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Number 578 • November 17, 2011 | Past Issues













1) Doing Good Gone Bad: United Nations Taken to Task for Haitian Cholera Epidemic

Haitians endured the devastating 2010 earthquake, only to be rocked later that same year by a cholera epidemic that has since claimed nearly 7,000 lives. While the first disaster was arguably unavoidable, the second could have been easily sidestepped—and the fact that it wasn’t should be put to rights, according to one nonprofit organization.

The commonly accepted source of the cholera—a disease unknown in Haiti for decades before the October 2010 outbreak—was a UN peacekeeping force from Nepal stationed near the Artibonite River. Although the United Nations hasn’t directly accepted responsibility for the spread, a 2011 report prepared by independent experts at UN request pointed to unsanitary conditions at the peacekeepers’ camp as the likely point of infection.

Findings from a June report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also “strongly suggest that contamination of the Artibonite and one of its tributaries downstream from a military camp triggered the epidemic,” according to Reuters—although the CDC stressed evidence is circumstantial.

Now a U.S.-based human rights organization is calling on the United Nations to step up and take responsibility for the outbreak, which has sickened nearly 500,000 and continues to rage. The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has filed a complaint the with Secretary General's office in New York and with the UN Haiti mission's claims unit in Port-au-Prince, according to the Associated Press.

“The sickness, death and ongoing harm from cholera suffered by Haiti's citizens are a product of the UN's multiple failures,” the complaint reads according to the AP. “These failures constitute negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and deliberate indifference for the lives of Haitians.”

The United Nations confirmed Friday that it received the complaint against its Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which it had forwarded to its lawyers.

The IJDH complaint represents more than 5,000 cholera-affected Haitians. It seeks $50,000 each for those sickened, $100,000 for survivors of each of those killed, and a public apology, according to CNN. While legal enforcement of the claim is unlikely, the case is meant to drive the United Nations to action, IJDH Director Brian Concannon told CNN.

“The victims want the UN to respond, to provide medical treatment and build clean water and waste treatment systems,” Concannon said.

While perhaps not legally enforceable, the complaint isn’t frivolous either, according to experts.

“One would hope that the [UN] Secretary General would address this with great moral seriousness,” Ruth Wedgwood, a professor of international law and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies told the AP. “It's a lot of money but if the facts as alleged [are] true it's a serious harm.”

More is at stake than simply making restitution because the UN sets the standard for other groups working to restore the country, Concannon has said.

“This is an opportunity for the UN to demonstrate that it’s not above its own laws,” he told The Economist. “Providing justice to Haiti’s cholera’s victims will establish the mission’s credibility and enhance its ability to convince Haitian actors that they need to obey the law.”

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2) Staving Off an XL Disaster, But for How Long?

Huge acts of technological hubris have often spelled huge disaster. Recent incidents such as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the possibly dam-assisted Sichuan Earthquake are good examples of how attempts to push the engineering envelope can leave us vulnerable to disasters of correspondingly outrageous scale.

Then we should rejoice about a successful push to reroute a mammoth pipeline planned to intersect an important aquifer, right? Perhaps, but only briefly.

Environmentalists and landowners are celebrating news that the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline—originally slated to stretch from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas—will be altered to avoid Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer and the wetlands of the Sand Hills.  Equally heartening (albeit politically motivated) is the U.S. State Department’s intention to delay permitting for the project until 2013 so that environmental and health concerns can be further examined, according to the New York Times.

Pipeline opponents see the recent events as the beginning of the end.

“It’s important to understand how unlikely this victory is. Six months ago, almost no one outside the pipeline route even knew about Keystone XL,” writes Bill McKibben on the climate activism site “As late as last week the CBC reported that [pipeline proposer] TransCanada was moving huge quantities of pipe across the border and seizing land by eminent domain, certain that its permit would be granted. A done deal has come spectacularly undone.”

Others say not so fast. TransCanada is now working with the Nebraska legislature to determine new routes the pipeline might take through the state and a poll of “energy insiders” by the National Journal indicated a majority thought the project would eventually move forward.

