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Number 571 • August 11, 2011 | Past Issues













1) China’s Slick Media Methods Can’t Keep Oil Coverage at Bay

If oil spills in the ocean and no one hears about it, is it still a disaster? A recent drilling rig failure that dumped an unknown amount of oil into China's Bohai Bay has made that question far from a philosophical riddle.

The spill has left no shortage of other riddles—such as, when did the leaks first occur? Why weren’t they reported to the public? And how big exactly was the resulting slick? News reports on the event are conflicting, sparse, and make it difficult to piece together what happened.

Two offshore leaks in the bay in northeastern China—one on June 4 and one on June 17—spewed an estimated 7,000 barrels of oil, covering an area of about 520 square miles. This is according to a July 12 account by Asia Times Online, which has provided the some of the most comprehensive coverage.

Although ConocoPhillips China, which owns the rig along with the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), reported the leaks to China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) in June, news of the spill was kept from the public until it was leaked on the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Sina Weibo, on June 21, according to Asia Times.

Even then, formal coverage of the event was slow to materialize, with a press conference and official statements from ConocoPhillips China not forthcoming until July 5. At that time, the slick was said to have been contained at about 1,500 barrels and 520 square miles (although a New York Times report on that day cites officials as saying the spread was 320 square miles).

On July 15, at least two news agencies, Agence France-Presse and ChannelNewsAsia, cited SOA estimates of the spill to be 1,650 square miles, or nearly six times the size of Singapore. An NTD News report that day, though, said the spill was 300 square miles. Since then, outlets such as the Guardian have used the original 520-square-mile estimate, while China Daily has stated official figures to be more than 2,600 square miles in July, but only 2,000 square miles in August.

What's particularly surprising is that most news outlets continued to report ConocoPhillips’ estimate of 1,500 barrels lost, even after learning that the platform was still leaking. In the last few days, as ConocoPhillips discovered more oily mud near the platform and missed a deadline to complete cleanup, that number has only been changed to a vague “more than” previous estimates of 1,500 barrels.

Trying to quantify the spill by barrels of oil lost or miles of ocean polluted is dicey under the best of circumstances, said Liesel Ritchie, assistant director for research at the Natural Hazards Center and longtime researcher of spills such as those from the Exxon Valdez, Selendang Ayu, and the BP Deepwater Horizon.

“The estimates used to measure these events are all over the place. There's nothing new about that,” she said. “For example, the official figure for the Exxon Valdez oil spill is 11 million gallons, yet some contend that almost 33 million gallons were spilled. What makes it really difficult is when you know nothing else about what happened—like in this current China situation.”

While the confusion surrounding the Bohai Bay spill is disturbing, it’s also business as usual in the thicket of Chinese public affairs. Technological disasters are often veiled, revealed long after the fact, or denied outright. The Bohai event recalls last year’s pipeline disaster in nearby Dalian, where the government reported less than a million gallons of gasoline spilled into the Yellow Sea. Scientists later estimated that number was about 18 million gallons, according to the Huffington Post.

From the attempted cover-up of a 2005 benzene spill to silencing citizen protests over schools that collapsed in the Sichuan Earthquake to last week’s media blackout regarding the safety of high speed rail trains, it’s clear that when the interests of the Chinese government or its state-owned businesses are at risk, some obfuscation will be involved.

What remains unclear is the extent to which these unpublicized spills and their damages—which are in no way limited to China, as the Guardian reports—will ever be known to the public.

The Bohai case has an interesting twist. While the government might want to protect state-owned CNOOC, it also has an interest in collecting compensation of up to $31 million per polluted hectare from U.S.-owned ConocoPhillips

One thing is certain. The oily coasts of Hebei and Liaoning Provinces, thousands of dead fish and scallops, and an angry Korea waiting for a response on cleanup efforts will make it harder for China to whitewash this instance of black sludge.

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2) Remembering Christchurch: New Zealand Moves On But Doesn’t Forget

New Zealand has launched an innovative project to create disaster memory archives after its recent earthquakes, including the events that wreaked havoc in Christchurch between September 2010 and June 2011. There’s indication that the oral histories, photographs, memoirs, and collections of online documents and mementos will not only record the event, but also help people heal.

