Number 577 • November 3, 2011 | Past Issues












1) Flooding Bangkok: Thai Leaders Make Tough Choices About Where to Put the Water

More and more, politicians and those in charge of flood control systems are being forced to publicly decide what to do with excess water, and who will suffer as a result. Officials in Thailand, which has been in the grips of record flooding for months, are no exception.

The flooding, which has killed about 400 people since July, has taken a toll on life, property, and the economy. Now, the floodwall system keeping Bangkok’s industrial district dry is itself beginning to rend the delicate fabric of Thai political and social structures.

“I am just hoping this floodwall will break,” Seksan Sonsak, whose house is on the wet side of the wall, told the New York Times. “I understand that you want to save the majority, but no one seems to think of us, the minority.”     

Others are doing more than hoping for a break, and taking matters into their own hands to ensure one. Even after Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered floodgates lifted about three feet, sabotage to gates, sandbags, and other parts of the flood system continued, according to Reuters. Workers fixed the damage with about 100 police officers standing guard.

“We are here doing the repair work and the police are protecting us,” city administration spokesman Jate Sopitpongstorn told Reuters. “They have to accept it.”

Sabotage aside, the situation is similar to that faced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May, when officials had to decide whether to flood many acres of valuable farm land to save Cairo, Illinois. In the Thai case, however, choosing residences over industry would have worldwide impacts. Flooding has already caused computer hard drive prices to soar (Thailand is the world's second largest hard drive exporter) and the country’s contribution to global supply chains isn’t limited to electronics. It’s also the main producer of Honda parts and the world’s largest rice producer.

“The cut off in supply chain links, where Thailand plays a major role in the manufacture of components for electronics, auto assembly lines and textiles, has had a particularly devastating impact,” according to a report in Insurance Journal.

Those effects and a recent Aon Benfield report that put the preliminary damage at about US$6.5 billion were assessed while Bangkok remained dry. And so far, inner Bangkok and the city’s Bang Chan industrial sector have been safe despite Yingluck's Tuesday lifting of the floodgates. But months of extreme weather and increasing political pressure to let more water through have left citizens and investors wary of the city's ultimate fate. Still, saving the city is the primary objective, Jate told Agence France Presse.

“Bangkok is the heart,” he said.  “You can cut your hand but you have to save your heart, because if your heart fails, everything fails.”

Back to Top

2) Cyberterrorism or Cyberwar? We Might Be Our Own Greatest Threat

A scary scenario hangs over the head of every nation equipped with power grids, nuclear facilities, water treatment plants, commuter trains, or any of a multitude of other society-sustaining infrastructures—cyber takeover.

The storyline may have appeared in movies and books for decades, but recently it became all too real when a computer super worm called Stuxnet took control of centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear power plant last year. The worm leveraged a weakness in a device known as a controller, which electronically directs machinery. In the Iranian case, the worm-commanded controller caused the centrifuges to spin too fast.

The implications of a worm that could control the machines that control our infrastructure—imagine if one caused electric generators to spin out of control, opened flood gates, or released too many treatment chemicals into drinking water—have resounded ever since.

Iran blamed the United States and Israel for the attack, and although they denied culpability, the belief at the time was that it was a military-grade act of aggression, according to the Associated Press. That theory, however, is shakier now that security researcher Dillon Beresford was able to create similar controller breaches by himself with less than $20,000 in equipment.

“What all this is saying is you don't have to be a nation-state to do this stuff. That's very scary," Joe Weiss, an industrial control system expert, told the AP. “There's a perception barrier, and I think Dillon crashed that barrier.”

Even if Stuxnet could be the product of a lone hacker or a low-level group, that doesn’t mean it was. Did the United States unleash this monster on itself and the rest of the world? According to cyber experts, that action would be consistent with U.S. policy but wouldn’t sync with past actions, which have been to avoid using cyberweapons that could come back to haunt us. Still, the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran might have been enough to breach that protocol, said cybersecurity expert Michael Assante.

