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Number 591 •July 26, 2012 | Past Issues













1) What We Heard: A Taste of the Hazards Workshop

Those familiar with the Natural Hazards Center know our year revolves around the planning and execution of our Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, which is known for its lively exchanges about current hazards research and practice.

This, our 37th year, was no different—we examined how we need to adapt to disasters in a new age and where failure to adapt has left us. We learned about the politics of climate change and the realities of climate change-caused flood, drought, and fire. We heard about children in disasters and what keeps old hazards experts up late at night. This year, perhaps more than ever before, we tackled issues of resilience—how to build it, why we need it, and what is it, anyway?

If you weren’t one of the nearly 500 people from 22 countries that attended, this issue of DR is for you. It showcases some of the ideas and resources that rose from the three-day gathering of researchers, practitioners, government officials, and nonprofit organizers. Our regular fare of hazards news and resources will be back on August 9.

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2) Too Close for Comfort: Hazards in Our Own Backyard

This year—with the entire state of Colorado in drought and wildfires visible from our offices—the Natural Hazards Center had the dubious pleasure of showcasing some homegrown hazards. And while we’d rather not have such shining examples, it was a great opportunity to raise some important issues—both for here and the rest of the country.

Take drought, for instance. As far as disasters go, drought is a red-headed stepchild. Even though the creeping hazard packs a wallop that can take generations to fully recover from, it gets little attention, even among hazards experts.

“It often takes impacts to get people to take action,” said Chad McNutt of the National Integrated Drought Information Systemin a panel on state and local drought emergency management. “By the time you have impacts it’s too late.”

No one knows that better than Mike Bewley of the Texas Division of Emergency Management. Bewley has the unenviable job of figuring out what to do with Texas towns that completely run out of water—and not in a theoretical way.

“We have a lot of droughts in Texas, but what we have here is something else,” Bewley said. “This is unprecedented planning about what are we going to do when these cities start running out of water. How do you depopulate a city? It’s there, it’s totally intact, it just doesn’t have any water. If you live in the Western states, it’s coming your way.”

Although Texas has been besieged by years-long drought and resulting wildfires, and some suburbs have indeed run out of water, Bewley is only beginning to see some federal interest in regional drought planning.

That's not surprising, according to Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on the same panel.

“You have to look long and hard under FEMA standards to even realize drought is a hazard,” she said. “Managing drought often falls to local and state management.”

In Colorado, the CWCB has done a lot of work to make that easier, creating tools and guidelines for local drought management, overhauling the Colorado drought plan, and trying to start a dialogue with those in impacted sectors like industry and tourism.

Despite all the hard work being done by low profile drought planners, there seems to be one good way to call attention to how dry it's gotten—wildfires. Which brings us back to the one we were watching from our office, the Flagstaff fire in the Boulder Flatirons.

The Flagstaff fire burned perilously close to the National Center for Atmospheric Research Table Mesa Lab, where we have our annual Hazards Workshop barbeque. Since we were there anyway (and nothing livens a party like talking about looming hazards) we brought in Kevin Stewart of the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, Bob Glancy of the National Weather Service, and Mike Chard of Boulder Emergency Management to explain the contours of a singular partnership born of necessity.

The three have been able to work together, using a vast system of UDFCD rain gauges, to detect and warn residents during two seasons of extreme and persistent flash flood danger—yet another Colorado hazard exacerbated by burn areas where there’s no longer vegetation to soak up rapid rainfall.

While the tour and its visual reminder of Colorado’s beautiful but dangerous environment was great success, it was somehow fitting that Glancy insisted that the session be finished up inside—thanks to the threat of the state’s number one natural hazard—lightning.

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3) Real-Life Resilience: Stories of Disasters and the Communities That Survived Them

When you eat, breathe, and sleep disaster, it can be easy to forget something simple—most people don’t. Attendees at the Natural Hazards Workshop last week were reminded of that fact as they listened to tales of how three communities grappled with what was, for them, the unimaginable.

We weren’t planning for it at all,” said Administrator Gretchen Neggers, of the Town of Monson, Massachusetts, about a rare tornado that ripped through the small town last June. “Throw us three feet of snow—we're good, we can handle that.”

Neggers painted a picture of the bewilderment many small communities must face in the wake of such an unexpected event. While there were no deaths, the destruction was significant. Town offices, the library, the police station, and the senior center were all destroyed. The town’s volunteer emergency manager was on vacation.

Enter the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which outnumbered the small town council and staff and blitzed the community with their business-as-usual disaster expertise.

“We learned in the first few days that there was a need for local leadership,” Neggers said. “FEMA came to help, but we were a little confused about all the stuff FEMA did.”

While the nuts and bolts of federal disaster assistance were getting sorted out, it became clear that what people needed to recover was each other. The first town meeting was less about getting information and more about being together in the same space, Neggers said. Since the disaster, group activities such as yoga and tai chi have became popular.

