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Number 565 • March 24, 2011 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) Japanese Disaster Spawns Nuclear Safety Reviews Worldwide

While many feared radiation from a stricken Japanese nuclear facility would drift across the Pacific and settle on the United States, fallout of a different kind certainly has—deep concern about the safety of nuclear reactors.

The belated brouhaha follows a series of disasters at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which lost power and experienced what’s thought to be a partial meltdown of two reactor cores after the country was struck by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.

In the days that followed the catastrophe, conflicting reports about the causes of explosions, the amount of radiation released, and the prospects of ending the threats helped fuel confusion and shine a spotlight on the issue of nuclear safety and preparedness. Americans and others worldwide began asking that age-old question, “Can it happen here?”

“Our nuclear power plants have undergone exhaustive study and have been declared safe for any number of extreme contingencies,” President Barak Obama said in a press conference last week. “But when we see a crisis like the one in Japan, we have a responsibility to learn from this event and to draw from those lessons to ensure the safety and security of our people.”

That will be happening on a number of fronts, including a presidentially mandated review of U.S. nuclear plants to be conducted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The commission will consider lessons learned from the Japanese event before issuing a short-term report on U.S. facilities within 90 days, according to a statement. A full report will follow after that.

“This work will help determine if any additional NRC responses, such as orders requiring immediate action by U.S. plants, are called for, prior to completing an in-depth investigation of the information from events in Japan,” stated Bill Borchardt, NRC Executive Director for Operations.

The NRC won’t be alone in scrutinizing the safety of nuclear plants during disasters and normal operations. In fact, reviews are all the rage, ranging from California and Florida assessing nuclear safety response plans to examinations being undertaken by the European Union and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. Industry leaders are also committed to learning from the circumstances that plague Daiichi, according to Anthony Pietrangelo, vice-president of a lobbying group called the Nuclear Energy Institute.

“We will learn from them,” he told the Associated Press, “we will get that operating experience, we will apply it and try to make our units even safer than they are today.”

Despite the forward-looking sentiment of almost every nation with a nuke, it’s easy to imagine how all this reviewing might be for naught. After all, Japan just wrapped up an extensive review of nuclear power plants in 2009, including a 14-month study of potential earthquake impacts on the Daiichi plant, according to the Washington Post.

In that review, the danger of a tsunami—the event that actually caused the Daiichi nuclear emergency by wiping out the backup generators sustaining the plant’s cooling system—was only voiced by one scientist and dismissed as an unlikely threat, according to the Post. The plant’s hazard mitigation measures, which included retaining walls that could withstand waves of up to 20 feet, were considered adequate.

The Post article points out that the disaster “highlights the government’s miscalculation in prioritizing one natural disaster over another,” as well as the laxity that stems from chummy relationships with the industry they monitor.

That issue has been seen in the United States as well, most recently between the former Minerals Management Service the oil industry it regulated. A report released this month by the Union of Concerned Scientists indicates the NRC could lean the same way, if not so dissolutely.

The NRC and Nuclear Power Plant Safety in 2010: A Brighter Spotlight Needed found the commission made some “outstanding catches” but could have stopped at least 14 “near misses” from happening at all.

“The chances of a disaster at a nuclear plant are low,” the report states. “When the NRC finds safety problems and ensures that owners address them—as happened last year at Oconee, Browns Ferry, and Kewaunee—it keeps the risk posed by nuclear power to workers and the public as low as practical. But when the NRC tolerates unresolved safety problems—as it did last year at Peach Bottom, Indian Point, and Vermont Yankee—this lax oversight allows that risk to rise.”

If the political will could be located, the physical obstacles could probably be overcome, Ken Brockman, former IAEA director of nuclear installation safety told the Post.

“The engineers will say, ‘You tell me what you want, we’ll protect it to that level,’” Brockman said. “It’s just an issue of raising the elevation, building the retainer walls. The engineering can be done. You just have to give them the criteria.”

Now someone just needs to engineer a system to overcome regulatory entropy.

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2) Not Taken For Granted: Quicker Quick Response Evaluations Bring Program Changes 

Disasters require that researchers 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 submitted to our Quick Response Grant Program. Those improvements, which include a blind evaluation based on weighted criteria and a 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 going forward.

The Program

Since 1986, the Quick Response Grant Program has provided funds for researchers to quickly travel to disaster-affected areas to capture perishable data. The grants are small and intended primarily to defray prohibitive travel costs.

In addition to expanding academic knowledge, funded researchers submit brief reports that make preliminary analyses of recent events available to the Hazards Center's multidisciplinary network of researchers, practitioners, and educators. The program promotes innovation in disaster research by favoring students, new researchers, and novel areas of study.

What's new?

Before this year, researchers were asked to submit proposals every fall anticipating research they would do if the right event occurred during the next calendar year. Center staff dutifully evaluated all of those proposals. But because it's pretty hard to guess what disasters will happen next year, very little of this effort bore fruit.

