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Number 593 • August 23, 2012 | Past Issues













1) Coming Soon to a Pond Near You? West Nile Makes a Comeback

When it rains, it pours. That’s especially true in Texas, where some much-needed moisture came with something absolutely unneeded—a West Nile outbreak of emergency proportions. 

A Dallas County judge declared a public health emergency on August 10 after 175 cases of West Nile were reported in the county, according to CNN. The declaration allowed the county to receive state and federal assistance in stanching the virus' spread, including a controversial aerial spraying campaign to eliminate mosquitoes carrying the disease.

While Texas leads the nation in 2012 West Nile occurrences (537 human infections and 19 deaths, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers released Tuesday), experts weren’t inclined to simply label the outbreak local.  

“With this huge outbreak in Texas, the jury is still out on what’s going to happen with the rest of the country,” Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC Division of Vector-borne Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times last week. “But in Chicago, we’ve already observed high numbers of West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes. This is looking like a large regional event. We don’t know if the number of cases is going to drastically increase, but we do expect more cases.”

Since then the number of reported cases nationwide has shot up to 1,118, according to the CDC, with 75 percent located in five states—Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. Those numbers point to one of the worst outbreaks on record, with mosquitoes likely to be active through October.

“[These] are the highest numbers of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999,” Petersen said in a press conference Wednesday (the full transcript of which is available online). “In comparison, one month ago, there were only 25 people with West Nile virus disease reported to the CDC.”

More than half of all West Nile cases this year have been reported in Texas, Peterson said. The next hardest hit state is Mississippi with 79 cases. Last year, California led the nation with 158 cases reported. In 2010, it was Arizona with 167 cases, and Texas led with 115 cases in 2009.

There’s no definitive answer for the uptick in West Nile cases this year, but factors such as hot weather can contribute to increased mosquito populations while at the same time making transmission of the virus easier, Petersen said in the press conference. Local conditions also weigh in heavily.

“Oftentimes West Nile virus is a very local disease, you can have a lot of cases in one area and it has a lot to do with the local ecology of that area,” he said. “How many birds might be susceptible?  The particular population of mosquitoes … frankly, [the factors] are difficult to predict and know why outbreaks occur in certain areas and not others.”

In places like Indiana and Texas, officials are treating the outbreaks with the same tactics they would any other disaster.

“One of the lessons that we learned from our disaster experiences we have to have a very organized response,” said Texas Commissioner of Health David Lakey at the CDC press conference. “We set up what we call Incident Command using our emergency management system several weeks ago so that we could have that type of coordination between the local government, state government, federal government, public health emergency management all working together.”

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2) The Drought Beneath Our Feet: Lack of Water Runs Deep

Thanks to record heat and wildfires, issues of drought in the United States are finally starting to get some needed attention. But images of bleached bones and dry, cracked creek beds don’t convey how deep our water depletion runs.

A new assessment makes the worldwide reduction in groundwater crystal clear. The analysis, published in Nature this month, examined groundwater stores and use in relation to rates of renewal and found the “groundwater footprint” (defined by the authors as “the area required to sustain groundwater use and groundwater-dependent ecosystem services”) was about 3.5 times larger than the actual area of the world’s aquifers.

“That said,” the authors write in their abstract, “80 percent of aquifers have a groundwater footprint that is less than their area, meaning that the net global value is driven by a few heavily overexploited aquifers.”

Among those threatened aquifers is the Ogallala, which spreads about 174,000 square miles from Texas to the Dakotas. The aquifer is the source for 30 percent of the country’s irrigation groundwater and also provides drinking water for 82 percent of the more than 2.3 million people that live in its boundaries, according to a U.S. Geological Survey fact sheet.

According to the recent assessment, the High Plains aquifer system (of which the Ogallala is a part) has a groundwater footprint of 5-10 times its actual size. Even in moister times, too much water is pumped from the aquifer—and these aren’t moist times. The lack of surface water is driving farmers to rely even more on the aquifer for irrigation, compounding the problem.