“People just wanted to be together and do things that made them be well again,” Neggers said.

The need to reestablish community was equally important for Joplin Schools following the May 22, 2011, EF5 tornado that killed seven students and one teacher, said Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer.

Almost immediately after the storm, school district staff began trying to account for their students using the school auto-dialer, Facebook, Twitter, radio announcements, e-mail, text messages, and even going door-to-door where they could. In five days they had accounted for almost everyone.

Once their students were located, the schools set out to be a place of normalcy and provide help for kids and families reeling from the destruction. Even though the district had lost its administrative offices, it recognized the importance of getting the actual schools—all of which had been damaged—back on line as soon as possible.

“We knew we were not going to be satisfied with a field full of trailers,” Besendorfer said. “It was a child’s only junior year; it was their only second-grade year—it couldn’t be a temporary education.”

That attitude is similar to the advice given by Bob Dixson, mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, which was 95 percent destroyed by an EF5 tornado in 2007. Since then, the town has been largely rebuilt using sustainable building practices. Dixson told the audience that it was important for morale to take action and celebrate every success of recovery.

“You’ve got to be engaged, don’t wait for some agency come to save you,” he said. “You pull yourself up by the bootstraps and you keep going.”

Because of the near-complete devastation, Greensburg's residents literally had little left but each other. The dynamic created a unique process where the whole of the community became deeply involved in the rebuilding. This isn’t merely the magical effect of surviving disaster, Dixson said.

“In the midst of disaster, all it does is magnifies where you are as a community,” Dixson said.

While the statement hearkened to many Hazards Workshop conversations on how to create a resilient community that—like Monson, or Joplin, or Greensburg—could weather the storms of outrageous fortune and thrive, the Mayor reminded the audience that for all the study and planning and thought given to natural hazards, ultimately it's individuals that truly make the difference.

“You’ve got the answers, but that’s academia,” Dixson said. “And we can do all the pre-planning of the manual, but when a 210 mile-per-hour wind comes along the manuals are gone. What you’ve got to rely on is your human spirit.”

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4) Practice Makes Perfect and Other Lessons in Resilience

Disaster resilience comes with practice, whether it’s practice from experiencing previous disasters or conducting disaster exercises. It also comes from growing strong social networks. And from the guidance of determined and collaborative leaders.

These are among the lessons learned by the authors of an upcoming National Academies report called Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters, which was commissioned to gain a broad, multidisciplinary perspective of how to best strengthen national resilience. Four of the report’s 13 committee members spoke about their experiences compiling the report at the Natural Hazards Workshop last week.

Before the committee could begin to determine how to strengthen resilience, though, they had to tackle the oft-contested topic of what resilience is. They opted for a broad definition: the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, or more successfully adapt to actual or potential adverse events.

With that in mind, the committee made several site visits to New Orleans; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Southern California to assess factors that increased a community's ability to recover from a disaster. They found that strong social networks, previous disaster experience, exercising disaster preparedness, and strong local leadership were critical components in fostering resilience.

One of the strongest examples of multiple qualities of resilience was the Vietnamese community in Village de l’Est, New Orleans. The small community of fishermen is largely made up of survivors of the Vietnam War and their children and grandchildren. That shared history of survival—along with solid social networks stemming from a common heritage, occupation, and language—was manifested in the ability and will to rise from the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.

“Members of the Vietnamese community have a collective identity as survivors,” said Monica Schoch-Spana of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity. “They viewed the destruction as a way to rebuild the community even stronger. They consider themselves a self-reliant people who were able to build new lives after leaving Vietnam.”

That proved to be true as the people relied on their own social capital to rebuild. Many of the Vietnamese fishermen lent each other money to get back on their feet. Those who were successful in turn lent more people money, and the community members didn’t have to rely on scarce bank loans to reestablish their businesses, Schoch-Spana said.

That momentum spread to the rest of Village de l’Est as well, and unlike many New Orleans communities, the city was able recover more quickly and mostly on its own.

“It had a positive influence on the rest of the community,” Schoch-Spana said. “It distinguished itself by a high a high rate of return and a rapid rate of rebuilding with little government assistance.”

Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters is expected to be released August 1.

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5) More Workshop Coverage Coming Your Way—In Print!

For those of you who crave more in-depth coverage and analysis, subscribe to the Natural Hazards Observernow back in print!

The September Observer will kick off another year of examining the tough issues in hazards research and practice with its 2102 Workshop coverage. For only $15, you'll get The Disaster Years—a new book of the best Rob Pudimcartoons from the past 36 years—followed a year of the Observer delivered every two months by First Class mail.

Subscribe now so you don't miss an issue! (If you prefer to read online, you can still subscribe to receive e-mail alerts when the free PDF version is posted on the Web site.)