Instead, researchers got good ideas and submitted proposals immediately after actual disasters happened. Under the old system, after-event proposals sometimes suffered from delayed evaluations and were scored down for being submitted out-of-cycle. Now that we're faster, contemporaneous proposals will be the only way to go.

What do I need to do?

  • Sign up for the Quick Response Grant Program e-mail list. In addition to general program updates, if we make a special call for proposals following a particular event, this is where we'll make the announcement. And that's something you'll want to know about right away, because proposals submitted in response to a special call will have an advantage in the revised scoring system.
  • Review the program guidelines Web page now. Proposals must meet the same detailed requirements as before. You'll want to have your ducks in a row when the disaster you want to study strikes.
  • Take an extra look at the preferred topic areas. If you can substantially engage one or more of them in your research, your proposal will receive extra points.
  • Make sure you clearly state the date you plan on entering the field. Not only is this a requirement for us to evaluate your application, but it will let us know how fast we have to work.

Proposals must only be submitted to the blinded Quick Response Grant Program e-mail address, hazards.qrgrant@colorado.edu.

For general program questions and guidance, please contact Jolie Breeden at jolie.breeden@colorado.edu or (303) 492-4180. Do not submit proposals to this address.

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3) Natural Hazards Observer Now Online

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the March 2011 Observer include:

— The Revenge of the Nukes
— Children and Disasters: Breaking the Cycle of Neglect
— Parsing the Puzzles of Climate, Economics, and Tropical Diseases
— Disaster Mitigation on the Ground in the Developing World

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the March and past Observers or sign up to receive e-mail notifications letting you know when the latest Observer is available.

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4) Mary Fran Myers Scholarship Deadline Monday

Less than a week remains to apply for the 2011 Mary Fran Myers Scholarship.

Scholarship recipients receive financial support allowing them to attend the 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, meal, and Workshop registration costs.

Hazards practitioners, students, and researchers with a strong commitment to disaster management and mitigation and who currently reside outside North America or the Caribbean are eligible to enter. Eligibility is based on current 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 page at 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 Applications
Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship
Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation
Deadline: March 31, 2011
The Association of State Floodplain Managers Foundation is accepting applications for the Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship. The $2,000 scholarship is awarded to students pursuing a degree related to floodplain or stormwater management. Students must be enrolled in a four-year or graduate program. Preference will be given to those with a history of volunteerism and civic service, as well as those who can show financial need.

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Call for Nominations
National Medal of Science/National Medal of Technology and Innovation
U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy
Deadline: March 31, 2011
The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy is soliciting nominations for two awards recognizing outstanding contributions to science, engineering, and technological advancements. Individuals or groups that have helped advance physical or behavioral science or who have improved economic or social well-being through technology are eligible for consideration.

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Call for Proposals
Addressing Community Wildfire Risk: An Assessment of Regulatory and Planning Tools
Fire Protection Research Foundation
Deadline: March 31, 2011
The Fire Protection Research Foundation is accepting proposals for a research project examining the effectiveness of regulatory planning tools in addressing community wildfire risk. The project, which is capped at $40,000, should include a literature review, a regulatory review, facilitated interviews, and a final report. Full details, including schedule and deliverables, are available online.

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Call for Abstracts
Reframing Disaster and Identifying Deficits in Risk Governance
International Society for Integrated Disaster Risk Management
Deadline: March 31, 2011
The International Society for Integrated Disaster Risk Management is accepting abstracts for presentation at its second annual conference to be held July 14-16 in Los Angeles. Abstracts of 500 words or less on topics such as resilience, sustainability, high probability–low consequence events, and international dimensions of disaster will be accepted.

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

Natural Hazards Center Japanese Disasters Resource Page
Like everyone else, the Natural Hazards Center has spent the past two weeks saturated with news and research relating to Japan’s many earthquake-spawned disasters. But we've also spent the past 35 years collecting and disseminating the very best disaster resources and information. You only need to take a moment to visit our page of news reports, research documents, and bibliographies to find something useful. Check back often, we’re adding new resources all the time.

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National Library of Medicine Emergency Access Initiative
Disasters often destroy the very resources needed to address them. That's not the case with medical literature, thanks to the National Library of Medicine-led Emergency Access Initiative. The NLM has partnered with publishers to provide full-text articles to communities affected by disaster. Articles accessed online can be used to temporarily replace damaged collections or by those participating in the response. The collection is opened in response to specific disasters. Those assisting with the events in Japan can access the collection until April 8, 2011.

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Weather Underground
Weather geeks, unite! Whether you’re into watching or you like to participate, Weather Underground is for you. The site both crowdsources and forecasts readings from the weather stations of thousands of amateur meteorologists. But with additional information including maps and radar, blog posts, and trip planners, you don’t have to love weather to love Weather Underground.

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Earthquake-Report
This site, which bills itself as "probably the best (non-governmental) earthquake reporting website in the world," does a pretty good job of living up to its claims. With data, articles, and preparedness resources, Earthquake-Report offers a lot of information on past and current events.

