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Number 582 • February 9, 2012 | Past Issues













1) Wake Up and Smell the Drought

Drought can be slippery. Take Texas for example.

For more than a year, the state has been in the stranglehold of a record dry spell, part of a wider drought that has plagued the American Southwest for years. More than 95 percent of the state is experiencing some level of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor.

Gripped by conditions expected to last through the winter, water has been rationed, lakebeds have gone dry (revealing all sorts of interesting secrets), and cattle are dying. Last week, Spicewood Beach, a suburb of Austin, became the first place in Texas compelled to shuttle in H2O. Yet only a day earlier, the Associated Press announced that Dallas—a mere 200 miles north—was the first Texas locale to officially shake off the drought.

These disparities in the severity and range of a single disaster can be confusing for the uninitiated. Even those that know better don’t always grasp the full impacts of looming or worsening drought. Perhaps it’s because drought lacks an obvious beginning and doesn't demand our attention until there are serious impacts. Or maybe it’s because drought is perceived as local, even though the effects are often global. It could be that it’s just human nature to look up and wait for an answer to come from the sky.

Whatever the reason, drought is a serious problem that hasn’t been given enough attention—and not just in the Southwest and other drought-stricken U.S. regions. Most of the world has refused to wrap its head around drought risk. The dearth of good data was spotlighted at the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s Third Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva, Switzerland, last May.

“Comprehensive assessments of drought risks are only just beginning and, as yet, there is no credible global drought risk model,” wrote the authors of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2011 (known as GAR11), which was presented at the platform. “Strengthening drought risk management, as an integral part of risk governance, will be fundamental to sustaining the quality of life in many countries during the coming decades.”

Managing drought risk is no easy task. Drought involves not only a shortage of water, but also a scarcity of wealth, environmental awareness, and political will. GAR11 outlines three kinds of drought—meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological—as well as a bevy of risk drivers such as poverty, urbanization, industrialization, and climate change.

Especially in the U.S. Southwest, a Gordian knot of water rights based on the assumption that there would always be the same amount of water to go around proves difficult to untie to meet new realities. At the same time, efforts to stanch increased demand for water are scant.

“There’s not enough fresh water to handle nine billion people at current consumption levels,” Patricia Mulroy, the Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager and a Water Research Foundation board member, told Smithsonian magazine last year. “People need a fundamental, cultural attitude change about water supply in the Southwest. It’s not abundant, it’s not reliable, it’s not going to always be there.”

Between the tyranny of nature and the greed of man, maybe the only thing to do is to put our heads in the sand and hope that water will come. That's the current tack worldwide, according to GAR11, which states that “despite increasing evidence of the magnitude of drought impacts, few countries have developed drought risk management policies or frameworks, and the political and economic imperative to invest in reducing drought risk remains weakly articulated.”

Only a few countries may be looking drought in the eye, but one has made particularly good progress. Australia, the only nation with a national drought policy, has taken huge steps to address its decade-long Millennium Drought. Using a “wide range of technical, economic, regulatory, and educational policies” the country has been able to cut water consumption by 37 percent, double desalination capacity in its largest cities, and still reduce withdrawals from its overtaxed Murray-Darling river, according to Scientific American.

The Australian example could easily translate to the U.S. Southwest, particularly to the Colorado River Basin. More than one water expert has pointed out the similarities between the Colorado and the Murray-Darling—both support growing cities, agriculture based on irrigation, and have been drained dry before they could flow to the sea.

And like the Colorado, which is controlled by thirsty states and archaic water agreements, the Murray Darling was also in the clutches of its surrounding states. That was until the states gave up control.

“They’ve always jealously guarded their prerogatives around water,” Western Water Assessment Director Brad Udall, who spent four months working with the Australian Department of Water, told High Country News. “In 2007, in the midst of this drought, those states voluntarily gave up their right to control their water to a brand new entity…. In 2006, I think if you had asked people in Australia in the states if they were going to give up that power, they would’ve said, ‘Absolutely no.’”

Perhaps then, there’s hope on the horizon. What’s not clear is if other nations will need to see the sort of life-threatening, economy-crushing drought that Australia did before they come around. Hopefully not, as that approach doesn't leave many options.

“I heard on the news a while back that some town got an Indian to come and do a rain dance,” the New York Times quotes Spicewood Beach resident Connie Heller as saying. “We may have to do that.”

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2) Gulf Oil Spill Litigation: More than Deepwater on the Horizon for BP?

