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Number 586 • April 19, 2012 | Past Issues













1) Man Cannot Live by Alert Alone: Tsunami Preparedness in Indonesia

Tsunami preparedness has come a long way in the eight years since the Indian Ocean tsunami ripped through South Asia, killing more than 225,000 people. The question is, has it come far enough?

The answer, provided last week by a high-magnitude yet essentially waveless earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, was a resounding “sort of.”

The 8.6 magnitude quake, which struck April 11, triggered the sprawling Indian Ocean tsunami warning systemand caused many countries to issue alerts. The warnings were well heeded and since more people have cell phones than they did in 2004, they were also better communicated to friends and family. Years of preparedness drills guided people to where to go.

Despite these improvements, some think that if the wall of water had come, many would have died. Broken sensor buoys, sirens without battery back up, and the sheer mass of people that would need to migrate to higher ground could all contribute to tragedy, experts said.

“The tsunami alert system worked to a degree,” Keith Loveard, chief risk analyst at Jakarta-based Concord Consulting told Reuters. “The simple message is that in any critical condition like this it's impossible to get everyone out in time.”

Even so, getting everyone out is the aim—one that is more within reach now that the famously delayed alert system is operational, according to IRIN reports. As late as 2010, the system was plagued with data holes caused by damaged buoys that hold sensors to monitor ground shaking and water movement and by a lack of sirens in remote locations.

Nearly 450 died that year when alarms failed to sound in remote areas of the Mentawai Islands. Although the buoy data gaps are shrinking, sirens are still a problem. It took more than 30 minutes to activate sirens in the more densely populated Aceh region thanks to power outages caused by the earthquake, a disaster agency official told Reuters.

“We understand that the ideal is to warn people of a tsunami five to 10 minutes after a quake. I wished we could have,” he said. “The power was cut completely and the operators were too scared to turn on the backup power because we saw wires dangling in the street. We decided to turn on the siren in the end.”

Staying informed is only half the battle. Even when people are getting the message, they can face obstacles in getting to safety. In Sri Lanka, the alert system was augmented by personal technology, but evacuees still faced issues related to congestion.

“The mass media, mobile telephones and [short messaging] mainly contributed to getting the word out,” World Vision’s Suresh Bartlett told the Los Angeles Times. “The news got to everybody. Of course the roads were a bit congested as people tried to get to higher ground.”

It may be time to focus more strongly on evacuation issues, considering seismologists are predicting more strong earthquakes in the Sumatra area, according to AlertNet.
Although slip-strike quakes like last week's are less likely to generate tsunamis, some think that quake put even more stress on the nearby Sunda megathrust, increasing the likelihood of future tsunami-generating earthquakes.

“We've had so many big earthquakes around in Sumatra in the past few years,” Earth Observatory of Singapore Director Kerry Sieh told Reuters, “that it seems like an awful lot of the faults around there seem ready to go.”

Fortunately, last week’s quake was a painless way for South Asian governments to assess what was right and wrong with their tsunami alert systems, and few seemed happy to rest on their laurels.

“It is during such moments that the effectiveness of our work on preparedness and early warning can be assessed,” Ignacio Leon-Garcia, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told ChannelNews Asia. “We must never let our guard down—there is always room for improvement.”

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2) Nursing Home Emergency Plans Are a Disaster

From documents scrawled on legal pads to those stored in boxes, a recent investigation into nursing home emergency plans found them severely lacking. The on-site inquiry at 24 nursing homes uncovered a plethora of missing and substandard plans that would leave residents without food, transportation, and medicine during a disaster.

The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, was part of a larger study that followed up on a 2006 examination of emergency planning and preparedness training in nursing homes. The study found that, despite guidelines and regulations, nursing homes are still sadly ill-prepared to take care of patients during disaster.
“We identified many of the same gaps in nursing home preparedness and response that we found in our 2006 report,” wrote authors in the latest report, released last week. “Emergency plans lacked relevant information…nursing homes faced challenges with unreliable transportation contracts, lack of collaboration with local emergency management, and residents who developed health problems.”

Even more disturbing is the fact that the 24 facilities visited were culled from 210 organizations that had already experienced flood, hurricane, or wildfire between 2007 and 2010, according to an Associated Press article.

“Of the 24 emergency plans, 23 did not describe how to handle a resident's illness or death during an evacuation,” the article stated. “Also, 15 had no information about specific medical needs of patients, such as feeding tubes and breathing equipment. Seven plans were silent on how to identify residents in an evacuation [and] 15 made no provision for including medication lists.

“None of the nursing homes met a government recommendation for a seven-day supply of drinking water if residents had to shelter in place and their regular source of water was unsafe or unavailable. Twenty-two had no backup plans to replace staff members unable to report for work during a disaster.”

Investigators also found that transportation contracts were often not honored during disasters and only covered patients—not food, supplies, and medical equipment—when they were, according to the 2012 report.

Regulations require all nursing homes have to have a disaster plan, but many elements of that plan are optional. In fact, 92 percent of the 16,000 nursing home facilities met the letter of federal requirements for emergency planning and 72 percent met training requirements, according to the Associated Press. 

