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Number 568 • May 19, 2011 | Past Issues













1) The Man has a PLAN: New Alert System Targets Location for Safety Warnings

Emergency managers will soon have the nation on speed dial thanks to new technology that sends emergency alerts directly to the cell phones in a targeted area. The new system—called the Personal Localized Alerting Network, or PLAN—was announced last week in New York, one of the first areas where the messages can be received.

Although many agencies offer emergency text alerts, PLAN is different in that users get messages whenever they’re in harm's way. The technology uses a special chip to allow officials to send off-the-band alerts—not text messages—directly to cellular handsets in a defined area, so those with PLAN-enabled phones will get the notice whether they’re from out of town or even if networks are down.

“Communications technology—and in particular mobile broadband—has the potential to revolutionize emergency response,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said recently at the program's launch. “Our communications networks need to be reliable and resilient in times of emergency.”

PLAN, which is better known in emergency management circles by its working title, the Commercial Mobile Alert System, was created by the FCC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint. Users don’t have to sign up for the service. It’s active whenever they buy a phone with a PLAN chip installed, including some phones sold now. By April 2011, all phones sold by the four participating companies will receive PLAN alerts.

The PLAN technology is part of the larger Integrated Public Alert and Warning System effort, or IPAWS. The new mobile alerts are meant to supplement existing television and radio alerts from the Emergency Alert System.

"The traditional alerts on radio and TV are still important, and they will continue, but more and more, mobile devices are becoming essential. You have them with you," Genachowski told USA Today. "In the event of a major disaster, government authorities can get lifesaving information to you quickly."

That information will include three types of alerts: amber alerts, messages about “imminent threat to life,” and presidential alerts, according to the FCC. Phone owners can opt out of the first two, but presidential alerts won’t be optional for those with PLAN-enabled phones.

Eventually, the idea is to have PLAN on all phones and local agencies able to send alerts, according to the Washington Post. For now, mobile carrier participation is optional and local governments are responsible for the cost of any upgrades needed to use the system. Public opinion of the technology has also been hushed, although at least one blogger has commented on the Orwellian possibilities.

“I don't know about you but I am not terribly keen on having a special chip on my phone that is mandated by the U.S. government,” writes Ed Hansberry in InformationWeek. “They don't have an entirely trustworthy record when doing things that are designed to protect us.”

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2) The Whitehouse Cybersecurity Plan: Promise or Prattle?

The idea of some geeky computer savant taking over virtual systems vital to the nation has long been a part of the public psyche (possibly even before Matthew Broderick did it in the 1980s movie WarGames). As our dependence on computers has grown, so have the odds that we could experience cyber-disruption of everything from our finances to air travel to electricity—and little has been done to keep that from happening.

Last week, however, the White House announced long-overdue legislation aimed at protecting the nation’s computer systems, followed by a call Monday for the rest of the world to do the same.

The domestic plan would put the Department of Homeland Security in charge of making sure private-sector businesses that control vital national security or economic systems provide a security plan for their computers and have it audited by a third party. Provisions for protecting private consumer information and for fully indentifying cybercrimes and their penalties are also included. The global strategy calls for countries to create similar international policies and work together to enforce them.

“The effort to build trust in the cyberspace realm is one which should be pushed in capitals around the world,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke told the New York Times.

But there’s some question as to whether the plans have the teeth necessary to stop cybercrimes.

“It's a very big idea but sorely lacking on details and implementation,” David Koretz, CEO of cybersecurity software maker Mykonos, told the Huffington Post. “It’s light on details and has the same vagueness that comes with something that’s never going to happen in real life.”

Others agree that the strategies—which must consider issues of privacy and civil rights, business interests, sovereignty, and Internet freedom—are more of a plan to plan than an roadmap for effecting change. Among the issues cyber gurus foresee are countries that fail to come aboard becoming safe havens for crime, information sharing problems, and a lack of anything like enforcement.

“We need stronger legal incentives for good cybersecurity,” Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Security Research at the University of Indiana, told the Huffington Post. “The plan really doesn’t go in any direction towards doing that.”

While that may be true, policymakers say the latest cybersecurity efforts, which began two years ago with the president’s Cyberspace Policy Review, are meant to start untying a very tangled knot of conflicting interests. There’s plenty of talking left to do, according to White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation within governments, between governments, the private sector and beyond,” he said.