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

Call for Proposals
Disaster Health Information Outreach and Collaboration Project
National Library of Medicine
Deadline: August 8, 2012
The National Library of Medicine is accepting proposals for its annual Disaster Health Information Outreach and Collaboration Project, which issues grants of $15,000 to $30,000 to help improve disaster medicine and public health information access for health professionals, first responders, and others who work in health-related disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. For a list of project topics, guidelines, and how to submit a proposal, visit the project Web site.


Call for Applications
Warren E. Isman Educational Grant
National Fire Protection Association
Deadline: September 15, 2012
The National Fire Protection Association is accepting applications for the Warren E. Isman Educational Grant, which provides funds to fire, police, or other public hazardous materials teams so they can receive specialized training. Awards are given based on training levels, leadership abilities, and communication skills. For more information on how to apply, visit the NFPA Web site.


Call for Proposals
Partners to Manage PERI Programs
Public Entity Risk Institute
Deadline: September 30, 2012
The Public Entity Risk Institute is restructuring its operations and seeks proposals from potential public charity partners to manage its programs and provide other services. Successful proposals will demonstrate an understanding of PERI’s vision, knowledge of public risk management, and established relationships with the PERI constituency. To read the full text of the request for proposals, visit the PERI Web site.

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7) Some New Web Resources

The following resources are just a few featured by presenters and panelists at the 2012 Hazards Workshop. Some are hot off the presses, others have been around for a while, but all come highly recommended.

LENA: Legal Networks Analyzer
If you’re interested in public health legislation and how it differs from state to state, LENA is your girl. Developed by the University of Pittsburgh, this database contains laws governing 42 public health systems. By using the interactive analysis, users can see the variance in the types and amounts of laws meant to guide preparedness and emergency response, compare state information, and access the text of the laws analyzed. Not into public health? LENA does something similar with nuclear preparedness and response legislation, as well.


Drought Planning Toolbox
With and estimated 55 percent of the United States thought to be experiencing some level of drought, it might not be a bad time to check out the Drought Planning Toolbox created by the Colorado Water Conservation Board with an eye toward assisting state and municipal planners. Although some toolbox resources are Colorado specific, there’s still plenty of information to help others prepare for drought, including national drought monitoring resources, local drought planning guidance, climate change information, and financial assistance available for drought response.


Silver Jackets
On the other end of the local water spectrum, the Silver Jackets program has been created to help states deal with flood risk management. With guidance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 31 states have formed Silver Jackets teams that use an interagency approach to communicating and managing risk, leveraging resources, coordinating mitigation, and taking down barriers to working together. Visit this Web site to learn more about the program and how to develop a team in your state.


Rebuild Christchurch
One of the recurrent themes at this year’s Hazards Workshop was the role of community—as opposed to individuals—before and after disasters. This Web site, created by a group of Christchurch residents, is an example of these community-driven efforts to take charge of response and recovery. In this case, the group created a forum to exchange news of and opinions on rebuilding and to ask questions about hard-to-find reconstruction information.


Making Cities Resilient Toolkit
Another Hazards Workshop theme (for a couple of years running) is resilience. And while we’re still no closer to solving the semantics of what resilience exactly means, many see it as building some sort of capacity to bear hardship before the hardship happens. That’s the tack taken by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction when it created this top ten list of things cities can do to reduce disaster risk—including budgeting for risk reduction, investing in infrastructure, implementing risk-compliant building requirements, and protecting ecosystems that naturally buffer risk.


Institute for Business and Home Safety Research Center
If you want to watch a house burn to the ground or blow away in a hurricane but schadenfreude isn’t really your thing, then there’s the IBHS research center Web site. The site showcases work being done at IBHS’s huge research center, which is capable of creating realistic hazards (including storms that generate up to 8 inches of rain per hour and the wind of a Category 3 hurricane). The center was created to test and demonstrate how small building elements can make a big difference when disaster strikes.

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8) 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]

September 24-28, 2012
15th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering
International Association of Earthquake Engineering and the Portuguese Association of Earthquake Engineering
Lisbon, Portugal
Cost and Registration: $729 before August 1, open until filled
This conference will discuss seismology research, structural engineering, seismic risk assessments, and the social and economic issues surrounding earthquakes worldwide. Topics include seismic vulnerability and risk analysis, a global earthquake model, protecting cultural and historic buildings, political aspects of earthquake risk reduction, the role of architecture and urban planning in earthquake resilience, and the seismic safety of existing nuclear power plants.


October 1-2, 2012
Third Annual Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference
Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference
Boise, Idaho
Cost and Registration: $100 before August 31, open until filled
This conference will discuss expected climate impacts for the Pacific Northwest and research needed on adaptation and mitigation strategies. Topics include adaptation strategies for the Columbia basin; climate change impacts on regional agriculture, food security, human health, and natural resources; hydrological effects of regional climate change; climate change communication strategies; and vulnerability assessments.


