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Number 598 • November 1, 2012 | Past Issues













Polar Satellite Past Its Prime Could Slow U.S. Disaster Prediction in Its Tracks

In the wake of disaster destruction, there’s often a reminder that things could have been worse. As the U.S. Eastern Seaboard begins a long road to recovery after Hurricane Sandy, the reminder comes from the unlikeliest of places—outer space.

Though nothing could stop Sandy from barreling up the coast, model storm paths began to converge on Delaware five days before the most severe impacts there, giving states the confidence to declare emergencies well in advance of the storm. This level of accuracy would have been impossible without U.S. Joint Polar Satellite System tracking data.

“Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking Hurricane Sandy,” according to a recent New York Times article.

But the U.S. polar satellites now in orbit have either reached or surpassed their expected lifespan, and their replacement is not anticipated before 2017, reports the Washington Post.

The satellites provide daily pole-to-pole Earth scans, with critical mid-afternoon atmospheric measurements near the equator. These measurements are the ones that would likely be derailed if satellites shut down before a temporary or permanent solution could be implemented, reports The Atlantic.

The looming failure has led to accusations of gross mismanagement, sky-high expenses, and project delays, leading the $13 billon joint NASA-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration program to be labeled “dysfunctional” in a recent independent program review, according to the Times.

While NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenko admits to management problems, Deputy Administrator and former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan remains optimistic.

“We have worked hard over the past year to stabilize the management of these vital programs,” Sullivan explained to the U.S. House of Representatives last June. With conditional approval from Congress, the agency is now funneling funding from other projects into the satellite program.

Good intentions aside, reliance on these satellites for disaster preparedness and public safety cannot be underestimated.

“Just 25 years ago, when the National Hurricane Center tried to predict where a hurricane would hit three days in advance of landfall, it missed by an average of 350 miles,” writes Nate Silver, author of “The Signal and the Noise.” “Now the average miss is only about 100 miles.”

So how worried should we be?

According to the Times, while NOAA did manage to put a new satellite named Suomi into orbit last year, it is a precarious bridge at best. Due to technical glitches, some predict Suomi’s life to be a mere three years, which would put even more pressure on program workers already scrambling to create a sound back-up plan.

NASA and NOAA have faced this situation before. In 2007, similar concerns were raised over replacing polar satellite QuickSCAT in a controversial opinion piece (and rebuttal piece) in the Los Angeles Times. QuickSCAT began its Earth scans in 1999 with an expected life of just two years. Like the little engine that could, QuickSCAT chugged on for an entire decade—Casey Jonesin’ it eight years longer than expected before it died in November 2009.

Given the destruction and damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, even with advanced warnings and accurate storm path predictions, can we afford to roll on past the red flags?

Results from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicate that likely, we cannot. The study examines hurricane frequency specifically in the North Atlantic. Its findings indicate that hurricanes characterized by large storm surges have increased in frequency since 1923.

The study also suggests that the chances of large-scale hurricanes developing in the Southeastern United States are twice as likely during warm years than cold years, according to Los Angeles Times As global climates and yearly temperatures are predicted to continue to rise, a gap in future U.S. satellite coverage could cost us dearly.

“We cannot afford to lose any enhancement that allows us to accurately forecast any weather event coming our way,” Craig J. Craft, commissioner of emergency management for Nassau County on Long Island, told the Times.

Stacia Sydoriak, Contributing Writer

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Incomplete, Imprecise, and Contradictory: L’Aquila Convictions Cast a Pall

In a ruling that many have hearkened back to the dark ages of scientific misunderstanding, six Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter last week for not providing the public with acceptable earthquake risk information. The charges stem from a public meeting which some claim gave false reassurances that L’Aquila wouldn’t be struck by an earthquake. A week later, 309 people died when a 6.3 magnitude temblor struck nearby.

“After two years of suffering, I find myself condemned like Galileo, along with my colleagues,” Former president of the National Institute of Geophysics Enzi Boschi, is quoted as saying in the Christian Science Monitor. “I didn’t reassure anyone. In that meeting, I said that no one can predict [earthquakes] and that one therefore cannot exclude them, either.”