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3) America Still Has Climate Choices—For Now

The time has come to stop debating the reality of climate change and do something about it, according to America’s Climate Choices, an exhaustive National Research Council report that examines global warming's U.S. impacts and what might be done to address them.

The report—which is the culmination of four previous panel reports on climate science, mitigation, adaptation, and policy—swept aside spurious debate and focused on the “pressing need for substantial action,” including an extreme reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems,” the report stated. “In the committee’s judgment there are many reasons why it is imprudent to delay actions that at least begin the process of substantially reducing emissions.”

While the conclusion is less than shocking to anyone who has followed the climate change debate, the sense of urgency expressed by the authors is a decided departure from previous reports.

“The committee cited many reasons for not waiting, including that the faster emissions are reduced, the lower the risks,” according to a National Academies statement.  “And because the effects of greenhouse gases can take decades to manifest and then persist for hundreds or even thousands of years, waiting for impacts to occur before taking action will likely be too late for meaningful mitigation. Beginning emissions reductions soon will also lower the pressure to make steeper and costlier cuts later.”

The report, which was authored by a committee of scientists, industry leaders, policy experts, and lawmakers, also recommended that the nation invest more aggressively in alternative energy strategies, coordinate mitigation activities, and work proactively with other nations to ensure U.S. progress isn’t for naught.

“America's response to climate change is ultimately about making choices in the face of risk," said William L. Chameides, committee vice chair and dean of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. “Risk management strategies must be durable enough to promote sustained progress yet sufficiently flexible to take advantage of new knowledge and technologies.”

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4) Forest Service Finds New Slurry Options Second Time Around

When it comes to mitigating the environmental effects of firefighting retardant, the U.S. Forest Service is hoping the second time’s the charm for continued use of the iconic red slurry.

In a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the agency offers new guidelines for use of the retardant on federal land, including limiting use near waterways, mapping avoidance areas, and consulting with biologists and monitoring areas after a drop.

"We feel this does a better job of protecting sensitive resources while allowing us to meet our obligations to protect people and property, and do so safely,'' the Associated Press quoted spokesman Glen Stein as saying. "Now we're waiting to see what the public thinks.''

The Forest Service came under environmental fire for using the retardant, which is a mixture of water and ammonium-based fertilizer thought to be a threat to fish and plants, according to a July Associated Press article. But after conducting a court-mandated environmental assessment, USFS claimed the retardant had insignificant environmental effects.

In July, however, a federal district judge sent USFS back to the drawing board, saying its study, plus similar opinions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, were arbitrary and capricious, according to the AP.

The draft EIS considered three alternatives—including discontinuing retardant use or maintaining the status quo—before citing the more careful usage guidelines as the preferred alternative. Some alternatives, such as removing all restrictions on use, using only water to fight fire, and waiting until a non-toxic retardant was developed, were considered and dismissed.

Not everyone was impressed with the Forest Service’s second try. Andy Stahl, Executive Director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, the environmental group which brought the original lawsuits, said he believed more information about the effectiveness of the slurry was needed to fulfill the court’s July mandate.

“I think they're going to be compelled to do somewhat better than this,” Stahl told the AP.

The USFS will be collecting public comments on the draft EIS until June 27. Those interested in submitting their opinion will find more information on the Aerial Application of Fire Retardant Web site. The final EIS, when released, will also be available there.

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5) Global Platform Leaves No Drought of Interesting Reading

Last week, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction convened the Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland. Held every two years, the Global Platform is the “primary multistakeholder forum for all parties involved in DRR … to share their experiences, commit to action and further guide the UNISDR system.”

After a week of lively discussions and thorough deliberation by more than 2,600 representatives of governments, inter- and non-governmental organizations, the private sector, and academic institutions, it would be hard to draw any concise conclusions. In fact, the official Chair's Summary of the meeting still only exists in draft form as ISDR works furiously to assimilate the many stakeholder comments into a final comprehensive document.

In the interim, it's worth looking at a few of the substantial book-length reports that were presented for discussion last week. The Platform began with a presentation of the new Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011. "GAR11" gives a succinct overview of disaster risk around the world and how that risk relates to economic development activities and governance issues.

However, as assessment group leader Andrew Maskrey chose to highlight in his presentation, GAR11 singles out drought as a special, hidden risk that “maybe more than any other … is constructed by economic decisions and social choices.” The need to better understand drought as a potentially underestimated and widespread hazard was echoed by the panel receiving the report. In particular, World Meteorological Organization Weather and DRR Services Director Geoffrey Love emphasized that better social measures of drought still need to be developed.

