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Number 585 • April 5, 2012 | Past Issues













1) Go Ahead and Panic: Fear-Inspiring Tornado Warnings Designed to Overcome Apathy

Once upon a time, the sound of an alarm was cause for, well, alarm. But nowadays we’re bombarded by so many sirens, beeps, and buzzers that they barely register. For those living in Tornado Alley, this desensitization can be deadly. Enter the National Weather Service with some adrenaline-inducing new tornado alerts.

“There is quite a lot of over-warning going on; it's kind of the car-alarm syndrome,” Col Galyean, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, told Reuters. “The idea is to better convey the impact that a storm is likely to have on a community.”

The new warnings—rolled out Monday in five NWS offices in Kansas and Missouri—will use disquieting lingo to make a strong point, according to a sample printed in the Washington Post. “Complete devastation of entire neighborhoods is likely,” “mass devastation is highly likely,” and “tornado may be unsurvivable if shelter is not sought,” are just a few examples of how NWS plans to drive the message home.

The purpose of the alerts isn’t to create panic, but to give residents a clear understanding of the threat they’re facing. Often warnings are sounded as a precautionary measure. But when tornadoes don’t touch down (and they don't about three quarters of the time), people become conditioned to ignore them.

"We have found in Mississippi and Alabama and various other Southern states that people feel they would constantly be going to a shelter if they heeded every tornado warning," Mississippi State University sociologist Laura Myer told the Associated Press.

To counteract that perception, the new warnings will be based on information from dual polarization Doppler radar to determine if the storm is collecting debris and how destructive it is, according to Reuters. Really rambunctious storms will warrant the more explicit messages, which will be sent to forecasters and emergency managers for redistribution

"We've chosen words and phrases in our warnings to really highlight those days where lives are on the line," Mike Hudson, a meteorologist in the Kansas City NWS office, told CNN. "You want to get (people) to respond in a way that will get them motivated to seek shelter."

That hasn’t always been the case at the NWS, according to a Slate warning system retrospective. Not only did the service lack the technology to make scary “mass devastation” predictions, it also operated on the then-prevalent (but since challenged) belief that giving the public the straight dope on emergency situations would result in mass panic.

Now, more than 60 years later, it’s mass complacency that must be battled. “We'd like to think that as soon as we say there is a tornado warning, everyone would run to the basement,” Ken Harding, also of Kansas City NWS office, told the Associated Press. “That's not how it is. They will channel flip, look out the window or call neighbors. A lot of times people don't react until they see it.”

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2) Fear and Loathing in Haiti: Politics and Distrust Keep Cholera Vaccine in the Cooler

In Haiti, even helping is hard to do. It should be no surprise that a long-battled-for program to vaccinate Haitians against cholera has stalled due to suspicions of clandestine medical experimentation and old-fashioned political stonewalling.

The derailed program, according to NPR, has more than $400,000 worth of cholera vaccine sitting in refrigerated containers waiting for the Haitian National Ethics Committee to dispel allegations that the medicine is experimental and untested. The hold up came after a Haitian radio station called the program a “medical experiment on the Haitian people,” according to NPR.

“There's been concern that this vaccine was experimental, and that's been really just a confusion of timing,” NPR Health Correspondent Richard Knox reported from Port au Prince in March. “Last year when they originally proposed it, this vaccine was not approved by the World Health Organization. Now it is. But lately, people have said this is an experiment. So, they're trying to work that out and make it clear that it's really not an experiment. This is a certified safe and effective vaccine.”

Haitians can hardly be faulted for being overly cautious in accepting the vaccine at face value, especially considering the cholera—a disease unknown in the country for decades—ostensibly arrived with those trying to help.  Still, with the disease’s death toll at more than 7,000 since the epidemic began in late 2010 and new cases spiking only one month into the rainy season, organizers wonder how much longer they can wait to begin.

“When it rains, everything mixes. It becomes a soup, which is a perfect breeding ground for every diarrheal disease, cholera included.” Vanessa Rouzier, a doctor working with the Haitian medical group GHESKIO, told NPR last week. “We know it's going to rain, we know it's going to flood, so we are afraid we are wasting precious time.”

Even assuming a quick and positive ethics committee review, the vaccine program is far from a panacea. The vaccine, which is to be administered in two locations, will only cover 100,000 Haitians. Even if organizers had access to all the vaccine worldwide, they could only inoculate about 2 percent of the Haitian population, according to NPR.

The inability to effect far reaching protection was one of the reasons Haiti’s past presidency opposed the program at its outset last year, along with fears that it would take the focus off treatment of the disease. The current administration has supported the program, but it—in typical Haitian style—has been paralyzed by the sudden resignation of Prime Minister Garry Conille. Until a new prime minister is appointed, the Haitian government is in a holding pattern, although the ethics committee is still studying the case, the Associated Press reported.