If that majority is correct, the Ogallala Aquifer may be safe, but something somewhere else is going to be at risk. It’s not possible to move up to 830,000 barrels per day of corrosive tar sand through six states and two provinces without threatening some crucial piece of the environment—particularly water.

“Any new route for Keystone XL would inevitably cross hundreds of rivers, large and small, between the tar sands in Alberta and the U.S. Gulf Coast,” writes Sandra Postel in National Geographic. “Among them would be the Missouri, the nation’s longest river, and almost certainly Nebraska’s Platte.”

Postel goes on to detail University of Nebraska water engineering professor John S. Stansbury’s analysis of worst-case spill scenarios for the pipeline, which could include benzene contamination as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, and more than 91 spills in 50 years—significantly more than TransCanada’s estimate of 11 during the same period.

Environmentalists have also cited concerns about the tar sands' contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and the fact that a “pipeline of this size and scope is simply too risky to operate,” according to a New York Times fact sheet.

While the Ogallala reprieve and subsequent review of the pipeline represent plodding progress in warding off some catastrophes, the simple fact that a behemoth like Keystone XL is being considered demonstrates a failure to learn the lessons of the past.

Loyola University New Orleans Professor Anthony Ladd uses the term "energy-driven disasters" to describe this blind spot in an American Behavioral Scientist article. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill points toward a trend of increasing technological disasters attributable to an “era of corporate hubris; congressional timidity; and the power that the fossil-fuel industry exercises over our economy, culture, and energy policy,” he writes. “I raise questions regarding whether a sustainable energy policy can ever be implemented in a society characterized by disaster amnesia and placated by notions of ‘acceptable risk’ and ‘normal accidents.’”

Indeed, the future of Keystone XL might just be the answer to that question.

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3) The Revolution Will Not Be Sanitized: Occupy Protests Could Be Bad for Your Health

No one ever said that protest was pretty, but with hundreds of people camping out indefinitely and in close proximity, "Occupy" movements around the country are more ugly than most. And now, between the winter cold and flu season and dicey sanitation at the camps, occupiers are beginning to pose a serious public health threat.

“Pretty much everything here is a good way to get sick,” Salvatore Cipolla, a Zuccotti Park protester, told the New York Times last week. “It’ll definitely thin the herd.”

Since then, however, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did some preemptive thinning of park protesters, citing concerns of public health and safety. And while the New York Civil Liberties Union and others indicated Bloomberg’s concern was a convenient excuse to oust occupiers, there’s indication that Zuccotti Park and other camps have been spreading more than general discontent with American avarice.

In Zuccatti Park for instance, protesters were passing around a wheezing cough they called Zuccatti lung, flulike illnesses, and an elevated risk of sexually transmitted diseases, according to the Times. Occupy Atlanta had two cases of tuberculosis identified after it moved from a park to a local homeless shelter, according to CBS Atlanta.

Sanitation has also been an issue at many of the camps. Between water being reused, food scraps deposited randomly, molding cardboard protest signs, and open urination, the health conditions in Zuccatti Park are more like a refugee camp.

“I’m amazed that in a park full of revolutionaries, there are large contingents that can’t throw away their own trash,” Jordan McCarthy, a member of the protesters’ sanitation team told the Times.

Camps could make headway in thwarting disease and unsanitary conditions if they chose to, Buddy Creech, an infectious disease expert and associate director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Program told CNN. Much like the workplace, things like vaccinations and good health practices—like going home when you're sick and regular hand washing—would go a long way.

As it is now, dirty conditions, flu season, and living elbow-to-elbow are creating a trifecta of disease spread.

“All of these coming together could be a nightmare,” Creech said. “Sometimes public health and individual liberties are at odds.”

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

Call for Nominations
Board of Directors
International Association of Wildland Fire
Deadline: November 25, 2011
The International Association of Wildland Fire is accepting nominations for Board of Directors. Terms are for three years and require a minimum time commitment of several hours per month. Candidates should be a member of IAWF and have expertise in wildland fire suppression, prevention, research, equipment, or other related subjects.