Drought and climate hazard themes continued through the Global Platform. At a side event on integrated drought risk management, U.S. National Integrated Drought Information System Director Roger Pulwarty asked a panel of experts about the meaning of “integrated” assessments in the drought context, the need to develop specific drought risk governance, and what new institutions should be developed to address these challenges. Recently published proceedings of an international expert meeting on Agricultural Drought Indices sponsored by the WMO, ISDR, and others, were also distributed.

The featured event “Operational Climate Services for Managing Socio-Economic Risks linked to the Changing Climate,” organized by the World Bank, a variety of UN agencies, and the Red Cross, examined the broader “link between hydro-meteorological extremes and socio-economic impacts in key sectors.” The session also used the WMO's recent release of Climate Knowledge for Action: A Global Framework for Climate Services—Empowering the Most Vulnerableto ask how better availability of operational climate information might reduce disaster risk and improve decision making.

More generally, the World Bank's World Reconstruction Conference, “the first large-scale global conference on natural disaster recovery and reconstruction,” ran concurrently and shared some sessions with the Global Platform. Unsurprisingly, the recent Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery—a joint World Bank and ISDR entity—book Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention was acclaimed in several events.

And if all of those serious words leave you exhausted, flip through Risk Returns, the newest ISDR–Tudor Rose Publishing coffee-table book collaboration. Fresh off the press copies were distributed at the Global Platform, but if you're closer to Boulder than Geneva, consider coming by the Natural Hazards Center Library to look at one of ours.

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

Call for Entries
IAEM Global Awards Competition
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: June 21, 2010
The International Association of Emergency Managers is accepting entries for its 2011 Global Award Competition recognizing programs that have made significant contributions to emergency management. Awards will be given in four categories: Business and Industry Preparedness, Partners in Preparedness, Public Awareness, and Technology and Innovation. Programs implemented between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011 are eligible. Full details and entry forms are available on the competition Web site.


Call for Comments
Flood Risk Data and Development
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: June 27, 2010
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting comments on a recently developed appendix to its Guidelines and Standards for Flood Hazard Mapping Partners. The appendix provides data development protocols, standards, and a framework for consistent flood risk analysis. The full text of the appendix and instructions for submitting comments are available at the FEMA Library Web site.


Call for Papers
Hazards, Risk, and Disasters in the Gulf South
Gulf South History and Humanities Conference

Deadline: July 1, 2011
Papers are now being accepted for a panel presentation at the Gulf South History and Humanities Conference to be held October 20-22 in Pensacola Beach, Florida. The panel, Hazards, Risk, and Disasters in the Gulf South, will examine hazards from the Florida Keys to Corpus Christi from the viewpoint of environmental, engineering, risk management, and historical issues. PhD and master’s students in the final stages of their work are especially welcome. Contact James B. McSwain for more details.

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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]

Games for Disaster Preparedness
Games are the hottest path to preparedness lately, with a bevy of offerings to help folks learn about everything from earthquake-proofing homes to managing floodplains. This initiative, by the Parsons The New School of Design’s PETLab and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, focuses on games that promote good decision making during crises. The games, both computer assisted and low tech, can go a variety of places to reach even the most vulnerable communities.


Recovery News
This American Planning Association blog features research updates, information, and podcasts on postdisaster building recovery. The newly launched blog is part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency-funded effort to replace the association’s Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction.


EMPOWER—the Emergency Management Professional Organization for Women’s Enrichment—isn’t a new resource, but one that bears revisiting. EMPOWER helps women in emergency management advance their careers with networking, mentoring and education opportunities. Visitors to the EMPOWER Web site will find library and career resources, social media connections, and access to events like an online webinar on community perspectives on Haiti’s recovery.


When winds whip the flames of a wildfire, responders have to plan smart to save lives and property. WindNinja can help. Developed by the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, the program can quickly use terrain information, such as elevation and dominant vegetation, to model where wildfire might spread. A new version with added features was just released, so even those already using WindNinja will want to stop by.

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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]

June 19-22, 2011
World Conference on Disaster Management
Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1440, open until filled
This conference will examine the challenges of disaster management from a variety of angles and try to find solutions that work now and in the future. Conference topics include innovations in the crisis field, dealing with future threats, the search for resilience, and growth for the professional.


