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Number 569 • June 2, 2011 | Past Issues













1) In Deep with Mississippi Flood Control

To breach or not to breach has long been the question when it comes to the swollen Mississippi. Perhaps, experts say, it's time for a different query. Should we give up trying to control the Mississippi altogether?

The answer to that question isn’t an easy one. Our 100-year death grip on the mighty river has brought a tangle of boons and burdens that aren’t easily unknotted. Although the widespread and serious flooding seen in recent weeks has led to calls for systemic change, returning the river to a more natural state could unleash a deluge of unwanted economic effects.

“The debate is more engineering versus less engineering,” Christopher D'Elia, dean of Louisiana State University’s School of the Coast and Environment told the Los Angeles Times. “There are a lot of people who just want to build more levees and dikes and control [the river] that way, but the people who understand sediment dynamics understand that's not going to work."

For Louisiana, where levees cause land-building sediments to be carried out to sea leading to salt water encroachment and eventual inundation, the solution may be to "let the river run wilder," according to the Times. But D'Elia recognizes that less engineering also has costs, "…how do you manage that socially? How do you recover the social and economic loss that occurs? That's the challenge we're in right now. We're absolutely hamstrung by this situation.”

Upstream, D'Elia's comments are equally relevant to the loss of agricultural land should the river be allowed to run wild.

“To abandon the flood plains for crop production would shift the cost of food,” Harold Deckerd, Missouri's assistant state conservationist for water resources, told the Wall Street Journal. “The cost of food would become astronomical.”

Even so, it's obvious that something will need to give. Severe flooding is becoming increasingly prevalent and the river basin—which has lost more than 35 million water-absorbing acres in its upper basin alone, according to American Rivers—is increasingly unable to handle the stress. American Rivers' Sandra Postel suggests the solution requires striking a balance.

“What is needed is a comprehensive plan to add ecological infrastructure to complement engineering infrastructure—specifically to expand wetlands and re-activate floodplains so as to mitigate future flood risks,” she writes in National Geographic Daily News. “Instead of letting the nation’s ecological infrastructure degrade further, federal and state authorities should work to expand and rebuild it. Cadres of ecological engineers should join civil engineers in shoring up the nation’s flood defenses. Re-creating wetlands and re-activating floodplains in strategic locations will result in a more robust and resilient flood protection system.”

There’s some indication the United States might be slowly heading in that direction. The Clean Water Framework released by the White House in late April calls for restoring important bodies of water and updating water policies to include more ecological input. The Army Corps of Engineers is also expected to change its focus from building levees to “providing some degree of restoration and ecological services in heavily altered ecosystems,” according to a National Academies report.

That sort of political will could go a long way toward finding a balance, but many experts have pointed out that we also need to stop building in vulnerable areas. One of the great unlearned lessons of the Mississippi is that we shouldn’t live and work too close to it, Postel points out.

“Following [the] devastating 1993 flood … James Baker, the Administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric [Administration] at the time, wrote: ‘Although the Great Flood of 1993 has caused devastating human, environmental and economic impacts, the lessons learned will guide us in providing improved services and benefits to the nation in the future.’

“But fifteen years later, when the 2008 flood hit, there was little evidence of lessons learned. Instead of calling floodplains and wetlands back into active duty, officials in the region had permitted even more floodplain development. According to Nicholas Pinter of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, 28,000 new homes and 6,630 acres of commercial and industrial development have been added on land that was under water in 1993.”

Time will tell if we get any wiser where Mississippi River flood management is concerned. But from Minnesota to Louisiana, it’s clear there's little give left in the mammoth water system, and we can no longer afford to be inflexible.

“We need a bend but don't break approach to flood management,” American Rivers’ Andrew Fahlund told the Wall Street Journal. “Right now, there's very little bending and the breaking has catastrophic consequences.”

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2) Seismology on Trial: Should Scientists be Held Liable for Not Pushing Preparedness?

When it comes to a shaky understanding of earthquake prediction science, there’s more than one example to be found in Italy. In 2009, an Italian seismologist (with admittedly impeccable timing) enthralled media with claims he’d built a machine that accurately predicted a quake at L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region. More recently, thousands abandoned Rome to avoid a May 11 earthquake predicted by a long-dead Italian watchmaker with a penchant for planetary science.

Lately, though, misperceptions about earthquake prediction—still thought to be an impossibility by most scientists—have taken on a more hostile tone. So hostile, in fact, that six seismologists and a government official are on trial for manslaughter.

The charges stem from a public meeting in which prosecutors said the seven gave false reassurances that L’Aquila wouldn’t be struck by an earthquake, according to Nature News. A week later, 309 people died when a 6.3 magnitude temblor struck nearby.

“The scientific community tells me there is no danger,” the deputy technical head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency supposedly said in a press conference following the meeting, according to Nature. “The situation looks favourable.”