While frustrating for both aid agencies and Haitians—many of whom want the vaccine—the situation is representative of nearly two years of infighting and disagreement on how to approach treating, fighting, and eradicating the disease, according to an exhaustive examination of the epidemic in Sunday’s New York Times.

Most agree the lack of clean water and septic systems must be addressed before cholera becomes a thing of the past. But many are too focused on trying to treat the ill and dying to see that far into the future.

“Fixing the sanitation problem and giving access to potable water is the answer,” Rouzier told NPR. “But let's be realistic. When is that going to happen? And how many people can we allow to die in the meantime?”

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3) Red Cross Puts Its Social Media Where Its Mouth Is

It’s been less than a year since the Red Cross told emergency agencies that they needed to listen up when people used social media to communicate during disasters. Now it’s taking its own advice.

The organization last month announced the launch of a social media Digital Operations Center that will monitor social media outputs, such as tweets, YouTube videos, and Facebook posts, and use them to answer questions, anticipate needed resources, and connect people with nearby services. Creating maps and other social media visualizations to share with the public and emergency managers will also be on the center’s to-do list.

“Our goal is to become a social liaison for people, families and communities to support one another before, during and after disasters,” Red Cross President Gail J. McGovern said in the announcement.

The center, which was developed in partnership with Dell and is based on Dell's Social Media Listening Command Center, will be part of the Red Cross National Disaster Operations Center in Washington, D.C.  The new center will be staffed by volunteers from a newly formed Digital Volunteers program, the Red Cross stated.

The center’s launch is the latest in a series of Red Cross efforts to better understand and incorporate social media into disaster response in an authentic way. Among recent activities, the organization held an Emergency Social Data Summit and conducted a poll that found that one in five respondents would turn to social media for help if they weren’t able to reach 911—and 74 percent of those would expect a response in less than an hour.

“Social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response,” Wendy Harman, American Red Cross director of social strategy, stated in an August press release about the poll's results. “During the record-breaking 2011 spring storm season, people across America alerted the Red Cross to their needs via Facebook. We also used Twitter to connect to thousands of people seeking comfort…and safety information to help get them through the darkest hours of storms.”

Now that the digital operations center is online, the organization should be able to make those connections more easily and in real time, according to a Mashable article. And while the center will go a long way toward addressing the public expectations revealed by the poll, the Red Cross stresses that there's still no social media 911 call.

“We’re not at the point where we’re telling the public you can tweet at the Red Cross and we’ll send a sandwich truck out to feed you,” Harman told Mashable. “But if we see 20 tweets like that, we may.”

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4) Hot Spots and Cooling Trends: Terrorism (Thankfully) Ain't What it Used to Be

Media reports and color-coded terrorism advisories might give the impression that our post-9/11 world is rife with terrorism like never before. Not so, according to a recent report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).

The START report, Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008, looked at more than 2,600 terrorist attacks during the study period and found that not only have terrorist attacks declined dramatically, they’ve also been largely concentrated in five metropolitan areas. Terrorist attacks resulting in fatalities have also decreased substantially—even falling to zero in 2003-2005.

“Whereas nearly 1,500 events took place in the 1970s, just over 200 occurred from 2000 to 2008,” the report stated. “The number of fatal attacks has also decreased over this same period of time from a high of 26 in the 1970 calendar year to a low of 15 for the entire 2000 to 2008 time period.”

When it comes to where those events occurred, nearly one-third of all U.S. attacks in the last 40 years took place in five metropolitan counties—Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami-Dade, and Washington, D.C., the report stated. Between 1970 and 2008, Manhattan logged 343 attacks; Los Angeles County, 156 attacks; Miami-Dade, 103; San Francisco, 99; and Washington, D.C., 79.

The trend, however, does seem to be changing a little in recent years as some more rural counties—notably Maricopa County in Arizona, which includes the Phoenix metro area—have been labeled “hot spots,” (meaning they’ve had more than six attacks during the study period). This could be due to the type of terrorism, such as environmentally motivated attacks, said START Director Gary LaFree.

“Mainly, terror attacks have been a problem in the bigger cities, but rural areas are not exempt,” stated LaFree, who is also the lead author of the report. “The main attacks driving Maricopa into recent hot spot status are the actions of radical environmental groups, especially the Coalition to Save the Preserves. So, despite the clustering of attacks in certain regions, it is also clear that hot spots are dispersed throughout the country and include places as geographically diverse as counties in Arizona, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and Texas.”

Political motivations for the attacks have changed over time, as well. In the 1970s, left-wing groups dominated terrorist incidents. Ethno-national and separatist terrorism was concentrated in the 1970s and 1980s. Religiously motivated attacks occurred mostly in the 1980s. And extreme right-wing terrorism was concentrated in the 1990s, the report states.