Report authors recommended that those regulations be strengthened to include specific plan and training requirements, guidance be given on compliance, and nursing homes compelled to use existing planning checklists.

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3) Extremes: Climate Change, Wild Weather, and American Apathy

Americans believe that climate change is making weather worse, that they’ve experienced it personally, and they’re doing pretty much nothing about it.

So says a Yale report examining how people in the United States perceive weather extremes. The report, Extreme Weather, Climate and Preparedness in the American Mind, was compiled from a survey of 1,008 respondents' attitudes about weather, weather forecasts, specific extreme weather events, and global warming.

The results seem to point toward a gradual acceptance that climate change will lead to more extreme weather—even if they aren't preparing for it personally. More than 80 percent of respondents said they had personally experienced extreme weather in the past year, 35 percent had been harmed by it, and 52 percent believed it was getting worse, the report stated. Only 36 percent, however, had a disaster or emergency kit for their family (although 72 percent had considered getting one).

Perhaps more interesting than the disconnect between risk perception and preparation was a shift in the American view of climate change as a far-off specter. Past surveys indicated that the public saw such events as “distant in time and space—that [it was] an issue about polar bears or maybe Bangladesh, but not my community, not the United States, not my friends and family,” report author Anthony Leiserowitz told the New York Times.

That could be beginning to change, according to the survey results. The majority of respondents linked U.S. events such as Texas drought, record snowfall, and Mississippi flooding to climate change effects.

“Most people in the country are looking at everything that’s happened; it just seems to be one disaster after another after another,” Leiserowitz told the Times. “People are starting to connect the dots.”

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4) Student Paper Competition Deadline Approaching

The clock is ticking on the chance to win $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop. We’ll be choosing the winners for our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition soon. Graduate and undergraduate students have until April 30 to brush up that research and send it in!

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. Students must be enrolled for at least one term of the 2011-2012 academic year. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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

Call for Submissions
Fire Service Health and Safety Video Contest
National Fire Protection Association
Deadline: May 11, 2012
The National Fire Protection Association is accepting video submissions for its first Fire Service Health and Safety Video contest. Firefighters and department members are invited to submit videos that show their adherence to solid health and safety practices. The winning video will be chosen from four finalists by an online vote. Winners will receive a set of the latest NFPA public fire protection standards, an Apple iPad, and a $250 iTunes gift card for NFPA mobile applications and training. Contest rules and submission guidelines are available on the Firewise Web site.


Call for Applications
IAEM Scholarship Program
International Association of Emergency Managers
Deadline: May 15, 2012
The International Association of Emergency Managers is accepting applications for its scholarship program, which helps those interested in emergency management further their education. Full-time graduate and undergraduate students studying emergency management or a related field are invited to apply. Application forms are available online.


Call for Applications
Commercial Mobile Alert Service Research and Development

Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate
Deadline: May 24, 2012
The Science and Technology Directorate is accepting applications for research into ways to improve use of its Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS), which delivers emergency messages to mobile devices based on location. Research will be focused on geographic message targeting, how populations respond to alerts and warnings, and similar topics. Visit the page for more information on eligibility, funding availability, and how to submit a white paper.

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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]

Emergency Vehicle and Roadway Operations Safety
Fighting fires and responding to medical emergencies is already fraught with peril—first responders don’t need to add fiery auto accidents to list of things that can kill them. That’s why the U.S. Fire Administration has a bevy of initiatives meant to increase safety as emergency personnel rush from incident to incident. The site highlights studies, educational programs and best practices for firefighters, police, and emergency medical services.


Integrating Disaster Recovery: What Should Long-Term Disaster Recovery Look Like?
Long-term disaster recovery must reach into every nook and cranny of a community to restore and rebuild the lives of its members. How can such a detailed effort be organized? These are the topics tackled at the National Academies 34th Disasters Roundtable Workshop last month. Experts weighed in on issues of gauging progress, integrating recovery strategies, helping state, local, and national agencies collaborate, and much more. View the entire webcast or just the pieces you want to see on the page linked above.


North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza
Pandemics, by definition, don’t recognize national borders. Now neither does a plan to fight them in North America. Leaders of Canada, the United States, and Mexico agreed this month to the North American Plan for Animal and Pandemic Influenza, an interconnected system for outbreak surveillance and early warning and a framework for shared preparedness and response. Procedures for vaccine sharing during a pandemic are also outlined.


Retraction Watch
Speaking of pandemics, much of what we accept to be true about viruses and how to treat them comes from research published in a handful of respected scientific and medical journals. But did you know that retractions from such journals are at an all time high? Retraction Watch is the effort of two medical reporters to put these reversals into context and in one place. The authors are also interested in bumping up their coverage of other types of science journal retractions, so you can roll up your sleeves and help out, as well.


Just in case disaster preparedness doesn’t work out for you, you might want to have a DeadSocial account waiting in the wings. DeadSocial is like Facebook for dead people—set calendar events (mourn me, 7:00-3:30?), schedule messages, and upload pictures that will haunt your friends and family for all time. Now that social media truly is forever, you can hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

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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]

May 13-18, 2012
Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Cost and Registration: $195, open until filled
This conference will provide hurricane-focused emergency management training for businesses, elected officials, and the media. Topics include disaster frontline supervision, shelter management training, elevation certificate reviews, postdisaster redevelopment planning, social media for emergency managers, and issues in higher education emergency management.