“Whenever I go down to Christchurch, or talk to Christchurch friends, they always say they are getting on with their lives and don't think about the earthquake so much now, but as soon as I open up the topic, half an hour later they're still talking about it,” Jamie Mackay, a Web team leader for QuakeStories, told New Zealand’s The Press. “I think it's just tapping into that somehow and getting people to get over the hurdle of actually writing it down.”

QuakeStories, which allows people to share their quake experiences online, is a project of New Zealand’s Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Other archives include an oral history project that will be available at the National Library of New Zealand and a photograph collection that will eventually be online in the library’s Timeframes catalog, but which can be viewed now in photographer Ross Becker’s Web album.

Traditional archives of quake-related objects are also being curated and related Web sites and social media are being indexed. Eventually all the archives will be consolidated under what’s to be known as the Ceismic consortium. The consortium, based at Canterbury University, will build a database of the human effects of the earthquake.

“We've got all the geotechnical expertise, we've got all the engineering expertise, but the quakes are primarily about the impact on people,” said Paul Millar, an arts professor who helped conceptualize the idea. “I thought it would be important to record people's stories and to capture as many media files as possible and also chart the process of the recovery. Do longitudinal studies, keep going back to people and find out how they are getting on. Chart patterns of migration and do geospatial mapping.”

Although the Ceismic concept is based on projects like the September 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, its breadth, organization, and timing are unique. In a way, Millar notes, the ravaged city is the perfect place to pull off such a project and have it work well.

“Christchurch is in a very geographically defined area,” he said. “We're relatively First World so we have a high technology uptake. The impact has gone across all the social strata. We're a very unfortunate ideal test case.”

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3) Down Under the Gun: Queensland Flood Report Mandates 104 Ways to be Safe Before Summer

There are more than a hundred ways to make Queensland safer during extreme rains and flooding, according to a much-anticipated report released earlier this month. Now the race is on to implement them before the summer rainy season starts.

The Queensland Flood Commission of Inquiry released its interim report August 1, including 104 recommendations for all levels of government, dam officials, and emergency services. Among them were calls to review disaster management plans, institute or strengthen alert systems, and educate communities.

Prominently featured is the need to create clear dam policies allowing water reserves to be released when floods threaten. Much has been made of Water Utilities Minister Stephen Robertson’s failure to cut water levels at Wivenhoe Dam—a decision he said he based on a faulty understanding of the impact of not releasing the reserves and protocol, according to The Australian.

Robertson was probably not the only one nonplussed by the excessive rain. The commission report indicates the flooding, which killed 35 people and wreaked about A$5 billion in damages, took many people by surprise. 

“The floods of December 2010 and January 2011 strained the resources of a state more used to coping with drought than flood,” Commissioner Catherine Holmes begins the report. “Their consequences were shocking; no-one could have believed that people could be swept by a torrent from their homes and killed … that some towns could be completely isolated for weeks, or that every last citizen of others would have to be evacuated…”

The commission looked into preparation and planning for flooding, the supply of essential services during the floods, the adequacy of forecasts and early warning systems, dam safety and flood mitigation, land use planning to minimize flood damages, and the performance of insurers in settling claims.

Report recommendations were specifically devised for implementation before the next rainy season, with the exception of some dam work. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh promised that would be the case.

"We knew there would be some tough lessons that would come out of it and the commission has certainly made some sobering findings," Bligh told the Courier-Mail. "I give this commitment on behalf of the state government ... they will be fully implemented.”

Local governments, however, were concerned about making the tight deadlines without added manpower or funding.

“To be practical we might not be able to implement them all—we can start all of them, but we whether we finish all of them, we'll use a risk profile or a triage system to make sure that the highest and most important ones get done,” Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam told ABC News. “As a rule we'll be trying to do the entire lot, it's just a question of best endeavours and the availability and researching of other agencies we have to work with.”

Time will tell. Wet weather generally begins in October and ramps up through February and March. The commission’s final report and recommendations are due February 24, 2012.

