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Number 573 • September 8, 2011 | Past Issues













1) Irene’s Aftermath: Better to Be Damned if You Do, Than Damned if You Don’t

Nothing steals the self-satisfaction from disaster preparedness efforts quite like a disaster dodged—at least that was the opinion of some New Yorkers this week after Hurricane Irene blew through and left the ready-and-waiting city largely unscathed.

“With all the preparations and all the hoopla on TV, it was all for naught,” New York resident Mike Fenton told the New York Times. “I feel embarrassed that we made such a to-do.”

Fenton might be chagrined, but the hoopla-instigating officials and disaster experts are far from sheepish. Instead, they see evacuation efforts along the East Coast as an incredibly heartening example of governments' timely calling of the right shots and the public paying heed.

“Politics, it seemed, was put aside in the better interest of public safety,” wrote Elizabeth A. Davis about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s unprecedented mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas. “Similarly, governors from states in Irene’s pathway … made bold and correct calls early on.”

The problem is that Irene’s softened blow now makes those bold calls seem less correct to many, who have grumbled about the inconvenience and expense of anticlimactic storm preparations. Far from being appreciative that they’ll live to complain another day, some disgruntled New Yorkers point to last winter’s mangled blizzard response as an ulterior motive for Bloomberg’s now-precautionary preaching.

“He overreacted,” resident Coco McPherson told the Times. “I think it was a reaction to Snowmageddon, and his perceived failures then.”

Others, it seems, would have rather hunkered down in a storm than face the thought of having extra supplies on hand for the next emergency.

“Bloomberg, he did O.K., but he made people crazy and spend a lot of money,” Franklin Rodriguez told the Times. “Water, batteries, tuna fish, other food in a can. For what? Believe me, people spent a lot of money on this. The tuna fish and the other food, O.K., we’re going to eat it. I don’t need all this water and batteries, though.”

While skepticism about Bloomberg’s motives might not be helpful, it’s attitudes like Franklin’s that can be truly dangerous, according to Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor Randy Burnside, who specializes in disaster behavior and policy.

“Now, a number of people are saying: ‘See, the storm wasn’t that bad. It was all media hype,’” Burnside wrote in an opinion piece for the Times. “This is dangerous rhetoric. Those of us who work in the emergency management area know that the “crying wolf” syndrome is very real and can blind people to real threats.… Therefore, it is incumbent for everyone in emergency preparedness to counter the complacency that will surely arise in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.”

While countering complacency falls under the daily purview of emergency preparedness personnel, hopefully the pre-Irene evacuations won’t make matters any worse. There have been instances where multiple unnecessary evacuations haven’t dampened participation, according to an Associated Press article.

“In past storms—such as in 1985, when western Florida evacuated three times and didn't get hit—the 'cry wolf' syndrome did not materialize,” the article, which cites Florida State University professor Jay Baker, stated. “The same number of people evacuated for each of those storms. And post-storm surveys show only around 5 percent of people would change their decision.”

While that’s encouraging, New York is not Florida, with its frequent hurricane threats and history of landfalls. Without the constant reminder of danger, people can forget how real the risk is, according to Harvard Extension School instructor David Ropeik.

In a Times opinion, Ropeik points out that “the way we perceive and respond to risk is affective—not merely objectively analytical, but the sum of the facts and how scary those facts feel.” So while it might not be human nature to prepare for the implausible, it’s still a good idea.

“It might have been annoying to wait in line for hours for those extra D batteries or food supplies, but it was prudent to do so, and it’s a good idea to keep them on hand,” Ropeik wrote. “Just because a risk might not be staring us in the face or feel all that scary, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense to be ready. Just in case.”

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2) FEMA Could Flounder in Austere New Political Climate

This troubled economy is no time to face rebuilding from disaster with inadequate funding—especially if you’re the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In the wake of Hurricane Irene, FEMA has had to make some tough choices about where to put its dwindling disaster response dollars. Last week, the agency said it would put selected rebuilding projects in tornado-stricken Joplin, Missouri, on hold while funneling funds to immediate response needs on the East Coast, according to the Washington Post.

Although individuals and emergency response agencies will still be paid, other long-term rebuilding projects and mitigation efforts will be temporarily scrapped for now. The announcement understandably riled those affected.

“Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri’s rebuilding efforts,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R) stated in different Post article. “If FEMA can’t fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that’s unacceptable, and we need to take a serious look at how our disaster response policies are funded and implemented.”

Others agree that a second look at disaster funding is called for, but rather than eyeing more and better FEMA funding, they suggest making cuts elsewhere—or even axing the agency altogether.

“It's a system of bureaucratic central economic planning, which is a policy that is deeply flawed,” Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R) said in a Fox News interview suggesting it was time to end the agency. “We've conditioned our people that FEMA will take care of us and everything will be okay.…”

On a slightly less extreme note, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose own district was heavily damaged by Irene, has said that any additional disaster spending will need to be offset by cuts in other programs, according to the Post. The move, which could indicate the extent to which new federal austerity measures will be pushed, has left other lawmakers nonplussed.