“That is probably one of the largest national security challenges I can envision,” he’s quoted as saying in an online National Public Radio report. “In that context, you can make a pretty strong argument that the benefit of using a cyberweapon to slow down or delay [a nuclear weapon program] or to achieve a specific objective might absolutely outweigh the risk.”

Regardless, there will be no un-ringing of the Stuxnet bell. Most recently, malware has appeared with a fingerprint similar to Stuxnet's and Idaho National Laboratory, which protects critical U.S. infrastructure, has seen a tripling of computer attacks over past year, according to the AP. It seems the time has come for covering assets.

“Some of these [systems] can't be protected,” Weiss told NPR. “We're going to have to figure out how to recover from events that we simply can't protect these systems from.”

Back to Top

3) Shock Value: Constant Storm Outages Fry Electric Customers' Patience

In this day and age, a few hours without electricity is like a return to the Stone Age. So it might be expected that days worth of outages could leave nerves as frayed as a downed power line. Add to that repeated losses from recurring storms, and you’ve got electric customers pushed to their limit.

“The winters used to be much worse, but even with the big snows, we had nothing like the outages over the past four or five years,” Chappaqua, New York, resident David Kirschstein told the New York Times. “I’m just sick of it.”

A bombardment of storms along the East Coast and other areas has highlighted the difficulty of keeping people in power in the face of today’s extreme weather. It makes little difference to electric users whether it's hurricane force winds, downed trees, or ice-coated lines that shut down the grid. When the lights go off, it spells catastrophe for many.

“Electricity is the most fundamental of utilities. Most everything depends on electric power,” Natural Hazards Center Director Kathleen Tierney told the Christian Science Monitor regarding Saturday’s nor’easter that left about 3 million without power. “These things turn out to be very expensive. People can’t go to work. You have a business interruption situation here.”

Unfortunately, there may not be any simple solution. According to a 2009 Edison Electric Institute report, customers' most common suggestion—burying power lines—is both expensive and inefficacious. Underground lines cost five to ten times more to install, the report states, and many times the protection offered from one hazard is canceled out by another.

“In our area, undergrounding can help protect against wind events, but can actually make us more vulnerable to outages from flooding in some areas,” the report quotes a Houston-area respondent as writing. “Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 would have inflicted more damage on an underground electrical distribution system than on an aerial system.”

That dynamic is sure to leave places like the East Coast in the dark, no matter what measures utilities take to harden infrastructure. And while many are fed up with the constant service interruptions, others, like Sue Gress of New Canaan, Connecticut, are resigned to the new state of affairs.

“It’s global warming,” she told the Times. “No one wants to believe it, but things are changing. There’s much more violent weather, and we’re not prepared to deal with it.”

Back to Top

4) Natural Hazards Observer Now Online

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

—Strengthening Resilience through Mitigation Planning
—Looking at the Second Life of Social Media
—Active El Niño, Active Warfare
—Conflict or Cooperation: A World Water Saga

Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the November and past Observers.

Back to Top

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

Call for Abstracts
Global Threats…Local Consequences
World Conference on Disaster Management
Deadline: December 2, 2011
The World Conference on Disaster Management is accepting abstracts for presentation at its 22nd annual conference to be held June 25-27 in Toronto. Papers should address the local impacts of global threats. Presentations that include immediate take-aways for practitioners and papers addressing disaster management on lessened budgets are especially sought. Visit the conference Web site for online submission instructions.


Call for Papers
Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire
International Association of Wildland Fire
Deadline: December 15, 2011
The International Association of Wildland Fire is accepting papers for presentation at the third annual Human Dimensions of Wildland Fire Conference to be held April 17-19 in Seattle. Abstracts of 350 words or less can be submitted for oral, poster, or special session presentations. Abstract should be written in non-technical language and emphasize the management implications of the work. More information and a  list of acceptable topics can be found on the conference Web site.