According to the report, left-wing politics was the motivation for 364 attacks; a “single issue” motivated 337; ethno-national separatism, 320; and extreme right-wing political leanings were credited with 58. Perhaps most surprising—and reassuring, given recent fears—only 14 of the attacks were religiously motivated.

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

Call for Applications
Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: April 20, 2012
The Association of State Floodplain Managers is accepting applications for the Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship, which assists graduate and undergraduate students studying in fields related to floodplain or storm water management. The $2,000 scholarship will be awarded to a junior- and senior-level undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in an accredited college or university in the 2012-2013 academic year. Visit the scholarship page for full details and an application.


Call For Abstracts
Reckoning with the Risk of Catastrophe
U.S. National Science Foundation and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
Deadline: May 15, 2012
The U.S. National Science Foundation and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft are accepting abstracts for presentation at the Reckoning with the Risk of Catastrophe conference to be held October 3-5 in Washington, D.C. Abstracts should be cross disciplinary and examine risk identification, estimation, assessment, forecasting, perception, communication, or governance. Presenters are expected to have a strong interest in creating transnational research collaborations. See the conference Web site for full details.


Call for Abstracts
FMA Annual Conference
Floodplain Management Association
Deadline: May 18, 2012
The Floodplain Management Association is accepting abstracts for presentation at its annual conference, to be held September 4-7 in Sacramento, California. Papers related to the realities of flood risk, the economic impacts of floods, and the loss of natural resources caused by flood are welcome. For a full topic list and submission instructions, visit the conference Web site.

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6) Some New Web Resources

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

Crisis Standards of Care: A Systems Framework for Catastrophic Disaster Response
The Institute of Medicine has revisited its 2009 Crisis Standards of Care in this just-released report, which provides a guide for implementing special healthcare standards for use during catastrophes. The seven-volume set will include planning recommendations for state and local governments, emergency medical services, and hospitals and care facilities. Standards for out-of-hospital and alternate care during large-scale emergencies are also included.


Missouri Storm Aware
After a wave of tornadoes leveled Joplin last spring and left hundreds dead, much was made about the ineffectiveness of tornado sirens and lack of good shelter options. This spring, the state of Missouri is getting ahead of the game with a Web site that offers residents great information on what to do in a storm. The site, created in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service, dispels myths, offers life-saving facts, and tells users where to take cover when a tornado is on the way. Missourians can sign up for severe weather alerts delivered by text message to their mobile devices.


Disaster Information for Librarians
Don’t let the name fool you—this wiki goes far beyond helping those of librarian ilk. If you’ve ever needed or think you might need to quickly access disaster health information of any kind, this is your site. Created as part of HLWIKI Canada, a University of British Columbia resource for health librarians, the aim of the page is to help librarians working in disaster response. But with links to apps, RSS feeds, articles, journals, literature reviews, professional associations, widgets, e-mail lists, and much, much more, you’d be hard pressed not to find something useful.


Wind Map
This beautiful conceptualization uses wind data to weave art from science. Created by visualization specialists Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, the map uses information from the National Digital Forecast Database to create a “living portrait” of the wind blowing through our world. Although the artists warn not to use the map to fight wildfires or fly planes, it is a lovely tool for getting a better understanding of wind movement.


Pacific Northwest Tsunami Evacuation Zones
Tsunami watchers in Washington and Oregon now have a new tool to help keep them abreast of tsunami threats. Developed by the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems, the Web site and similar smartphone apps display customizable maps of tsunami threats, evacuation zones by region and city, and incorporate a slew of preparedness information. Site visitors can also create an account and have alerts for their area sent directly to their device.


Public Library of Science Currents: Disasters
The Public Library of Science, a nonprofit organization that supports research sharing and open access publishing, has just launched a publishing system for disaster research works. The system allows researchers to contribute works directly to the system, which are then peer-reviewed and published under a Creative Commons license that allows them to be read and freely used. A versioning process allows articles to be updated, as well.

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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]

April 10-14, 2012
EERI Annual Meeting and National Earthquake Conference
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Memphis, Tennessee
Cost and Registration: $550, open until filled
This conference will use recent and historic earthquakes to discuss lessons learned, the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure, seismic safety improvements for schools, and more. Topics include a New Madrid earthquake scenario workshop, unreinforced masonry performance in recent earthquakes, recovery lessons from past earthquakes, advances in early warning systems, barriers to mitigation and retrofits, community preparedness, and rehabilitation and seismic retrofit of existing buildings. 