October 6-11, 2012
National Weather Association Annual meeting
National Weather Association
Madison, Wisconsin
Cost and Registration: $530, open until filled
This conference will look at technologies that improve weather forecasting and communication with the general public. Topics include numerical weather prediction, remote sensing with current and future environmental satellites, development of a winter impact index for the Twin Cities, wildland fire forecasting, probabilistic forecasting of severe convection, and severe weather simulations.


October 5-7, 2012
Disaster Response Challenge
British Red Cross
London England
Cost and Registration: $66, open until filled
This two-day hypothetical disaster will provide firsthand knowledge of the issues and decisions experienced by Red Cross units when responding to a major incident. Each team will act as independent emergency response unit and develop their own disaster response plan as the scenario unfolds in real time. Specific modules dealing with logistics, communications, first aid evacuation, and security will be included.


October 24-26, 2012
Ninth Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Symposium
Canadian Risk and Hazards Network
Vancouver, Canada
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference looks at the importance of relationships and partnerships in community resilience. Topics include the risks associated with cyberattacks, sharing responsibility for critical infrastructure resilience, disaster resilience planning, indigenous resilience and disaster management issues, and risk planning for major events.


November 13, 2012
Emergency Management: Themes in Emergency Planning, Response, and Recovery
Nottingham Trent University
Nottingham, England
Cost and Registration: $219, open until filled
This conference will discuss the theoretical and empirical foundations of emergency management and new research implications for policy and practice. Topics include major incident response and crisis management, emerging trends in emergency response and disaster management, business continuity planning and disaster recovery, and community resilience and recovery.

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9) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Private Sector Division Director, GS-15
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $127,758 to $155,500
Closing Date: July 18, 2012
This position will develop a national emergency preparedness public outreach program. Responsibilities include building relationships with major companies and universities, engaging high-ranking public officials, managing and training a team of staff, and representing FEMA at various public and private sector events. One year of experience at or above the GS-14 level is required.


Geophysicist, GS-7
U.S. Geological Survey
Golden, Colorado
Salary: $41,631 to $66,195
Closing Date: August 2, 2012
This position will provide general earthquake information to government and disaster relief agencies, as well as the media and general public. Responsibilities include determining earthquake locations and magnitudes around the world, evaluating the accuracy and reliability of automated programs that compute earthquake parameters, and interpreting digitally recorded seismograms from the Advanced National Seismic System. This position includes handling sensitive instruments, recording measurements, and performing mathematical computations. One year of related experience is required.


Assistant Professor
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: August 3, 2012
This tenure-track position will teach undergraduate and graduate courses in natural resources and environmental policy. Responsibilities include directing graduate student research, publishing articles in professional journals, and acquiring external funding for research. A PhD in natural resources or environmental policy and a strong background in wildland fire, water resources, environmental easements, National Forest management, policy analysis, community forestry, political theory, international law, or energy are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $89,033 to $115,742
Closing Date: August 9, 2012
This position will assist the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance with identifying countries for disaster risk reduction intervention. Responsibilities include providing advice on various DRR activities, developing increased awareness of DRR strategies within OFDA, managing the production of reports on disaster risk reduction, and providing oversight of risk reduction at the national and regional levels. A bachelor’s degree in a DRR-related field and at least seven years of experience with humanitarian relief are required.


Emergency Management Coordinator
University of Alaska
Juneau, Alaska
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will coordinate university emergency preparedness planning activities. Responsibilities include conducting risk analyses for campus operations and programs, training campus leaders in continuity planning, coordinating a comprehensive campus business continuity plan, and distributing risk management policies and procedures to the campus community. Three years of experience in emergency management and a bachelor’s degree in urban planning, public administration, or public safety are required. Incident Command System instructor certification is preferred. Search for job #0064080.


Emergency Management Coordinator
Jacksonville, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position assists with developing disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans. Responsibilities include facilitating planning committee meetings; creating training curricula; assisting cities with continuity of operations, emergency response, and evacuation planning; establishing relationships with the private sector; and coordinating postdisaster damage assessments. Knowledge of FEMA planning standards and continuity of operations plan requirements, experience presenting public information programs, and experience developing and administering emergency preparedness programs are required.


Disaster Information Librarian
ICF International
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will identify, develop, and update disaster information resources for librarians, emergency management professionals, and the general public. Responsibilities include managing ICF International’s Web site and social media accounts, indexing resources according to national and international standards, complying with copyright and contractual commitments, developing promotional materials, and developing contacts in the medical, health, emergency management, and information communities. A master’s degree in library science and at least five years of information management experience in a library are required. An understanding of disaster management is preferred.

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