Call for Applications
PERISHIP Dissertation Fellowships
Public Entity Risk Institute
Deadline: February 1, 2012
Applications are now being accepted for PERISHIP dissertation fellowships, which support work in natural and human-made hazards, risk, and disasters in all disciplines. Eligible candidates must be “all but dissertation” at a U.S. educational institution by the application deadline and have an approved dissertation proposal. Non-U.S. citizens may apply if a U.S. institution will grant their doctoral degree. For complete information and application instructions, visit the award Web site.

Back to Top

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]

CDC Zombie Novella
Halloween may have come and gone, but zombies are forever. You know you love the walking dead, and so does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—which is why it's leveraging zombie mania for pandemic prevention. The graphic novella, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, follows Todd, Julie, and their dog Max as an encroaching pandemic zombifies their friends and neighbors. Along the way, they learn a lot about dealing with disease, and so will you.


National Levee Database
With many of the nation's levees aging and in disrepair, you'll want to keep an eye on those in your neighborhood. Now you can, thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently made its National Levee Database accessible to the public. The database lists most of the levees in the USACE program and is working to include the many others outside the program. Levee reports, construction and maintenance data, and real-time storm gauge and weather radar information are among the many details that can be accessed for each levee.


My Hazards
Think California hazards and chances are you think earthquake. In actuality, there are plenty of more prevalent hazards to be had in the Golden State. Now residents will know just which ones lurk in their neighborhoods, thanks to the California Emergency Management Agency’s My Hazards Web site. Californians can enter their address and instantly learn what risk they run of encountering flood, fire, tsunami, and yes, even earthquakes. Each report gives users a checklist with recommended disaster mitigation actions for the hazards they face.


The Network for Public Health Law
The Network for Public Health Law works to connect members of the public health community with each other to improve public health. This revamped site should make it easier for members to find the help they need with training, technical assistance, and relationship building. The network, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, doesn’t give legal advice, but can help individuals navigate the maze of public health regulations and resources.


A Review of the 2011 Floods and the Condition of the Nation’s Flood Control Systems
On October 18, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works heard testimony from a bevy of the nation’s top flood experts regarding the historic 2011 flooding and the challenges posed in managing U.S. floods. For those that missed the live hearing, this Web site collects the written testimonies and webcast from the event.


Earth Learning Idea’s Natural Hazard Activities
Visit any elementary science fair and you’re sure to find a few homemade volcanoes and maybe a tornado or two in a bottle. That’s because kids love to model disasters. Whether you’re a fourth-grade science teacher or a kid at heart, this Web site is a trove of information on how to do everything from making quicksand to building a dam break. With pictures, videos, and step-by-step how-tos, you’ll be generating mini-Krakatoas in no time.

Back to Top

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]

November 18, 2011
Litigating Takings Challenges to Land Use and Environmental Regulations
Vermont Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and others
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference explores regulatory takings in relation to land use and environmental regulation. Topics include floodway easement limitations, government liability for exacerbating flood risk, coastal development regulations in response to sea level rise, and takings claims based on water supply regulation.


November 30 to December 2, 2011
Annual National School Response Conference
Events and Exhibitions
Las Vegas, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $798, open until filled
This will discuss how officials and first responders can prepare for violence and natural disasters in schools, including bomb threats, shootings, pandemics, and tornadoes. Topics include hurricane response strategies, teen community response team training, crisis management, and mass casualty incidents.


November 30 to December 3, 2011
CitiesAlive 2011
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cost and Registration: $499 before November 1, open until filled
This conference looks at how green infrastructure can help restore urban water resources and reduce heat islands. Topics include water management and water scarcity, stormwater management performance, regional climate differences, and water independence strategies.


December 5-7, 2011
First International Conference on Water and Society
Wessex Institute of Technology
Las Vegas, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $1,450, open until filled
This conference addresses the use and exploitation of water from a multidisciplinary, international platform. Topics include water degradation and contamination, sanitation, irrigation, disaster management, future water demands, and transnational water rights.