Call For Applications
From Social Vulnerability to Resilience: Measuring Progress toward Disaster Risk Reduction
United Nations University Summer Academy
Deadline: January 31, 2012
The United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security is now accepting applications from PhD students to attend its seventh annual summer academy. This year’s academy will focus on methodological challenges in measuring social vulnerability in the context of disaster risk reduction. Applicants' work should have a multidisciplinary focus. Several practitioner positions will also be available.


Call for Applications
Interdisciplinary Climate Change Research Symposium VII
Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research
Deadline: February 29, 2012
The Dissertations Initiative for the Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS) is accepting applications for an invited symposium for early career climate-change researchers. The symposium aims to increase international and interdisciplinary collaboration and help participants better understand and respond to the research challenges posed by climate change. Applicants should submit an abstract of their dissertation, a resume, two essays detailing their research, and two letters of recommendation. Full instructions are available online.

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5) 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] Continuing Education Credit Program
If you’re a fan of the excellent webinars hosted by the Emergency Management Forum, you'll be excited to learn you can now earn continuing education credit from Jacksonville State University just for tuning in. EMForum and the JSU Institute for Emergency Preparedness have partnered to offer the credit on a trial basis until September 30, 2012. Participants earn one Continuing Education Unit for every 10 hours of EMForum webinars attended. Only webinars attended after you register count toward credit, so sign up today.


FEMA Think Tank
The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to know what you’re thinking—yes, you! FEMA has just created a platform where everyone from your granny to your governor can weigh in on ways to improve the emergency management system.  Those with an opinion can discuss ideas on the Think Tank message board, or take it a step further by joining Deputy Administrator Richard Serino in a monthly conference call about message board topics. 


If you’re wondering where the Pew Center on Global Climate Change went, look no further—it’s become the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). The C2ES will continue to produce the same peer-reviewed, nonpartisan analysis of climate change information and advocate for wise climate choices, but under a funding umbrella no longer limited to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Stop by the newly designed Web site, where you’ll still have access to all things previously Pew.


This recently launched, four-year project will use five case studies to develop a conceptual and methodological approach to measuring disaster resilience. The Web site highlights the project case studies, methodology, and consortium aims—including collaboration with risk managers, emergency practitioners, and those affected by disaster. Check out the mailing list if you’d like to contribute.


The Jurisprudence of Disasters
Those interested in the intersection of law and disaster will find new connections at the Jurisprudence of Disasters, which networks scholars and professionals from different disciplines. Originating from a recent workshop on disasters and sociolegal studies, the group focuses on how law and legal institutions both contribute to and prevent disasters. Members can participate in discussions, help develop panels and course syllabi, and share information.


Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (known as the more fun-to-say CoCoRaHS) is a group of folks measuring wet stuff with their backyard rain gauges. Members report their findings daily, helping to build a better data set to be used for research and education. CoCoRaHS recently expanded to all fifty states, so you can grab your local weather geek and take part too! (And don’t miss this quirky video about how CoCoRaHS got its start.)

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6) 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]

December 5-9, 2011
Sixth Caribbean Conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management
Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency
Port of Spain, Trinidad
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference will evaluate and update the Caribbean Comprehensive Disaster Management agenda, which is a part of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Global Platform. Topics include flood early warning systems, global earthquake models, and postdisaster financial assistance. Technical sessions are offered for climate change, national risk management programs, and disaster response communication technologies.


December 9, 2011
Pipeline Emergency Response Forum
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This forum will identify strategies that improve emergency response and preparedness for pipeline emergencies. Topics include federal and state safety resources, lessons learned from past pipeline emergencies, best practices for emergency responders, and training needs.


January 18-20, 2012
Public Health Law Research Annual Meeting
Public Health Law Research
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $125, open until filled
This conference will discuss how laws can prevent and mitigate public health issues and ensure a healthier population. Topics include communicable and non-communicable diseases, injury prevention, future public health law research priorities, and the effects of regulation on public health.


