call for Submissions
Social Media and Collaborative Systems for Crisis Management
Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Deadline: March 15, 2011
The editors of Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction are accepting submissions of research papers for a special issue on social media and collaborative systems in crisis management. Papers should focus on the description or evaluation of collaborative systems used for emergency management, including studies of virtual communities and social software, issues in using information technology in disaster response, or behavioral studies of Web and networking technology in emergency management.

Back to Top

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]

Social Media 4 Emergency Management
Social media in emergency management is on the rise and the newly established Social Media 4 Emergency Management Web site is here to help those ready to jump into the fray. The site’s been tracking updates, sharing best practices, building wikis, and standardizing Twitter hashtags (check out #SMEM, for example). Blog post topics range from the challenges of social media in government to international Web site reach. With tips on establishing a social media presence and lists of upcoming events, budding socialites will have plenty to guide them.


Topical Fire Report: Fire Risk to Children in 2007
The tragedy of fire-related deaths is compounded by the U.S. Fire Administration’s recent findings that young children have more risk of dying in a fire, with children younger than four accounting for more than half of all child fire-related deaths. Although the risk of death is lower for kids than the general population, fire and burn-related deaths are the second leading cause of accidental death in children younger than 15, according to the report, which was just released this month. Young children are vulnerable because they depend on adults for safety, have trouble comprehending danger and how to escape, and don’t respond to fire alarms in the same way as adults.


Photographs Relating to Disasters and Emergency Management, 1998-2008
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the approximately 8,000 photographs recently released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is a fortune in disaster documentation. The collection, now available through the National Archives, covers a range of FEMA work, including Hurricane Katrina and Tropical Storm Kay, tornados and flooding, political leaders, damaged landscapes, and survivors. Browse the images individually or search by keyword, but take a moment to peek into this treasure chest of disaster graphics.


North Central U.S. Spring Flood Risk
Punxsutawney Phil might have predicted an early spring, but the folks at The National Weather Service have offered a little more detail. The NWS preliminary spring flood outlook predicts a high chance of heavy flooding in the North Central United States, especially in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The NWS is considerably less optimistic than Phil, stating there could be a “colder than normal last month of winter” in the area. The final NWS 2011 Hydrologic Assessment will be released March 17, although sadly not from Phil's Gobbler’s Knob tree stump.

Girl Scouts Emergency Preparedness Patch Program
It looks like the Boy Scouts just lost their Be Prepared monopoly, thanks to a collaboration between the Girl Scouts and the Federal Emergency Management Agency Citizen Corps. The two groups were able to rendezvous and create the Be Prepared Emergency Preparedness Patch Program, which will allow girl scouts to identify emergency risks, learn about alerts and warning systems, prepare for emergencies, and get trained in community emergency planning.

--Allison Taylor contributed to these reports

Back to Top

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 1, 2011
Disasters Roundtable: Using Lessons from Haiti and Chile to Reduce Global Risk
National Academies of Science
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This workshop will examine the differences and similarities between the 2010 Chile and Haiti earthquakes in an effort to reduce global hazards. Discussions on pre-existing conditions, lessons learned, and future risk reduction will be held, as well as presentations from Haitian and Chilean representatives. A video webcast of the event is available to those that can’t attend in person.


March 2, 2011
Facing the Elements: Transportation System Resilience in an Era of Extreme Weather and Climate Change
New York Academy of Sciences
New York, New York
Cost and Registration: $20, open until filled
This panel discussion will look at the challenges of building a transportation infrastructure that can weather extreme storms. Using New York City as a model, speakers will discuss improving resilience, economic and social implications, and the impact of climate change on transportation systems.


March 4, 2011
Interoperability Forum
Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This forum will collect feedback on the technical framework and interoperability of the public safety broadband network. Network systems, equipment, operability, and services will be discussed.


March 15-17, 2011
24th FISSEA Conference: Bridging to the Future—Emerging Trends in Cybersecurity
Federal Information Systems Security Educators’ Association and NIST
Gaithersburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $232, closes March 9
This conference will give an overview of recent trends in cybersecurity, solutions to cybersecurity issues, and training and education support. Session topics include cyber threats and security awareness, hacking, social media, and federal virtual training environments.


April 3-5, 2011
14th Annual NFDA Retreat and Conference
National Flood Determination Association
Scottsdale, Arizona
Cost and Registration: $800, closes March 11
This conference will give flood experts an opportunity to discuss flood issues and flood hazard data. Topics include rethinking the National Flood Insurance Program, Risk MAP and coastal mapping, levee outreach initiatives, state-level hazard mapping, and legal issues facing the flood industry.


April 20-21, 2011
High Reliability Organizing Conference
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $450 before March 21, open until filled
This conference will share ways to ensure consistent, dependable response in uncertain situations. Topics will include operational command during crisis, belief and behavior in unexpected situations, operational risk management, and reliably organizing in disaster situations such as wildland fires and oil spills.


May 8-11, 2011
Eighth International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management
International Association for the Study of Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management
Lisbon, Portugal
Cost and Registration: $450 before March 23, open until filled
This conference will discuss the integration of preparedness and warning activities for crisis management, as well as how emerging technology and information systems support those activities. Conference topics include early warning and alert systems, geographic information science and crisis management, social media, emergency impacts on the healthcare system, and risk perception, analysis, and management.

Back to Top

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.]

Hazard Mitigation and Structural Engineering Program Director
National Science Foundation
Arlington, Virginia
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will lead the Hazard Mitigation and Structural Engineering program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation. Responsibilities will include soliciting and reviewing research and education proposals, recommending funding, and administering awards. A PhD and a recognized research and education background in a related discipline, government or academic managerial experience, and six years of research administration are required.


Special Projects Librarian
New York Academy of Medicine
New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports the library’s literature initiatives promoting public and urban health, including serving as project director for the Resource Guide for Public Health Preparedness. Duties include publication production scheduling, managing team meetings, and editing content. A master’s degree in library science, two years of reference experience in a research or public health library, and PUBMED searching ability are required.


Mitigation Planning Specialist, GS-9/11
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $50,620 to $79,615
Closing Date: March 1, 2011
This position will work with state and local partners to develop strategic disaster plans, administer mitigation grant programs, increase floodplain management using the National Flood Insurance Program, and educate citizens on loss reduction. Community planning experience, knowledge of the NFIP, and one year of experience at GS-8 or above are required.


Assistant Emergency Management Professor
North Dakota State University
Fargo, North Dakota
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: Open until filled
This tenure-track position will teach in the NDSU emergency management program, including courses in research methods, volunteer groups in disasters, special needs populations in disasters, and basic emergency management. Teaching experience, active research publication, and grant writing experience are preferred. A PhD in emergency management or a related field is required.


Natural Perils Risk Assessment Specialist
Swiss Reinsurance Company
Adliswil, Switzerland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: February 28, 2011
This position will develop wind and flood risk assessment methods using cutting edge software and existing catastrophe models. An advanced degree in engineering or natural science, MATLAB programming skills, knowledge of risk assessment techniques, and a broad background in science, business, and finance are required.


Division of Atmospheric Sciences Director
Desert Research Institute
Reno, Nevada
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports and develops the research activities of the Atmospheric Sciences Division by implementing program needs, integrating teaching and research activities in other departments, and building new client relationships. A PhD in atmospheric sciences or a related field, strong leadership skills, and creative funding procurement abilities are required.

Back to Top

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

To subscribe, visit or e-mail
University of Colorado at Boulder

Natural Hazards Center
483 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0483
Contact Us: | (303) 492-6818

A Center in the Institute of Behavioral Science

© Regents of the University of Colorado