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4) Public Entity Risk Institute Shifts Means to the End

The Public Entity Risk Institute will soon see with new eyes. The organization, which has long provided risk management resources geared toward public entities, small businesses, and nonprofits, announced Monday that it will shift its focus to direct funding of public risk management efforts.

“This operational shift helps PERI meet its core mission to offer practical enhancement of public risk management by directing efforts and funds to exactly the level where they can be most useful,” PERI Board Chair Deb Carson stated in a news release.

According to the news release, the organization's staff and existing structure will be dismantled while the bookstore, resource library, and Web site will remain.

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

Call for Abstracts
Public Health Preparedness Summit
Public Health Preparedness Summit Planning Committee
Deadline: August 19, 2011
The Public Health Preparedness Summit planning committee is accepting abstracts to be presented at the annual summit, February 21-24 in Anaheim, California. Abstracts that showcase resources, tools, and best practices in advancing public health preparedness will be accepted in four categories—interactive, workshop, poster, and sharing sessions. Priority will be given to submissions that focus on National Public Health Preparedness Priority Areas or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Preparedness Capabilities.


Call for Applications
Public Affairs Internship
American Geophysical Union
Deadline: September 12, 2011
The American Geophysical Union is accepting scholarships for its fall public affairs internship. The three-month paid internship based in Washington, D.C., will include opportunities to attend earth- and space-science-related congressional hearings, publish articles on the AGU's Web site and in its newsletter, and learn the public policy process as it relates to climate change, natural resources, space policy, and natural hazards. Preference will be given to candidates with excellent writing skills, online research abilities, and coursework in communications or earth, space, or political science.


Call for Participation
Annual Geoscience Congressional Visits Day
American Geological Institute
Deadline: September 20, 2011
The American Geological Institute is encouraging geoscientists to spend a day in Washington, D.C., promoting lawmaker understanding of geoscience and geoscience engineering. Those participating in the two-day AGI event will receive an overview on conducting congressional visits, relevant legislation, and related federal programs on the first day, followed by visits with legislators on the second day. More information on the program is available on the AGI Web site.

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6) Some New Web Resources

[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see]

Pediatric Disaster Preparedness Curriculum Development Conference Report
The needs of children have long been known to fall by the wayside during disaster, and one of the highest consequence areas is that of emergency medicine. Earlier this year, the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health held a conference to begin discussing how medical responders can better care for children in disasters. This report summarizes the intent and results of that conference, including recommendations for the creation of a competency based, role-specific disaster preparedness education and training program for pediatric providers.


Pew Center on Global Climate Change’s Extreme Weather
If the world is warming, why is it so cold in the winter? These and other pesky climate questions can now be answered with the help of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change's Extreme Weather site. The preponderance of misinformation led Pew to compile resources, including articles, reports, and mapping applications, giving clear answers to lay inquiries on how climate change affects the weather.


ABA Initiatives on Disaster Preparedness and Response Teleconference Series
The American Bar Association’s Disaster Initiative is offering a series of teleconferences looking at legal issues that stem from disasters. The free series features 10 topics between now and September 19, including K-9s and mass disaster, disaster employment issues, and World Trade Center litigation.


Presidential Policy Directive 8
Those anxiously waiting to see how President Obama’s national preparedness directive pans out can keep up with the show at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s PPD-8 Web site. The site will allow you to read up on the directive, keep track of deadlines, and learn how you can contribute and comment during the process. The National Preparedness Goal is due to be submitted to the White House on September 25, so stop by soon.


Urban Areas Security Initiative Blog
Looking to stay ahead of trends in emergency management and homeland security? The new Urban Areas Security Initiative blog has a lot of what you’d expect and much more. Along with typical UASI blog topics, visitors will find news, resources, info on grants and funding, training and exercise drills, and a great section on social media in emergency management.


University Housing Fires (2007-2009)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has just released the latest in its Topical Fire Report series. University Housing Fires (2007-2009) analyzed U.S. Fire Administration data and found that most of the 3,800 fires in university housing were confined and caused by cooking. The 12 percent that were unconfined, however, accounted for all deaths and a majority of injuries and property damage. Intentional fires made up 16 percent of the unconfined fires, while carelessness and open flames were credited for another 23 percent.