As the day of reckoning for those involved in the BP Deepwater Horizon spill draws near, will the oil behemoth settle or will victims get their day in court?

An answer isn’t likely to come before the February 27 trial date, but even with the clock ticking on the labyrinthine lawsuit, more than a few pundits have come down on the side of settlement. There are compelling reasons to do so on both sides of the case, they say.

“This is not something that anyone wants to try,” Houston-based trial lawyer David Berg told Bloomberg Businessweek. “The stakes are too high.”

For BP, those stakes are up to more than $75 billion, including $22.5 billion the company has already paid in cleanup, response, and other costs, according to a Times-Picayune report. Included in the total are maximum of $17.6 billion in civil fines for violations of Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and other laws; $5 billion in natural resource damages; and $15 billion in criminal penalties.

On the non-monetary front, BP faces continued reputation tarnishing, stockholder angst, and deteriorating relations with the U.S. agencies that butter its bread.

“BP decided to continue drilling in the Gulf (after the oil spill) and in fact is looking to expand its footprint in the Gulf,” David Uhlmann, a former head of the U.S. Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section, told the Picayune. “BP cannot be successful if the company is in a legal war with the government that controls drilling leases. Making peace with the federal government is of enormous value to BP's business model.”

The feds also have incentive to make nice, according to Anthony Sabino, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York. While Clean Water Act fines could more than triple if U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier finds BP grossly negligent, the government might not want to take the chance he won't (or that his ruling might be overturned on appeal), Sabino told Businessweek.

“An adverse ruling against them would have a bad effect for decades,” in terms of U.S. environmental law enforcement, he said. “The smart move is to settle.”

Like most stories though, the tale of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—which exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 people—has far more than two sides. Also in the tide of litigation will be BP's partners and a throng of private individuals and businesses that eschewed the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which settles complaints against BP under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The group of independent plaintiffs, which are separate from the government’s case, would probably be awarded more than $1 billion, according to the Picayune. Much more is at stake between BP and its Deepwater partners Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, and Halliburton, which cemented the well’s drill hole.

The three companies have been blaming each other for the incident for more than a year, but the federal lawsuit might mean that BP has to shoulder the blame or risk being thrown under the bus by the other two, which are co-defendants in the suit.

“It’s always a smart strategy to reduce the number of your adversaries before trial, especially if it’s a codefendant that might heap blame upon you,” Sabino said. “You settle as soon as you can as best as you can with the adversaries who can do you the most damage.”

How the maneuvers will play out is anyone’s guess. Experts do agree on one thing, however—we probably won’t learn the answer until the nth hour.

“A global settlement will be difficult to reach,” Uhlmann said. “It will not occur until the eve of trial, but it will get done.”

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3) Risky Business: WEF Report Defines the Latest in Global Uncertainty

Those dealing with hazards know that our global economy, social connections, and climate woes are resulting in more complex disasters with more far-reaching impacts.

This is concerning, so the World Economic Forum has created a process that maps the concerns of nearly 500 industry, government, academic, and civil society leaders. What the WEF learned through surveys and workshops has been consolidated into Global Risks 2012, the seventh edition of a report that aims to take the pulse of global uncertainty.

The report examines the 10-year outlook for 50 global risks having “global geographic scope, cross-industry relevance, uncertainty as to how and when they may occur, and high levels of economic and/or social impact requiring a multi-stakeholder approach to response.” Among these 50 items, five were found to have a “center of gravity”— chronic fiscal imbalances, greenhouse gas emissions, global governance failure, unsustainable population growth, and critical systems failure. According to the WEF, by focusing on these gravity centers, risk managers and emergency planners can more accurately foresee trends and better prepare for the unexpected.

Also included in this edition is a special report on leadership, communication, and business resilience in the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, and “X Factors,” such as volcanic winter, epigenetics (the idea that our lifestyle can have harmful effects on our genes), and mega-accidents. Interactive report elements can be found on the World Economic Forum Web site.

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4) Nominations Now Open for Mary Fran Myers Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2012 Mary Fran Myers Award. The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Individuals eligible for the award will have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The selection committee is especially interested in nominations from outside the United States. Previously nominated individuals who have not won the Mary Fran Myers Award are still eligible.

The award winner will be invited to participate in the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on July 14-17 and will be acknowledged in the Workshop program. Workshop fees will be covered. Travel to and accommodations at the Workshop are the winner's responsibility.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  • Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  • The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae
  • A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  • An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization.