The statement, which wasn’t noted in the meeting minutes, will likely be the focus of the trial, with co-defendants pointing fingers at each other and denying culpability, Nature reports in another article. The recorded minutes, however, point to a different story, including a statement by Enzo Boschi, president of Italy’s National Institute for Geophysics and Vulcanology that, “a major earthquake in the area is unlikely but cannot be ruled out.”

At least one family member of the victims has said the trial is less about predicting earthquakes than it is about communicating responsibly about risk.

“Nobody here wants to put science in the dock,” Vincenzo Vittorini, who lost his wife and daughter, told Nature. “We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.”

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3) Mary Fran Myers: One Woman Inspires Lots of Winners

As Co-Director of the Natural Hazards Center, Mary Fran Myers inspired and supported many researchers to do excellent work on gender issues and reducing disaster losses. Although Myers passed away in 2004, two prizes established in her name continue to support those who shared Myers vision: The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship and the Mary Fran Myers Award. This year, three winners have been named in honor of Myers.

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship

The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship selection committee chose two recipients to receive the 2011 Scholarship, which recognizes outstanding individuals who share Myers passion for disaster loss reduction nationally and internationally. The Scholarship provides financial support to recipients who otherwise would be unable to attend and participate in the Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop to further their research or community work and careers.

Véronique Morin is a doctoral student in the Disaster Preparedness, Mitigation and Management program at the Asian Institute of Technology. She completed her undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering and has a Masters degree in Water Resources Engineering from the University of Alberta, Canada. Morin has more than eight years of experience in coastal engineering and integrated coastal zone management. She recently was chosen as a volunteer scientist with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change where she will support the lead author team as they prepare the Fifth Assessment Report. Her research interests are assessing climate change impacts on coastal hazards and developing adaptation strategies for coastal communities in Small Island Developing States.

Keya Mitra has been active in furthering the seismic safety agenda in India by targeting the architecture fraternity—both practicing professionals and students of architecture. She now serves on the National Advisory Committee of National Information Centre of Earthquake Engineering and has participated in continuing education programs on architecture faculty for training in earthquake resistant architecture. Mitra’s research focuses on how development regulations and building rules influence the earthquake safety and construction in urban areas. She developed a methodology for rapid visual assessment for seismic evaluation of reinforced concrete frame buildings in India—the first attempt in India to develop an indigenous methodology of this kind.

The Mary Fran Myers Award

The Mary Fran Myers Award was established in 2002 to recognize disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues, disasters, emergency management, and higher education. The Gender and Disaster Network have named Mirta Rodríguez Calderón as the 2011 Mary Fran Myers Award winner.

Mirta Rodríguez Calderón is a journalist whose exceptional reporting illuminated the challenges women faced before and after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A correspondent with the Dominican news agency SEMLAC, she is also a communication professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra in Santo Domingo and chief editor for the Journal of Communication. Her ability to bring the experiences and activism of women to life for readers raised awareness of the critical need to promote social justice in disaster response and recovery.

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4) DR Dozes While the Workshop Awaits

As the Natural Hazards Center gears up for its 36th Annual Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, DR—Disaster Research News You Can Use will take its annual hiatus. While we hate to make you wait for your next dose of DR, we’ll be too busy making disaster research news to compile it.

Look for Disaster Research 570 to return July 28 with updates on Workshop happenings and all the same great news items, resources, conferences and job postings. And don’t forget, you can always get the latest disaster news if you follow us on Twitter.

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

Call for Applications
Preparedness Grant Programs
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Deadline: June 20, 2011
The Department of Homeland Security has just released guidance and grant application kits for 12 grants aimed at helping the nation prepare for disasters and terrorism. Among the $2.1 billion in grants to be awarded are State Homeland Security Program grants, Citizen Corps grants, Regional Catastrophic Preparedness grants,  and Emergency Management Preparedness grants.


Call for Presenters
National Floodproofing Conference V
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: June 30, 2011
Presentations, posters, and papers are now being accepted for presentation at the National Floodproofing Conference to be held November 28 through December 1 in Sacramento, California. Abstracts should be related to nonstructural floodproofing and societal issues, elevation and wet floodproofing, dry floodproofing, or financial incentives. A brief bio is also required. Visit the conference Web site to view full details and a submission form.

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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]

Social Media and Hurricanes
Hurricane season is upon us and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has whipped up a handy trove of hurricane-related media for you to share. With offerings of widgets, RSS and Twitter feeds, e-cards, and old-fashioned e-mail updates, there’s no reason any self-respecting Web site should be mum on how readers can get ready for the season.


This up and coming software will help users calculate earthquake hazard, risk, and socioeconomic impact on a variety of scales. Although still in development, the open source code is available for those that might want to customize it for their organization. Not a techie? Hold your breath. The Global Earthquake Model hopes to have user interfaces available by 2013.


Hazard Mitigation Planning Projects
Wonder what the next generation of hazards researchers makes of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000? Cruise over to Western Washington University’s Resilience Institute and find out. Students at the institute examined the act and created Web sites critiquing its implementation in 10 states. Whether you’re a hardened planner or just want to know more, it never hurts to get fresh eyes on an old topic.