April 16-20, 2012
Region 4 Conference
International Association of Emergency Managers
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Cost and Registration: $450, open until filled
This conference provides Certified Emergency Manager preparation courses, and training in hurricane exercises, the Emergency Management Accreditation Program, and the National Disaster Medical System.  Topics include satellite communications during disasters, the use of technology and social media in developing situational awareness, legal issues related to church and campus emergency management, human resource issues in emergency management, and strategies for developing disaster recovery plans.

April 23-26, 2012
National Radiological Emergency Preparedness Conference
National Radiological Emergency Preparedness Conference
St. Paul, Minnesota
Cost and Registration: $375 before April 16, open until filled
This conference will share radiological emergency preparedness program experiences and build innovative planning, exercise, and training methodologies. Session topics include the West Coast response to Fukushima, victim compensation in Japan and the United States, using “mock media” in exercises, and paperless county emergency operations plans.


April 25-26, 2012
National Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction
National Institute of Disaster Management
New Delhi, India
Cost and Registration: $50, closes April 20
This conference will discuss holistic disaster management strategies in India, with a focus on its physical, social, and economic vulnerabilities to natural disasters. Topics include mass casualty management, postdisaster needs assessments, long-term recovery plans, disaster education and awareness, corporate social responsibility, and strategies for mainstreaming indigenous knowledge into disaster risk reduction.


May 6-8, 2012
2012 Southeast Regional Conference
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Louisville, Kentucky
Cost and Registration: $375, open until filled
This conference will present new approaches to risk management, the hydraulic design of spillways, dam break modeling and analysis, and construction management. Sessions topics include ways to increase dam lifespan, grouting in piedmont geology, rehabilitating five National Resource Conservation Service dams in 20 months, and modeling and mapping dam breaches for emergency preparedness planning.


May 6-9, 2012
National Flood Conference
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Austin, Texas
Cost and Registration: $395 before April 1, open until filled
This conference will discuss the importance of floodplain management and the benefits of flood insurance. Topics include repetitive loss mitigation, coastal flood risk education, commercial losses, private flood insurance, and updates on FEMA’s Risk MAP Program. 


May 12-15, 2012
Third Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation
International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives—Local Governments for Sustainability
Bonn, Germany
Cost and Registration: $1,072, open until filled
This conference will discuss how cities can develop resilience to global climate change. Specific areas of focus include urban infrastructure resilience, urban food security and biodiversity, renewable energy, reliable transportation options, and funding for climate adaptation. Topics include risk assessment methodologies, resilient building and construction, integrated adaptation approaches, community-based solutions to climate change mitigation, and new approaches to urban planning and design.

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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.]

Urban Renewal and Shelter Manager
American Red Cross
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 20, 2012
This position will manage the American Red Cross urban renewal and shelter program in Port au Prince, Haiti. Responsibilities include establishing an RFP process, maintaining strong relationships with Port au Prince field staff, setting up contracts and administrative procedures, and documenting and evaluating progress. A bachelor’s degree and five years of experience in urban planning are required. Project management experience and fluency in French are preferred.


Chief Financial Officer
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $119,554 to $179,700
Closing Date: April 23, 2012
This position will lead the development of FEMA’s budget. Responsibilities include justifying major expenditures, supervising financial systems staff, coordinating efforts to identify and resolve major financial management problems, and evaluating financial management policies and operations. Leadership and financial management experience at or above the GS-15 level and comprehensive knowledge of congressional operations are required.


Emergency Management Coordinator
City of Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi, Texas
Salary: $44,304 to $76,990
Closing Date: Not posted
This position is responsible for managing the city’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security programs. Responsibilities include managing federal grant applications, applying for postdisaster financial assistance, coordinating response drills, and administering the budget. A bachelor’s degree and four years of experience coordinating emergency preparedness programs are required. Certified Emergency Manager designation is preferred.


Associate Professor / Professor
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, Missouri
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This tenure-track position will conduct independent research in biosecurity, infectious disease, disaster management, and environmental and occupational health. Responsibilities include teaching graduate and undergraduate courses. Preference will be given to senior scholars with a PhD and experience in global health, environmental and occupational health, or biosecurity. An additional position is also available for a non-tenure-track assistant/associate professor.


Water Resources Project Manager
Matteson Partners
Minot, North Dakota
Salary: $90,000 to $110,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for technical leadership of water resource projects. Responsibilities include managing staff, developing watershed master plans, and managing the planning, design, and construction of water resources. A bachelor’s degree in civil or environmental engineering and at least five years of experience in water resources are required. Certification in Floodplain Management is preferred.


Emergency Management Coordinator
Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
Baltimore, Maryland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will manage all aspects of the emergency management program including the development and testing of the hospital emergency management plan. Responsibilities include ensuring National Incident Management System compliance, documenting expenditures, conducting emergency preparedness exercises, and analyzing vulnerabilities. A bachelor’s degree and four years of experience in emergency management are required. Healthcare experience is preferred.

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