Nominations should be submitted to by April 16, 2012. Questions can be directed to Bethany Brown or Maureen Fordham. For more information, visit the award page on the Natural Hazards Center Web Site.

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

Call for Applications
Harvard Fire Executive Fellowship Program
U.S. Fire Administration, International Association of Fire Chiefs, and others
Deadline: February 21, 2012
Applications are now being accepted for Harvard Fire Executive Fellowships to attend one of two programs to be held in June and July in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Applicants should be senior fire executives, have significant career accomplishments, and have the potential to facilitate change in the public sector. Finalists are required to present a five-year plan describing how they’ll use the fellowship to improve fire and EMS services.


Call for Applications
Public Health Policy Fellowship Program
Association of Schools of Public Health
Deadline: February 22, 2012
The Association of Schools of Public Health is accepting applications for its 12-month fellowship program, which provides hands-on policy experience in a congressional or executive office. Fellows will have the opportunity to network with policymakers and public health experts and participate in the legislative process. Applicants must hold an MPH or doctorate in public health by the beginning of the fellowship. Early career professionals are welcome to apply.


Call for Applications
Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: February 24, 2012
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications for SAFER Grants to support firefighter staffing and volunteer recruitment. Career fire departments, combination agencies, and volunteer fire departments are eligible to receive grant funds. FEMA recommends potential applicants review the application tutorial before submitting.


Call for Abstracts
Fifth International Symposium
Tsunami Society International

Deadline: February 29, 2012
Tsunami Society International is now accepting abstracts for presentation at its International Symposium to be held August 31 through September 1 as a special session of the International Disaster and Risk Conference in Davos, Switzerland. Abstracts of 300 words or less should be address new concepts for tsunami management, mitigation, or risk assessment. Full details are available online.

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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]

Google Public Alerts
If you’ve ever searched for news on a looming emergency, you’ve likely been forced to sift through a deluge of results to get the info you need. Now skip all that. Google Public Alerts is a powerhouse of emergency information culled from authoritative sources, easily searched by category, and mapped. The concept is as simple as it sounds, but for the full skinny on all the bells and whistles, you can read Google’s blog post here.


Harden Up
Queenslanders aren’t known for being soft, but in the wake of recent record flooding, this site was created to help them harden up during disaster. Taking an interesting tack, this site delivers on three main goals—making residents aware, preparing them for disasters, and making sure they can help others. Interactive elements let kids play preparedness games, families make custom disaster plans, and everyone learn more about the local impacts of climate change.


Where Is the Money?
With disasters becoming increasingly more costly and aid organizations facing funding gaps, Thomson Reuters Foundation’s AlertNet has taken a look at the possible future of humanitarian aid. This multimedia package centers on the results of a poll of 41 relief organizations and answers questions about funding challenges, trends, and possible adaptations. Users will find poll results, videos, new reports, and a forum for sharing related stories and opinions.


BioSense 2.0
The BioSense program—which has long allowed health officials to monitor public health issues and coordinate response—has recently gotten an update to allow better local tracking, expanded data use, easier threat detection, and access to advances in science and technology. The new and improved BioSense was created based on stakeholder input. More information about the changes, how to get involved, and a list of frequently asked questions can be found at the redesign Web site.


National EMS Assessment
Funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and billed as the first national assessment of its kind, this report compiles existing data on state and national EMS, EMS emergency preparedness, and 911 systems. A discussion of data needs and possible future assessments is also included.

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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]

March 5-7, 2012
International Crisis and Risk Communication Conference
University of Central Florida

Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $495, open until filled
This conference will encourage international dialogue about ethics in crisis and risk communication. Topics include tourist perceptions of safety, best practices for managing a Web site during crises, business ethics of online social networking, and how to build trust among volunteers in a crisis.


March 12-17, 2012
World Water Forum
World Water Council
Marseille, France
Cost and Registration: $888, open until filled
This conference will consider global water challenges and promote solutions through regional action. Topics include improving access to integrated sanitation services, reducing water consumption in water-scarce areas, improving the quality of water resources and ecosystems, and managing regional water distribution for food security.


March 14-16, 2012
The GLOBE Conference
The GLOBE Foundation
Vancouver, Canada
Cost and Registration: $1,295 before February 28, open until filled
This conference looks at methods for achieving corporate sustainability and how it can ultimately enhance business performance. Topics include energy efficiency and alternative power, climate change adaptation strategies, environmental risk management, green infrastructure, waste-to-energy systems, and efficient water use.