That didn’t seem to matter as Boschi, five other scientists, and a public official were found guilty for what prosecutors called “incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory” earthquake warnings, according to Reuters. Many found the verdict baffling.

“If an event cannot be foreseen and, more to the point, cannot be avoided, it is hard to understand how there can be any suggestion of a failure to predict the risk,” defense lawyer Franco Coppi is quoted as saying by Reuters.

Beyond the plight of the scientists on trial—who must also pay damages and court costs—many fear the verdict will hinder scientists who feel a wrong move could spell jail time or large fines.

“The issue here is about miscommunication of science, and we should not be putting responsible scientists who gave measured, scientifically accurate information in prison,” Richard Walters of Oxford University's Department of Earth Sciences told Reuters. “This sets a very dangerous precedent and I fear it will discourage other scientists from offering their advice on natural hazards and trying to help society in this way.”

Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. The defendants won’t serve jail time until they exhaust the appeals process, which could take years according to the CS Monitor. In the meantime, a question mark hangs over the field—and not for the first time.

In Europe, there has been a recent spate of complaints against weather agencies that inaccurately predict rain, which undermines tourism. And in the U.S., there is the notable case of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were held financially responsible for catastrophic flooding (although was recently repealed). That case was used in the L’Aquila trial as support for the prosecution, according to the New York Times.

Still, for the most part, scientists remain unjaded. For now at least.

“It would be terrible if we started practicing defensive science and the only statements we made were bland things that never actually drew one conclusion or another,” David Spiegelhalter, Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at Cambridge University told the BBC. “But of course if scientists are worried, that's what will happen.”

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Don’t Hiatus: We’ll Be Back after Thanksgiving

The holidays are approaching and ‘tis again the season for DR to take a hiatus or two. We’ll be starting off with the November 15 issue, which should give you a little less stuffing in your inbox as you prepare for Thanksgiving. Winter celebrations and school breaks will alter the schedule as well, but we’ll give you more information about those dates as the season draws nigh.

In the meantime, you can always get the latest disaster news if you follow us on Twitter and DR 599 will return November 29 with all the same great news, resources, conferences, and jobs.

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

Call for Papers
Disasters, Displacements, and Human Rights
University of Tennessee
Deadline: December 1, 2012
The Anthropology Department of the University of Tennessee is accepting papers for presentation at the Disasters, Displacements, and Human Rights symposium to be held February 8-9 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Papers should help “frame the field” of the new DDHR program by addressing topics such as holistic approaches to studying DDHR, culturally specific ideas and human rights, triggers of modern disaster, and common denominators of disasters. See the conference Web site for full details and information on how to submit an abstract.


Call for Abstracts
2013 Training Conference
National Hydrologic Warning Council
Deadline: December 1, 2012
The National Hydrologic Warning Council is accepting abstracts for its 2013 Training Conference to be held June 3-6 in Ponte Vedra, Florida. Abstracts related to drought, planning and preparation, response and recovery, and other topics will be accepted. For more information and additional submission categories, see the conference Web site.


Call for Presentations
World Conference on Disaster Management
World Conference on Disaster Management
Deadline: December 2, 2012
The chair of the World Conference on Disaster Management is accepting abstracts of presentations to be given at the conference, June 23-26 in Toronto, Canada. Preference will be given to abstracts on business continuity management, emergency management, crisis communication, and resilience. Abstracts should also conform to conference goals. For more on conference goals, presentation formats, and other criteria, see the call for presentations Web page.

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Some New Web Resources

National Disaster Legal Aid
Run by the Pro Bono Net organization, the National Disaster Legal Aid site pulls together resources from the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Disaster Legal Services Program, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the Legal Services Corporation to help low and moderate income people deal with legal issues after disasters. The site also recruits volunteer attorneys to help out, and has an up-to-the-minute feed of news articles with a legal focus.


Sesame Street Hurricane Kit
Sometimes when you’re a parent and don’t know what to say, it’s time to snuggle up with the kids and watch a little bit of the old standby. It should come as no surprise that when a Hurricane comes through Sesame Street, the Muppets experience all the emotions you’d expect from real-life kids, and that the adults are much better at talking them through the situation than you might be. And for those of you who were wondering, the storm-track maps reveal that, yes, Sesame Street is still somewhere in hazard-prone New York City.