“To say that the only way you can come up with funding to rebuild devastated communities is to cut back on other desperately needed programs is totally absurd,” Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders (I) told the New York Times. “Historically in this country we have understood that when communities and states experience disasters, we as a nation come together to address those.”

In the meantime—while FEMA shifts funds, politicians push agendas, and Americans from coast to coast struggle to rebuild from various disasters—a bill to refill FEMA’s fading Federal Disaster Relief Fund is languishing in the Senate. The measure would add a much-needed $1 billion to the fund this year and another $2.65 billion next year, according to the Post.

Alas, with that money tied to cuts in other FEMA programs, it seems as if the agency might still be held hostage to the political infighting. In the end, as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) points out, that could leave us even more ill-prepared.

“Does it really make sense to pay for response and reconstruction costs from past disasters by reducing our capacity to prepare for future disasters?,” she asks.

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3) Once Upon a Time in San Bruno: 2010 Explosion Was a Story of Flaws

The tragic tale of a pipeline explosion that killed seven people and damaged nearly 60 homes was penned by Pacific Gas and Electric with help from remiss regulators, an investigation has found.

Deteriorating infrastructure, lax oversight, and non-existent emergency planning were among a “litany of failures” that contributed to the explosion, according to the recently released preliminary findings of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

“[The explosion is] the story of flawed pipe, flawed inspection and flawed emergency response,” NTSB Chair Deborah A.P. Hersman told the Los Angeles Times. “It was not a question of if the pipe would fail, but when.”

The explosion, which ripped through a San Bruno, Calif., subdivision last September, was caused when a weakened 1950s-era pipe under the neighborhood became flooded with gas from improperly opened valves. PG&E was unable to shut off fuel to the line, which eventually burst, releasing enough gas to power 12,000 homes for a year, according to the Times article.

Although moving, the story is far from original. Aging pipes and a dearth of inspectors leave most of nation’s 2 million miles of gas and oil pipeline at similar risk, as we reported in DR 553.

“In reality, there is a major pipeline incident every other day in this country,” Pipeline Safety Trust Executive Director Carl Weimer told the Associated Press. “Luckily, most of them don't happen in populated areas, but you still see too many failures to think something like this wasn't going to happen sooner or later.”

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4) The latest Natural Hazards Observer is Online

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

—Are We Placing Smart Growth in Dumb Locations
—Disaster Mitigation Contends with a Perfect Storm
—Haiti 2010: From Bulletproof Pledging to Hesitant Reconstruction
—Lessons from the Earthquakes

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the September and past editions of the Observer.

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

Call for Applications
Disaster Preparedness Fellowship
Butler Koshland Fellowship Program
Deadline: September 14, 2011
The Butler Koshland Fellowship Program is accepting applications for a paid fellowship at the San Francisco Foundation. The fellow will work closely with foundation CEO Sandra Hernández on projects such as internal disaster preparedness, neighborhood readiness for disaster, and foundation governance. Applicants should have a strong interest in disaster preparedness. Full information can be found online.


Call for Abstracts
National Evacuation Conference
Louisiana State University and University of New Orleans
Deadline: September 30, 2011
Abstracts are now being accepted for presentation at the National Evacuation Conference to be held February 7-9 in New Orleans. Papers should address evacuation issues, including issues facing the medical community, pedestrian evacuations, social media use in evacuation, and evacuation modeling. Full papers will be considered for publication in special issues of the Natural Hazards Review or the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters.


Call for Nominations
Uniformed Services Award Competition
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: September 30, 2011
The International Association of Emergency Managers-USA is accepting nominations for its 2011 Uniformed Services Award honoring members of U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and NOAA Commissioned Corps. Nominees should primarily perform emergency management activities, contribute significantly to the field, and demonstrate consistent growth as an emergency manager. Full details on how to nominate a colleague are available on the IAEM Web site. Self-nominations are not 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]

Disaster Tip Sheets
People often turn to faith-based organizations first in a disaster, so it only makes sense for their leaders to be prepared. That’s no problem, now that the National Disaster Interfaiths Network has compiled a wealth of information to help religious organizations deliver the best care to their congregations. Topics include spiritual care in disaster, disaster basics, continuity of operations planning, disaster backlash, and how to use your house of worship in a disaster. New topics are added regularly.


Get Tech Ready
Twitter and text messaging can be excellent resources, but if you’re not down with technology before disaster strikes, chances are you’ll be out of the loop. That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created this guide on the best ways to use technology in disaster. From checking your bank account to checking on your brother, this handy Web site has lots for those who are lost, and even a few things for the tech-savvy survivor.

If you haven’t checked out the site lately, you’ll find it has an all new look. The Web home of the National Committee on Levee Safety has been totally redesigned so you’ll be able to access information such as state safety programs, levee recommendations, and conferences more easily. Stop by and test your levee IQ, read the latest Levee Safety Connections newsletter, or explore the levee library.


The 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
Although it’s too late to garner observer status for what promises to be a fascinating conference on International Humanitarian Law, the conference Web site has lots to offer those staying home. ICRC delegates will meet in late November to discuss humanitarian action in four areas: legal protection for victims of armed conflicts, disaster law, local humanitarian action, and barriers to health care. Check the site for supporting documents to be posted after the conference.