Health Implications of the Gulf Oil Spill
A year after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the University of Michigan Risk Science Center brought together a panel of experts in medicine, law, occupational safety, and environmental health to discuss what had been learned. For those who missed it, the video and transcript are available online, along with panelist information and spill resources.

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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]

June 28-July 7, 2011
Earth on the Edge: Science for a Sustainable Planet
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
Melbourne, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,110 before June 24, open until filled
This workshop covers a wide variety of geodesy and geophysics themes with a focus on recent Pacific Rim disasters and climate change. Topics include sea level rise, earthquake prediction, solar influence on climate change, and volcanism and global sustainability.


June 27-28, 2011
National EMS Culture of Safety Conference
American College of Emergency Physicians
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference will provide participants with an opportunity to share their concerns about Emergency Medical Services safety, including threats from combative patients and bystanders, transportation issues, and threats to patients posed by EMS decisions. As part of an initiative to create a culture of EMS safety, conference proceedings will be used to formulate a national EMS safety strategy by June 2012.


July 5-8, 2011
Geoinformatics Forum Salzburg
Centre for Geoinformatics and the Institute for GIScience
Salzburg, Austria
Cost and Registration: $446, closes June 25
This forum will provide an opportunity for the international GIS community to exchange knowledge across various applications, disciplines, and international boundaries. Topics include impediments to using GIS in schools, the impacts of refugee camps on the environment, Web mapping architecture, and using GIS images for societal good. A workshop on the spatial assessment and analysis of vulnerability to hazards and climate change will be held before the forum.


July 17-21, 2011
Coastal Zone 2011
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and others
Chicago, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $595 before July 11, open until filled
This conference will examine the challenges of managing coastlines in the face of climate change, invasive species, coastal development, and manmade hazards. Topics include restoring the Great Lakes, green infrastructure for coastal resilience, coastal inundation mapping, social science and marine protected areas, and offshore wind farms.


July 19-21, 2011
Indigenous People, Marginalized Populations, and Climate Change
United Nations University, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, United Nations Development Programme, and others
Mexico City, Mexico
Cost and Registration: Not listed
This workshop is the first of a two-part series of events that will identify and integrate indigenous knowledge on climate change into our current understanding of climate impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. With a focus on vulnerability, adaptation, and traditional knowledge, the first workshop will create an international network of indigenous people, climate scientists, and policy makers and compile data and literature on the topic into a global database.


July 21-22, 2011
Third International Conference on Climate Change
Common Ground Publishing and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Cost and Registration: $550, open until filled
The conference examines natural and human causes of climate change, as well as technological, social, and political responses to it. Session topics include risk assessment and urban development, drought and climate change, building climate change resilience, climate change communication, migration in response to climate change, and carbon trading facts and fallacies.

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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.]

Director of Health Initiatives
United Methodist Committee on Relief
New York, New York
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: June 6, 2011
This position is responsible for leading UMCOR’s global health initiatives in underdeveloped countries, including project implementation, technical health guidance, and budget management. A master’s degree in public health, fundraising skills, and five years of experience in global health, including managing a regional field-based program, are required.


Research Assistant
United Nations University
Bonn, Germany
Salary: $19,050
Closing Date: June 7, 2011
This part-time position will support the Munich Re Foundation Chair on Social Vulnerability by conducting research and literature reviews and reporting and summarizing information on climate, resilience, adaptation, mitigation, disaster risk, and other topics. A master’s in social science, economics, or environmental science; a background in social vulnerability, adaptation, or risk; and experience working in international organizations and developing countries are required.

Disaster Risk Reduction Technical Advisor
Concern Worldwide
Port au Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: June 12, 2011
This position provides technical assistance in the areas of disaster risk reduction for Concern Worldwide’s Haiti program. Duties include mainstreaming DRR practices into the existing program; conducting DRR surveys, analyzing data, and writing reports; designing and facilitating DRR training programs; and developing a Preparedness for Effective Emergency Response (PEER) plan. A PhD in a disaster-related discipline, three years of DRR intervention experience, and the ability to speak French or Creole are required.


Intergovernmental Affairs Specialist, Tribal Liaison, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $89,033 to $115,742
Closing Date: June 13, 2011
This position will continue to build a strong relationship between FEMA and tribal communities. Duties include maintaining effective communication between FEMA and tribal representatives, conducting strategic planning and needs assessments, ensuring cultural needs are properly met, coordinating services offered to tribal stakeholders, and supporting outreach. Tribal liaison experience and at least one year of experience at the GS-12 level are required.


Socio-Economic Impact Liaison
Global Earthquake Model
Pavia, Italy
Salary: Not listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
Several openings are available for this position, which will work to develop the Global Earthquake Model’s Social and Economic Impact Module in conjunction with regional programs, GEM hazard and risk committee members, various collaborators, and software designers. An advanced degree in economics or sociology, GIS knowledge, technical documentation experience, and experience with Matlab, R Statistical, and Excel are preferred.

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