“The problem with drawing too much water from an aquifer, which has been stored in these geologic formations for thousands of years, is that it can’t easily be restored once pumped dry,” writes Scientific American editor David Biello. “That’s the crisis facing farmers who rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, which once contained enough water to cover the entire continental U.S. roughly half-a-meter deep. Once pumped dry, the Ogallala would take at least 6,000 years to refill.”

While the new science of groundwater footprint calculations may bring troubles brewing deep underground into the light, whether it will be compelling enough to change entrenched thinking about what we can't see with our own eyes is another question. A recent California Energy Commission legal analysis of barriers to water sector climate adaptation makes it clear just how far we have to go.

In California, groundwater use continues to depend on the legal categories of "surface water," "percolating groundwater," and "subterranean streams." The Commission report sparely explains the problem with this scheme by quoting Berkeley Law Professor Joseph Sax.

“To put the matter as simply as possible, the above categories do not accord with scientific understanding of the occurrence and distribution of water on and in the earth."

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3) Study Shows Landslides Are Deadlier than We Thought

When it comes to reckoning how many deaths can be attributed to landslides, a new study shows previous estimates were off by, well, a landslide. Actual annual landslide deaths could be more than ten times what was once thought, according to analysis of new data collected over seven years, published in Geology this month.

“We need to recognise the extent of the problem and take steps to manage what is a major environmental risk to people across the world,” said Durham University geographer David Petley in a statement. “Our database will enable us to do this by identifying areas most at risk and could help to save thousands of lives.”

The database showed about 32,300 people died in landslides between 2004 and 2010. Previous estimates for that timeframe ranged from 3,000 to 7,000 fatalities, according to a Durham press release. The discrepancy likely derives from how—and if—the deaths are categorized, Petley said.

"Other data sets tend to collect data on the basis of trigger—hurricane or typhoon,” he told BBC News. “Most of the other data sets also have a higher threshold—they only record events that kill 10 people or more, for example, but there are lots of landslides that kill relatively small numbers of people.”

Even this new accounting doesn’t square the books. Because his database doesn’t include seismically induced landslides, Petley believes the numbers are even higher. In those events, it’s often too difficult to tell whether the cause of death was the earthquake, the landslide, or some other factor.

More information on the data analysis (including maps, an unpublished list of landslide deaths by country, and a helpful offer to e-mail readers a copy of the recent paper) is available on Petley’s Landslide Blog.

“Landslides are a global hazard requiring a major change in perception and policy,” he said in the statement. “There are things that we can do to manage and mitigate landslide risks such as controlling land use, proactive forest management, and guiding development away from vulnerable areas.”

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4) Double the Fund: UNDP Ready To Bank on Disaster Resilience

The United Nations Development Programme is upping the ante by making disaster risk reduction central to development activities, including doubling UNDP disaster reduction assistance over the next five years.

The commitment to increasing disaster resilience was announced last week in an address by UNDP head Helen Clark in Christchurch, New Zealand. That speech emphasized the need for collaboration between humanitarian and development agencies, as well as investment in protecting populations from disaster.

“I see our work in disaster risk reduction being about building fences at the top of cliffs, rather than being content to place ambulances at the bottom,” she said.

The extra funding will correspond with a new phase in disaster risk reduction, as well. With the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s Hyogo Framework for Action set to wrap up in 2015, UNISDR is planning for the next chapter in creating global disaster resilience (to see how you can contribute, see the Callouts section below).

“UNDP and other UN agencies have an important role to play in mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into their day-to-day development work and that experience is very important to the debate now underway among member States on a new international instrument for disaster risk reduction,” UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström told the UN News Service. “It will be a major feature of next year's Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction.”

Investment in disaster reduction is not only “cost effective and smart development,” Clark told her Christchurch audience, it’s also imperative to development strategies. Because the gains made by development are so easily be undone by disaster, they should be intrinsic to the foundation of growth, she said.

“In view of mounting disaster losses, investment in disaster risk reduction needs to be scaled-up exponentially.”