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National Level Exercise 2011
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Level Exercise is mere weeks away, and this site is the place to learn all about the faux disaster that will play out May 16-20. Whether you’re an emergency professional, a nonprofit group, or simply a community business that wants to be prepared, you can find out how to get ready and participate, and what the big event is going to be.

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

April 10-13, 2011
Geospatial Solutions Conference
Geospatial Information and Technology Association
Grapevine, Texas
Cost and Registration: $1,029, open until filled
This conference will address a wide range of geospatial issues from a variety of industry perspectives, including water, transportation, telecommunications, and energy. Topics include open-source technology, accessible data, 3D intelligent infrastructure, and using GIS in electric emergencies.

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May 2-3, 2011
Seismic Risk Mitigation Leadership Forum
Risk Mitigation Leadership
San Francisco, California
Cost and Registration: Free, request invitation by April 20
This forum is the sixth in a series that creates a risk mitigation dialogue between scientists, communicators, policy makers and practitioners. With an emphasis on seismic risk, forum topics include lessons learned from international earthquakes, seismic mitigation technology, fire following quakes, and risks to low-income populations.

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May 15-20, 2011
Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Cost and Registration: $165, open until filled
This conference will identify ways to improve hurricane preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation by discussing all aspects of hurricane threats. Topics include disaster housing, preparing rural and immigrant communities for disaster, developments in mass emergency care, regional evacuation implementation, and business planning for community continuity.

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May 16-18, 2011
Effective Risk Communication
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $1,595, open until filled
This workshop examines cognitive and emotional processes in risk perception, bias and error in risk decision making, communicating risk to various audiences, and strategies to improve understanding and trust. Topics include mental models, effects of emotion on risk perception, and risk perception and communication.

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May 18-21, 2011
International Hazardous Materials Response Teams Conference
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Baltimore, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $370 before April 18, open until filled
This conference will cover a variety of topics related to hazardous materials response, including transportation applications, terrorism, and decontamination. Topics include air dispersion modeling, infrastructure emergencies, hazardous material in floods, integrating incident command and hazmat response, and threat and vulnerability assessment. Training exercises, field trips and demonstrations are also offered.

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May 22-26, 2011
2011 World Environmental and Water Resources Congress
American Society of Civil Engineers
Palm Springs, California
Cost and Registration: $795 before April 11, closes April 29
This meeting will allow professionals to focus on emerging issues in the water and environmental fields, focus on sustainability, and learn about ongoing restoration programs. Offerings include symposia on arid lands, sustainability, and climate change; courses on low-impact development and modeling river migration; and technical sessions on urban water management, dam safety, international water issues, and groundwater.

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June 8-9, 2011
2011 Aid and International Development Forum
Aidmatrix, USAID, International Health Partners, and others
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This forum provides an opportunity to build partnerships across organizations and disciplines in order to advance humanitarian and disaster relief programs. Transportation and logistics, shelter, water and sanitation, and funding ideas are among the topics to be discussed.

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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.]

New Media Specialist, GS-7
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $42,209 to $54,875
Closing Date: March 25, 2011
This position is responsible for writing DHS Blog entries, choosing topics for social media outreach, building DHS site traffic, and supporting DHS contributions to the Open Government initiative. Specialized knowledge of social media, writing and communications, and one year of experience at the GS-5 level are required.

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Associate Academic Officer
UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security
Bonn, Germany
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 10, 2011
This position supports and coordinates the activities of the Munich Re Foundation Chair on Social Vulnerability, including assisting with publications, proposal writing, and collaborating on social resilience and environmental change projects. Duties include organizing a summer academy on social vulnerability, producing literature reviews, and editing research. A PhD and strong background in law, economics, or social or natural sciences; substantial publication history; collaborative research experience; and the ability to speak English and German are required.

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Head of Office, Republic of Korea
UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Incheon City, Korea
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 13, 2011
This position leads the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in the Republic of Korea, including building partnerships that promote the program, supervising education and training, managing program budget and funding, and acting as a spokesperson for disaster risk reduction in the region. A master’s in business management or a related field, ten years of program management experience, and knowledge of disaster reduction policies and methods are required.

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Senior Director of Government Operations
American Red Cross
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position leads Red Cross units and relief operations related to government planning, readiness, and response at all levels. Responsibilities include grant procurement, ensuring responsibilities are met under various memoranda of agreement, overseeing government coordination during disaster, and representing the Red Cross at federal meetings and congressional hearings. A bachelor’s degree in business, social services, or a disaster-related discipline, ten years of government or nonprofit experience, and the ability to design and implement relief operations are required.

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Regional Weapons of Mass Destruction Planner
New York City Office of Emergency Management
New York, New York
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will write and implement weapons of mass destruction response and recovery plan for a four-state region that includes New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Duties include conducting ongoing WMD planning with government and private stakeholders, establishing planning procedures and benchmarks, and providing technical support to regional emergency operations centers. A master’s degree in a science or technical field, incident management team experience, and experience in physics, chemistry, or engineering are required. Radiological incident planning experience is preferred.

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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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