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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]

September 16, 2001
Protecting Worker and Community Health Conference
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health
New York, New York
Cost and Registration: $25, open until filled
This conference, which builds on the NYCOSH Are We Prepared for the Next 9/11? report, will focus on the occupational and environmental health of workers in disaster. It will include an assessment of public health regulation and policy, and changes needed to better protect rescue, recovery, and cleanup workers. Topics to be discussed include regulatory frameworks to protect first responder health, access to medical care, worker emergency preparedness training, and exposure assessment.


September 23-25, 2011
Disaster Response Challenge
British Red Cross
London, England
Cost and Registration: $900, open until filled
This two-day hypothetical disaster will provide firsthand knowledge of the issues and decisions experienced by Red Cross units when responding to a major incident. Each team will act as an independent emergency response unit and develop their own disaster response plan as the scenario unfolds in real time. Specific modules dealing with logistics, communications, first aid evacuation, and security will be included.


September 25-29, 2011
Dam Safety 2011
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $700, open until filled
This conference will look at the latest trends in safety and technology for dams and levees as well as provide training and networking opportunities. Session topics include cost-effective spillways, lessons learned from dam and levee failures, safety technical response teams, and the effect of National Flood Insurance Program mapping on levee safety.


October 4-7, 2011
NEMA Emergency Management Policy and Leadership Forum
National Emergency Managers Association
Austin, Texas
Cost and Registration: $850, closes September 11
This forum will focus on national issues that impact emergency management and homeland security. Topics to be discussed include state models for private-public partnerships, cybersecurity, lessons learned from recent disasters, and defining terrorist threats.


October 5-6, 2011
Road to Restoration
Auburn University Center for Governmental Services
Orange Beach, Alabama
Cost and Registration: $60, open until filled
This conference will gather individuals able to play a role in the restoration of the environment and economy of Gulf Coast communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Session topics will include environmental impacts, impacts on education, business continuity and survival, and human health issues.


November 17-18, 2011
International Workshop on Innovation, Diversity and Sustainable Development in Areas of Social Vulnerability
Center for Rebuilding Sustainable Communities After Disasters
Boston, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $200, open until filled
This workshop will discuss strategies for empowering socially vulnerable populations and implementing public policies that support sustainable development in areas where the poor are at risk. Workshop topics will include some strategies for sustainable development, research and indicators for public policy changes, and how to train leaders for sustainable development.

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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.]

Mitigation Planning Specialist, GS-11
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $61,245 to $95,429
Closing Date: August 19, 2011
This position serves as contact for state and local communities, providing technical assistance as they plan, coordinate, and implement mitigation projects. Duties will include advising officials in floodplain management regulation, administrating the Community Assistance Program, and reviewing ordinances for federal compliance. At least one year of experience at the GS-9 level and specialized experienced developing floodplain ordinances are required.


Instructional Systems Specialist, GS-11
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $62,467 to $97,333
Closing Date: August 19, 2011
This position will serve as a senior educator at the National Fire Academy. Responsibilities include oversight of course development and revision, review of course content, and conducting educational evaluations. At least one year of experience at the GS-9 level and specialized experienced is required.


Building and Urban Design in Development Lecturer
University College London
London, England
Salary: $ 64,265 to $ 75,859
Closing Date: August 25, 2011
This position in the Development Planning Unit will specialize in urban development planning and policy in the global South. Responsibilities include developing research programs and projects related to disaster risk management, recovery, and climate adaptation, running a 15-credit disaster risk reduction in cities module, and supervising master’s and PhD students. A PhD in a relevant discipline, an understanding of current debates in disaster recovery and climate adaptation, and experience as a post-graduate lecturer is required.


Environmental Health Advisor
International Rescue Committee
Salary: Not Listed
Closing Date: Open until closed
This position is responsible for leading the IRC environmental health strategy, reviewing environmental health in Pakistan, mainstreaming disaster preparedness, and creating partnerships with other IRC strategies. A master’s in civil engineering or environmental science, five to seven years experience leading nongovernmental sanitation programs, and previous experience with environmental health development is 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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