June 22-24, 2011
39th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology
American Meteorological Society
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Cost and Registration: $570, closes June 24
This conference covers a wide range of information on communicating about weather, including the First Conference on Weather Warnings and Communications, which will be run jointly with the main event. Session topics include TV weather, climate change, warnings and communications, expanding broadcast meteorologist roles, and improving weather warnings.


June 26-28, 2011
Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $650 before May 25, open until filled
This conference will examine geohazards explicitly from the viewpoint of risk and uncertainty, with the aim of widening the scope of geotechnical services and improving public safety. Topics include levees and dams, public policy, geotechnical business risks, and probabilistic methods in geotechnical engineering.


June 26-29, 2011
Solutions to Coastal Disasters Conference
Coasts, Oceans, Ports and Rivers Institute
Anchorage, Alaska
Cost and Registration: $845 before June 17, open until filled
This conference will take an interdisciplinary approach to finding answers to coastal threats through discussion, exhibits, field trips, and technical sessions. Topics include coastal flooding, sea level rise, coastal erosion, tsunami modeling, and tsunami risk and community planning.


July 4-6, 2011
Safe 2011: Fourth International Conference on Safety and Security Engineering
Wessex Institute of Technology
Antwerp, Belgium
Cost and Registration: $1,988, open until filled
This conference will address issues facing security engineers today as they work to keep systems operational during disasters, emergencies, and other disruptions. Theoretical and practical advancements in safety and security engineering will be discussed. Conference topics include crisis management, transportation security, construction safety, bioterrorism, IT security, risk management, and protection and mitigation issues.


July 12-14, 2011
2011 Annual Conference
Universities Council on Water Resources
Boulder, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $550 before June 10, open until filled
This conference will look at water resource issues with a focus on how science and technology will affect the future of water resource management. Sessions include water governance, climate and water, rainwater harvesting, remote sensing, and water economics.


September 5-9, 2011
International Avalanche Conference
Center for Avalanche Safety

Kirovsk, Russia
Cost and Registration: $200, open until filled
This conference will provide a forum for international avalanche experts and showcase the latest in avalanche research, monitoring, and control techniques. Topics include avalanche awareness and public warning, search and rescue, snow drift and slushflows, and avalanche protection for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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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.]

Environmental Protection Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $71,901 to $111,148
Closing Date: May 23, 2011
This position makes policy development recommendations for historical, archeological and environmental preservation for the FEMA Mitigation Division. Duties include consulting on potential hazard impacts to historical or cultural resources, analyzing the engineering, socioeconomic, and legal issues of preservation, and reviewing policies and guidelines with an eye toward Southern and Eastern archeological and historic preservation regulations. One year of experience at the GS-11 level or above is required.


Senior Program Advisor
Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General
Toronto, Canada
Salary: $68,791 to $87,427
Closing Date: May 24, 2011
This position will give guidance in emergency situations, develop emergency response plans, and create training programs resulting in continued emergency improvement. Knowledge of emergency planning and fire codes, Canadian emergency policies, and risk management are required.


Emergency Response Director
Relief International
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date:  June 10, 2011
This position manages Relief International response to emergencies and disasters worldwide. Duties include managing emergency response efforts and rapid deployment teams, developing standard emergency response operating procedures, coordinating emergency procurements, and building relationships and advocating for funding. Seven years of experience leading emergency response operations, a strong fundraising track record, and an advanced degree in a field related to emergency management or international development are required.


Postdoctoral Scientist, Arctic Landscape
Marine Biological Laboratory
Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will support a National Science Foundation-funded project that examines increased fire frequency and climate change in the Arctic. Duties include defining spatial modeling approaches to be used in the study, conducting remote-sensing and GIS analyses, and collaborating with other Arctic scientists and research programs. Experience with GIS and data assimilation, a PhD in ecology or a related field, and the ability to conduct extensive field research in Alaska are required.


Continuity of Business and Disaster Recovery Director
Bed Bath & Beyond
Union, New Jersey
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position oversees corporation-wide business continuity planning and recovery efforts. Duties include designing continuity and contingency plans for business and IT operations, creating policies for emergency data recovery, and determining vulnerable operations by conducting risk audits. Experience in risk evaluation, business impact analysis, and emergency management, the ability to develop and implement business continuity plans, and a master’s in business administration or a related field are required.

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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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