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

Call for Session Proposals
Research Committee on Disasters
International Sociological Association
Deadline: September 1, 2012
The International Sociological Association World Congress of Sociology is accepting session proposals for the Research Committee on Disasters (RC-39) session at its 2014 meeting, to be held July 13-19 in Yokohama, Japan. Those interested should send a three- to five-sentence description, along with other relevant details, to Lori Peek or Sudha Arlikatti. For more information, visit the call for proposals Web page.


Call for Participation
Essay and Photo Contest
U.S. Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and EMPOWER
Deadline: September 30, 2012
The U.S. Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and EMPOWER are accepting entries into an essay and photo contest celebrating women and girls' disaster risk reduction efforts. The contest theme is aligned with the UNISDR 2012 International Day of Disaster Reduction. Children in kindergarten through 12th grade are encouraged to submit a picture, photo, or essay that portrays ways in which they’ve seen women and girls work to reduce disaster risk. For full information and submission instructions, visit the contest rules online.


Call for Participation
Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction Online Dialogues
UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Deadline: November 30, 2012
The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction will be holding its first round of dialogues on the future of disaster risk reduction beginning August 27. Participants are invited to share their thoughts regarding the Post-2015 Framework in an online, professionally facilitated discussion. Background information for the discussions can be found in Towards a Post-2015 Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction.

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6) Some New Web Resources

The Science and Entertainment Exchange
For anyone that has ever squirmed at the liberties Hollywood sometimes takes with science, there’s the Science and Entertainment Exchange. The Exchange is a National Academies of Sciences program that keeps the movies real by connecting scientists with film and TV writers. Don’t care much how the facts are portrayed? The Exchange also hosts film screenings, panel discussions, and has a bundle of entertaining info on its Web site.


Firewise Toolkit
There’s no need to go looking hither and yon for your favorite Firewise resources any more—they’ve all been neatly collected in the Firewise Toolkit. The kit, which can be downloaded in whole or in part, is great for referring friends or just bookmarking for your next fire prevention project weekend. A Guide to Firewise Principles and the Firewise Tips Checklist for Homeowners are among the publications included.


National Strategy for Biosurveillance
The nation edged closer to a plan to keep Americans safe from biological threats with the release of this strategy earlier this month. The strategy emphasizes early detection of biothreats, regardless of if they stem from terrorist action, infectious disease, or food-borne illness. The first-ever strategy will also serve as a guide to build partnerships and inform decision making in a time of threat.


The Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit
After disaster strikes, those tasked with rebuilding homes and businesses might not have the time and energy to consider building back sustainably. With this toolkit, they won’t need much. The kit was created to be delivered in a one-day workshop and contains all the materials needed in ten modules—a trainer’s guide, training materials, PowerPoint slides, and other resources.


Wall of Wind
If you haven’t stopped by Florida International University’s Wall of Wind site lately, you might be surprised what’s blown into the facility at the International Hurricane Research Center. The project just unveiled its latest 12-fan wall of wind, capable of mimicking a Category 5 hurricane. Talk about the WoW effect—and just in time to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, too.

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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]

September 7, 2012
Adopting Disaster Resilient Construction at the Local Level
National Ready Mixed Concrete Association
Glen Allen, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $95, open until filled
This conference will talk about how to formalize and implement disaster-resilient construction on a community level. Topics include assessing local disaster risks, benefits and techniques of disaster mitigation, enhancing resilience through building code modifications, building safe rooms and storm shelters, and the economic value of disaster-resilient concrete construction.


September 24-26, 2012
2012 Emergency Management and Homeland Security Education and Campus Preparedness Summit
California State University Council for Emergency Management and Homeland Security
Fresno, California
Cost and Registration: Free, closes September 1
This conference will address accomplishments and upcoming goals in the process of creating a formalized emergency management and homeland security academic discipline. Issues of campus preparedness will also be examined. Topics include emergency preparedness on campus, protecting critical campus infrastructure, integrating youth CERT programs, best practices in campus ShakeOut participation, cybersecurity education, and resiliency in homeland security and EM education.