March 19-22, 2012
Analyzing Risk: Science, Assessment, and Management
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $1,595, open until filled
This program teaches participants how to conduct and interpret complex risk analyses involving chemicals, radiation, and other environmental hazards. Topics include economic approaches to social decision making, benefit-cost analysis, basic principles of toxicology, and the connections between epidemiology and environmental health research.


April 10-13, 2012
2012 EERI Annual Meeting and National Earthquake Conference
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Memphis, Tennessee
Cost and Registration: $450 before March 15, open until filled
This conference will discuss lessons learned from recent and historic earthquakes. Topics include geotechnical engineering for seismic and tsunami events, lessons for today from the 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes, unreinforced masonry performance in recent quakes, and preparedness, response, and recovery operations. A one-day Earthquake Insight Field Trip looking at engineering designs that minimize earthquake risk will be held in conjunction with the conference.


April 11-12, 2012
Emergency Preparedness Conference
The Joint Commission
Arlington, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $699 before March 11, closes April 6
This conference will look at how healthcare organizations can use accreditation standards to guide emergency management planning. Topics include hospital use of disaster medical assistance teams, crisis standards of care, standardization of hospital emergency codes, hurricane preparedness for inland healthcare facilities, and case studies from Joplin, Missouri, and the Vermont State Hospital.


April 16-18, 2012
Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference
Australian Institute of Emergency Services, Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, and the Association for Sustainability in Business
Brisbane, Australia
Cost and Registration: $799 before February 24, open until filled
This conference looks at a variety of issues surrounding natural and man-made hazards. Topics include postdisaster psychological health in children, the role of systems theory in disaster response, the role of insurance in promoting flood resilience, and an all-hazards information management approach to managing disasters.

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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.]

Long-Term Community Recovery Specialist, GS-13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $87,292 to $113,478
Closing Date: February 14, 2012
This position will oversee and manage regional planning and field operations for Long Term Community Recovery planning under Emergency Support Function 14 of the National Response Framework and National Disaster Recovery Framework. Responsibilities include facilitating community and neighborhood workshops, coordinating project development, and evaluating community needs to ascertain the need for long-term community recovery assistance. At least one year of experience in administering recovery programs is required.


Emergency Operations Manager
Trinity County
Weaverville, California

Salary: $52,644 to $64,000
Closing Date: February 29, 2012
This position will help manage sheriff’s office emergency operations. Responsibilities include supervising, training, and evaluating staff; administrating the budget, grants, and contracts; developing emergency plans; and establishing and maintaining cooperative relationships with other agencies. A bachelor’s degree with major course work in emergency management and two years of experience coordinating emergency service operations are required.


Assistant Professor of Disaster and Emergency Management
York University
Toronto, Ontario
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 23, 2012
This position will teach several graduate and undergraduate emergency management courses, as well as conduct scholarly research. A PhD in disaster and emergency management or a related field is required. Past teaching experience is preferred.


Program Manager/Research Associate
National Center for Disaster Preparedness
New York, New York
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will assist with various activities related to NCDP research exploring the health and social impacts of disasters. Responsibilities include writing articles and reports, participating in grant development, and managing projects. A master’s degree in public health, urban planning, or public administration and five years of experience in disaster research are required. Project management experience is preferred.


Wildland Fire Youth Education Coordinator
National Fire Protection Association
Denver, Colorado
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position coordinates education and outreach projects to children and youth on wildfire safety, prevention, and mitigation topics. This position is part of NFPA’s Firewise Communities Program. Responsibilities include research and information gathering, development of educational materials and curricula, and coordination with partners and associated organizations. A bachelor’s degree, and certification in a related field or equivalent education, are required. Familiarity with child and youth education, outreach, and advocacy is preferred.


Emergency Management Coordinator
McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center
Springfield, Oregon
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will oversee the hospital emergency preparedness plan. Responsibilities include coordinating disaster drills and developing emergency management programs, plans, and procedures that comply with various regulatory agencies' requirements. Certification in the Incident Command System and Hospital Incident Command System and at least one year of emergency preparedness experience are preferred.


Assistant Professor
University of Memphis Center for Earthquake Research and Information
Memphis, Tennessee
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will conduct research in lithospheric dynamics. Responsibilities include building an externally funded research program, mentoring masters and PhD students, and teaching graduate courses. A PhD and demonstrated record of research productivity are 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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