December 5-9, 2011
AGU Fall Meeting
American Geophysical Union
San Francisco, California
Cost and Registration: $545, open until filled
This conference presents earth and space science research on a variety of topics,  including earthquake early warning systems, lessons from the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, volcanic magma flow instability, and climate-related landslide risks. Conference offerings are divided between public lectures, workshops, forums, and presentations.


December 16-17, 2011
Environmental Innovators Symposium
International Program for Environmental Innovators
Tokyo, Japan
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference looks at the connections between disaster recovery and climate change resilience using the March 11 2011 Tohoku Earthquake as a case study. Topics include post-disaster reconstruction, sustainable economics in a Post-Fukushima era, and local climate change adaptation programs. A two-day student workshop in community-based reconstruction practices is also offered.


January 10-12, 2012
Sustainability Conference 2012
Common Ground Publishing
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Cost and Registration: $550, open until filled
This conference looks at environmental, cultural, economic, and social sustainability from an interdisciplinary perspective. Topics include coastal hazards planning, sustainable housing for postdisaster areas in Louisiana, and Colorado hospitals' disaster preparedness.

Back to Top

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.]

Assistant Professor, Professional Studies Program
University of Richmond
Richmond, Virginia
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: December 16, 2011
This position will teach five courses a year in topics that could include emergency services management, human resource management, information systems, and paralegal studies. Responsibilities include serving on university committees, conducting research, and training adjunct faculty. A PhD in a related field, and three years of teaching experience in higher education is required.


Vice Director of Civil Defense
United States Department of Defense
Honolulu, Hawaii
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: November 15, 2011
This position will direct the coordination of all state civil defense activities. Responsibilities include supervising staff, developing plans and programs to implement civil defense goals, directing state continuity of operations planning, and recruiting shelter managers, medical aids, and communications technicians.. A bachelor’s degree in business administration and six years of executive level experience is required. 


Ecosystem Specialist
Development Alternatives, Inc.
Bangkok, Thailand
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: November 11, 2011
This position will provide short-term technical assistance to a five-year climate change adaptation project on the Mekong River Basin. Responsibilities include identifying data needs for ecosystem assessments, developing biodiversity baselines for agro-ecological zones, completing a climate change vulnerability assessment, and planning adaptation zones for vulnerable ecosystems. The ability to work with inter-ministerial groups, and fifteen years of experience in biodiversity management, floodplain ecosystems, or environmental assessments is required.


Senior Disaster Operations Specialist, GS-13
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $89,033 to $115,742
Closing Date: November 17, 2011
This position guides U.S. disaster response and disaster risk reduction programs by developing response strategies, managing grants training staff, and recommending programs consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives. A bachelor’s degree in international relations, seven years of experience in a related field, and knowledge of international humanitarian assistance programming is required.


Business Continuity Manager
SVB Financial Group
Santa Clara, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position designs and conducts business continuity risk assessments and impact analyses. Responsibilities include testing existing plans, training senior management, implementing business continuity procedures, and supporting the company incident commander during crises. A bachelor’s degree and experience with business continuity planning, project management, and risk analysis is required.


Emergency Preparedness Manager
Providence Health and Services
Portland, Oregon
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for coordinating emergency preparedness activities for Providence staff and facilities Responsibilities include coordinating emergency preparedness for Providence personnel and facilities, identifying risks, and evaluating hazards. A bachelor’s degree and four years of experience in emergency management planning is required. Specialized training in emergency management and health care experience is preferred.


Principal Research Scientist
National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports and conducts research in disaster preparedness and response, land use issues, sustainable communities, and topics related to climate change mitigation. Responsibilities include delivering research findings, managing client relations, developing grant proposals, and overseeing contract administration. A master’s degree and ten years of experience in environmental consulting or academic research is required.

Back to Top

Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit or e-mail