Thirsty for Answers
When it comes to water security, cities are the organizations best suited to prepare for inevitable shortages, according to this just-released report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The report reviewed 75 scientific studies and extrapolated that information to 12 U.S. cities. Visit the Web site to access the full report, individual fact sheets showing how climate change is likely to affect each city, or view slideshows of the tables and graphs.

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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]

October 17-21, 2011
Virginia Hazardous Materials Conference and Expo
Virginia Association of Hazardous Materials Response Specialists and Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Hampton, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $140 before September 29, open until filled
This conference offers more than sixty workshops that teach participants about new products and technology for the hazardous materials industry. Topics include radiation detection, liquefied petroleum and propane gas emergencies, unified command, and “street smart” chemistry and hazardous materials.


October 22-26, 2011
The Fifth International Mine Rescue Conference and the Third International Forum on Workplace Emergency Management
National Center for International Cooperation in Work Safety
Beijing, China
Cost and Registration: $2,000, closes September 30
These concurrent conferences focus on policy discussions about accident prevention (hazardous chemical spill, large-scale power outages, and natural disasters) with an emphasis on mutual aid and coordination between countries, regions, and industries. Topics include mine rescue laws, emergency rescue equipment and technology, rescue case studies and analysis, and emergency management planning, drills, and simulations.


October 24-28, 2011
Open Science Conference: Climate Research in Service to Society
World Climate Research Programme
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $430, open until filled
This conference will assess knowledge of climate variability and identify urgent scientific issues and research challenges. Attendees will help develop the World Climate Research Programme’s international research agenda. Anticipated outcomes include measurable contributions to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


October 27-29
Wildland Fire Conference: Backyards and Beyond
National Fire Protection Association
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $275 until October 25, open until filled
This conference will examine fire hazards in the wildland-urban interface and lessons learned from the Firewise Program. Session topics include community planning, mechanical mitigation equipment, structure protection strategies, real-time mapping, and federal wildland and wildfire policy.


November 22-24, 2011
Sumatra Tsunami Disaster and Recovery 2011 and South China Sea Tsunami Workshop
Tsunami and Disaster Mitigation Research Center
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Cost and Registration: $100, closes November 22
These workshops will present new research and practices in earthquake and tsunami disaster management. Topics include numerical simulations and tsunami models, risk mapping and evacuation routes, city planning and restoration after earthquakes and tsunamis, community-based disaster risk management, and disasters and food security.


January 17-19, 2012
International Disaster Conference
International Disaster Conference and Expo
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $200 before November 17, open until filled
This conference presents public- and private-sector best practices in emergency management, homeland security, and disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation. Session topics include business continuity planning, national security, global emergency preparedness, and private sector emergency management resources. Independent training courses in business continuity and emergency management will also be offered.

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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.]

Emergency Management Operations Manager
Portland Office of Emergency Management
Portland, Oregon
Salary: $90,780 to $107,556
Closing Date: September 12, 2011
This position will manage the daily operations of the Portland Office of Emergency Management. Responsibilities include overseeing the city’s emergency coordination center (ECC), providing strategic advice on developing exercises, and assisting in regional ECC coordination and policy development. Extensive knowledge of emergency preparedness and response, experience managing an emergency response operations center, and National Incident Management System training are required.


Admissions Assistant, GS-7
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $42,209 to $54,875
Closing Date: September 14, 2011
This position reviews applications for admission to the National Fire Academy or Emergency Management Institute, collects and analyzes student and fiscal data, and responds to written and telephone inquiries. At least one year of experience at the GS-8 level, specialized experience in academic admissions, and knowledge of FoxPro and Oracle computer databases are required.


Emergency Management Administrator
Hampton Roads Planning District Commission
Chesapeake, Virginia
Salary: $73,500 to $85,000
Closing Date: September 16, 2011
This position plans and advocates for regional emergency management, homeland security, and hazard mitigation initiatives, and supports the work of regional emergency management organizations. A master’s degree in emergency management, public administration, or a related field is required. Grant management experience and emergency manager certification are preferred.


Interagency Training Coordinator
New York City Office of Emergency Management
New York, New York
Salary: $51,435 to $65,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will be responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive training program to support both intra-agency and interagency emergency management operations. A master’s degree in emergency management, public administration, urban planning, or a related field is required. Previous experience in training and curriculum development is preferred.


Director of Plan Management
New York City Office of Emergency Management
New York, New York
Salary: $48,481 to $90,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position manages the development of city emergency plans, develops and maintains plan management policies, and assists with public presentations. A master’s degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience in a related field is required. Proficiency in communication, project management, and plan writing is preferred.


Emergency Preparedness Manager
Rutland Regional Medical Center
Rutland, Vermont
Salary: $49,173 to $78,550
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for the overall planning, coordination, and evaluation of emergency preparedness activities in the medical center. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, a minimum of 5 to 7 years of experience in large organization emergency preparedness, and experience with HAZMAT decontamination and emergency response team coordination.

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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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