October 22-25, 2012
Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction
National Agency for Disaster Management
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Cost and Registration: Free, closes October 1
This conference will discuss how to integrate local risk reduction into national development plans, ways to finance and conduct local risk assessments, and how to strengthen local risk governance. Topics include identifying local mitigation priorities, allocating funding for disaster risk reduction in rehabilitation and reconstruction, ensuring local participation in risk reduction planning, and incorporating climate change into disaster risk assessments.


October 25-26, 2012
12th International Wildland Fire Safety Summit
International Association of Wildland Fire
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $395 before September 25, open until filled
This summit will focus on the challenges of teaching wildland fire safety to a new generation of fire fighters as the workforce continues to age. Topics to be covered include new approaches to fire safety, key lessons to teach the next generation, empowering new fire recruits, and safety responsibilities shared by both new and retiring firefighters.


November 5-11, 2012
Fourth International Symposium on Fire Economics, Planning and Policy
Mexico National Forestry Commission, U.S. Forest Service, International Wildland Fire Association, and Others
Mexico City, Mexico
Cost and Registration: $400, open until filled
This conference will look at increased costs of wildfire management and the futility of fighting fires in environments without fuel management strategies. Topics include the consequences of differing management strategies, real and perceived influences of climate change, sustainable forest management, hazardous fuel treatment, and research solutions to current wildland fire challenges.


November 6, 2012
High-Rise Aerial Firefighting and Rescue
Tangent Link
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Cost and Registration: $140, open until filled
This conference will examine the feasibility of fighting high-rise fires using helicopters. Topics include case studies of helicopter use in urban Moscow firefighting, how to form helicopter firefighting and rescue teams, and standard operating procedures for high-rise fire and rescue operations.

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8) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Program Support Assistant, GS-7
National Fire Academy
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $42,209 to $54,875
Closing Date: August 28, 2012
This position supports the curriculum and instruction branch of the National Fire Academy in a programmatic and administrative capacity. Duties include coordinating correspondence and action items, responding to public inquiries, and assisting in developing briefing materials. One year of specialized experience providing program and administrative support is required.


Emergency Preparedness and Response Training Coordinator
Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment
Denver, Colorado
Salary: $46,740 to $67,404
Closing Date: August 31, 2012
This position creates strategies for public health preparedness and response training, and provided technical training assistance to public health agencies statewide. Duties include coordinating training by outside contractors, designing curricula for emergency preparedness and response training, developing training evaluation tools, and creating statewide needs assessments. A bachelor's degree in public health, behavioral sciences, or a related field and two years experience in public health emergency training are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Global Advisor
Oxford, England
Salary: $59,571
Closing Date: September 14, 2012
This position will drive the integration of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in Oxfam’s individual country programs. Duties include providing advisory support to programs, developing programs, raising funds, and coordinating evaluations and improvements. Experience in the development and postdisaster phases of risk reduction, capacity development skills, and the ability to conduct community-based risk analysis are required.


Readiness and Emergency Management Program Specialist
Air National Guard
Westhampton Beach, New York
Salary: $64,729 to $84,146
Closing Date: September 17, 2012
This position will manage the emergency management program, develop operational plans, and implement policies for disaster preparedness, airbase operability, chemical warfare defense, and hazardous materials. At least three years of experience in a related field, the ability to develop and recommend policy, and knowledge of emergency management principles and CBRN response techniques are required. Applicants must be members of the New York Air National Guard.


Research Associate
CIRES/Western Water Assessment
Boulder, Colorado
Salary: Not Listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will translate climate science into conservation decision-making and evaluate use of climate information by land managers, with an emphasis on the American Southwest. A PhD in climate, atmospheric, or other related science; experience analyzing general circulation models, and an interest in applying climate science to natural resource management are required.


Director, Engineering Design and Innovation Program
The Water Institute of the Gulf
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Salary: Not Listed
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop multidisciplinary research programs that result in technologies and projects to reduce storm impacts and increase coastal restoration effectiveness. Duties include participating in research, obtaining funding, and acting as a liaison to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, levee districts, and other agencies. A degree in civil or coastal engineering, research and applications experience, and a record of publication 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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