January 31 to February 3, 2012
Connections in the Climate System
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference examines the physical components of climate systems, the evolution of climate systems over time, and the connections between climate change and extreme events. Topics include coastal erosion and storm surge impacts, increased hazard intensity and frequency, and the effects of climate change on renewable resources.


February 7-9, 2012
National Evacuation Conference
Stephenson Disaster Management Institute and the Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $375 before October 31, open until filled
This conference focuses on strategies to improve evacuation planning. Participants will choose from sessions in the following six tracks: carless and vulnerable populations, evacuation modeling, communication and behavior, policy, animals, and nuclear power plants. Topics include women, Latino, and immigrant populations, regional modeling, communicating risk, the federal role in evacuation, and the impact of animals on evacuation management.


February 19-23, 2012
One Health Summit
Global Risk Forum
Davos, Switzerland
Cost and Registration: $1,224, open until filled
As part of the Global Risk Forum, this summit aims to bridge the gap between science and practice by examining public health risk management from a multihazard, multidisciplinary perspective. Topics include pandemics, food safety and security, natural hazards, resource depletion, and sustainable development.


February 21-24, 2012
Public Health Preparedness Summit
National Association of County and City Health Officials
Anaheim, California
Cost and Registration: $500 until January 17, open until filled
This conference will teach public health professionals how to effectively respond to and recover from public health emergencies using limited resources. Topics include radiation response, volunteer management, communications, vulnerable populations, and public health law.

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7) 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 Planner
Prince William County, Virginia
Manassas, Virginia
Salary: $52,023 to $83,236
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop and maintain all county emergency management plans, including mitigation, continuity of operations, and public safety. Responsibilities include managing federal and state grants, working in the emergency operations center during exercises and disasters, and coordinating exercises and drills to ensure countywide preparedness. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management, five years of experience in an emergency management organization, and experience managing grants are required.


Emergency Roster Project Leader
International Rescue Committee
London, England, or New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop and maintain a roster of employees that can be rapidly deployed when an emergency arises. Responsibilities include developing a database of emergency personnel, documenting employees’ skill sets, and developing a deployment strategy. Ten years of experience in human resources and five years of experience in employee succession planning are required. A master’s degree in management or public administration is preferred.


Fire Modeling Research Scientist
Air Worldwide
Boston, Massachusetts
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position develops algorithms for fire and other natural hazard risk assessment models. Responsibilities include collecting fire, earthquake, wind, precipitation, and land use data; improving existing modeling processes; and verifying models with observed data. Two years of experience with technical programming and a master’s degree in mathematics or engineering are required. Experience with GIS software is preferred.


Assistant Professor of Earthquake Geology and Active Tectonics
Oregon State University
Corvallis, Oregon
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will integrate earthquake geology and active tectonic research with other complementary disciplines, such as seismology, GPS-satellite geodesy, structural geology, and tectonics and sedimentation. Responsibilities include teaching undergraduate structural geology courses, teaching graduate courses, and publishing geology and tectonics research. A PhD in geology is required. Postdoctoral teaching experience at the university level is preferred.


Industrial Hygienist
Kansas City, Missouri
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop and monitor MRIGlobal environmental safety and health programs. Responsibilities include assessing hazardous materials risk, educating workers about safety practices, ensuring compliance with local emergency management plans, and investigating workplace incidents. A bachelor’s degree in chemistry, five years of environmental safety experience, and board certification in industrial hygiene are required.


Emergency Management Institute Superintendant, GS-16
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $119,554 to $179,700
Closing Date: November 28, 2011
This position oversees all emergency management educational programs. Responsibilities include planning annual conferences, incorporating new research and technology into training programs, developing new courses, and managing professional staff. Experience at or above the GS-15 level, specialized knowledge of training and education program development, and senior executive management experience are required.


Emergency Response Coordinator
British Petroleum
Anchorage, Alaska
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 21, 2011
This position will manage emergency response plans and programs for BP’s North Slope operations. Responsibilities include managing spill response activities, developing field and tabletop exercises, providing input to BP board members, and ensuring compliance with the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program. Fifteen years of experience in crisis management and emergency response is required. A bachelor’s degree in science or engineering is preferred.

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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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