May 14-16, 2012
Effective Risk Communication: Theory, Tools, and Practical Skills for Communicating about Risk
Harvard School of Public Health
Boston, Massachusetts
Cost and Registration: $1,595 before May 7, open until filled
This program will present new research and international case studies on risk perception and communication. Attendees will learn about decision science methods for developing and evaluating risk communication strategies, the importance of trust in risk communication, and lessons from the media.


May 15-17, 2012
Cross Border Workshop
Pacific Northwest Border Health Alliance
Tacoma, Washington
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference addresses emerging public health threats in the Pacific Northwest, including pandemic influenza, earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic eruption. Topics include health system challenges during a seismic event, federal medical resource support for a natural disaster, coordination of interstate healthcare volunteer responders, interstate medical surge planning, and post-seismic event health concerns. 


May 20-25, 2012
ASFPM 36th Annual Conference: Mission Mitigation
The Association of State Floodplain Managers
San Antonio, Texas
Cost and Registration: $665 before May 4, open until filled
This conference will discuss new techniques, programs, and resources for flood mitigation and watershed management. Topics include climate variability, stormwater retention standards, flood warning system design, education and outreach strategies, flood frequency determinations, national coastal policy issues, and the integration of hazard mitigation into floodplain management strategies.


August 20-24, 2012
Australasian Natural Hazards Management Conference
Massey University Joint Centre for Disaster Research and GNS Science
Christchurch, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $322 before June 4, open until filled
This conference will discuss how to apply new hazards research to emergency management planning processes. Topics include improving postdisaster response and recovery strategies, reducing risk through land use planning, and developing effective warning systems. Pre- and post-conference workshops in the following topics will also be available: emergency management planning for local governments, the role of gender in disasters, rapid evaluation of dangerous buildings, and children, families and disasters.


May 13-18, 2012
World Congress on Water, Climate, and Energy 2012
International Water Association
Dublin, Ireland
Cost and Registration: $1,187 before April 30, open until filled
This conference will look at technological, political, and economic challenges to creating resilient and sustainable cities. Topics include water resource management, sustainable drainage, water treatment, climate adaptation, wastewater utility improvements, integrated governance of water and energy, and the relationships between water, agriculture, and food supply. Workshops for forestry and young water professionals will also be available.

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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.]

Lead Public Assistance Closeout Specialist, GS-11
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $59,987 to $93,470
Closing Date: April 25, 2012
This position will work on the implementation, management, and closeout of Public Assistance grant programs. Responsibilities include supervising and distributing workload tasks to disaster assistance employees, conducting team building exercises, and reviewing Public Assistance eligibility determinations. A PhD in a relevant field, one year of specialized experience equivalent to the GS-9 level, or a combination of experience and education are required.


Assistant Professor
East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This tenure-track position will teach graduate and undergraduate classes in environmental health risks, decision making and risk management, and analytics and econometric tools for risk evaluation. The ideal candidate will be a microeconomist with a focus on risk and uncertainty. A PhD is required. Preference will be given to candidates with an active research agenda, publications in leading research journals, and the ability to teach effectively at the PhD level.


Disaster Recovery Coordinator
Scott & White Healthcare
Temple, Texas
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop procedures to ensure postdisaster continuity of operations. Responsibilities include developing and exercising disaster recovery plans, performing risk analyses to identify vulnerabilities and risk reduction strategies, establishing disaster recovery testing methodologies, and conducting disaster recovery training. A bachelor’s degree and at least four years of experience in business or information management are required. Certified Business Continuity Planner or Associate Disaster Recovery Planner accreditation is preferred.


All-Hazards Planner
Wyoming Governor’s Office
Cheyenne, Wyoming
Salary: $42,768 to $50,304
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will serve as the state coordinator for the National Flood Insurance Program. Responsibilities include conducting community assistance visits, developing and administering grants, resolving floodplain compliance issues, coordinating with FEMA to modernize flood maps, and conducting research for the Wyoming Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan. Knowledge of grant administration and state and federal homeland security laws are required.


Risk Management Solutions
Newark, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop earthquake risk models for emergency management professionals. Responsibilities include staying up-to-date on the latest earthquake research and designing seismological components of earthquake hazard models. A master's degree and postgraduate work in seismology, programming skills in high-level languages (e.g., Fortran, C++, and MATLAB), and proficiency with data analysis software are required. Working knowledge of ArcGIS software and project management experience are preferred.


Emergency Preparedness Manager
Xcel Energy
Monticello, Minnesota
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled                                                                             This position will coordinate emergency preparedness activities at the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant. Responsibilities include updating plant emergency response plans, training emergency preparedness staff, surveying and maintaining emergency and communication equipment, and ensuring the organization is prepared to respond in the event of an emergency. An associate’s degree in a technical discipline and five years of emergency preparedness experience at a nuclear power plant 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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