The Best Books to Read During Hurricane Sandy
Leave it to Eco-Libris, an organization dedicated to reducing the impact of printed books, to bring us one of the stranger observations about a storm that left hundreds of thousands of people without power—the best storm book recommendations flowing on Twitter. Among the hashtags Eco-Libris recommends watching are #sandyreads, #hurricanereads, #booksforthestorm, and #stormreads, or you can just check out the summary list on the site. But be careful—the final recommendation is Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun—which might not be such soothing reading while you’re waiting for things to get back to normal.


Lyrasis Disaster Resources
During disasters, many people find libraries a valuable resource to access information, technology, or even just as a place to hunker down. Sometimes, libraries themselves fall victim to disaster. Lyrasis, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to sustaining and enhancing libraries, can help. The organization offers resources for disaster assistance, prevention and planning, and response and recovery. So no matter what stage your library is in, Lyrasis can help.


Intermountain West Climate Dashboard
This new effort by Western Water Assessment gives users up-to-date climate graphics as well as intermittent climate briefings. The newly debuted dashboard, which is still in beta, will replace the group’s Intermountain West Climate Summary, so give the creators feedback on how to make their latest undertaking the most useful.

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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]

November 7-8, 2012
Business Continuity Management World Conference and Exhibition
The Business Continuity Institute
London, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,140, open until filled
This conference will provide all levels of business continuity managers with the tools and education needed to navigate continuity issues in a global market. Topics include why organizational resilience isn’t the future of business continuity, applying scenario analysis to crisis management planning, determining continuity strategy, using software and technology in business continuity management, and determining the role of social media in continuity operations.


November 13-15, 2012
Seventh Annual Industrial Fire, Safety, and Security Conference
Trade Fair Group
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference will provide insight into and training on disaster preparedness and response from the viewpoint of transportation, security, chemical manufacturing, emergency management, and regulatory agencies. Topics include scenario-based training, industrial response, surviving workplace violence, and medical response to active-shooter emergencies.


November 19-21, 2012
Water Contamination Emergencies
SecurEau Drinking Water
Mülheim-an-der-Ruhr, Germany
Cost and Registration: $645, open until filled
This international conference will discuss the response to and collective responsibility for water contamination. Topics include managing water supply threats, using smart sensor networks for water monitoring, the Japanese water environment post-Fukushima, early warning systems for water treatment facilities, risk governance among water utilities, and using hydraulic modeling for contamination response planning.


December 5-7, 2012
Adult Mortality and Morbidity
Catholic University of Louvain , Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, and others
Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Cost and Registration: $195, open until filled
This conference will focus on adult morbidity and mortality analysis from the data collection and measurement perspective, including the impacts of natural hazards and disasters and the different forms of resilience that arise from them. Topics include post-war mortality trends, mortality profile of those evacuated from the Chernobyl exclusion zone, evaluation of mortality surveys from emergencies, and surveillance, prevention, and control of Legionnaires’ disease.


December 5-9, 2012
Sixth Caribbean Conference on Comprehensive Disaster Management
Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency
Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
Cost and Registration: $375, open until filled
This conference will promote disaster risk awareness, best practices, and knowledge of comprehensive disaster management as referenced in the Hyogo Framework. Topics will focus on disaster management in the Caribbean and include making Caribbean cities resilient, early flood warning systems, local engagement in long-term planning, innovative social strategies for reducing risk, and the role of science, education, and research in disaster management.


January 7-11, 2013
Building Innovation
National Institute of Building Sciences
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $400 before December 1, open until filled
This conference will highlight building innovations that increase resilience and reduce risk. Topics include integrating risk and performance in resilient design, mitigation and planning for multi-hazard situations, security and disaster preparedness, and sustainability of the built environment.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Public Safety Director
Lee County, Florida
Fort Myers, Florida
Salary: $71,531 to $115,315
Closing Date: November 4, 2012
This position directs more than 350 employees in a department that coordinates public safety programs, policies, and procedures with an operating budget of $45,000,000. Duties include overseeing emergency medical services, emergency planning, telecommunications, and 911 services; maintaining collective bargaining agreements; increasing productivity while addressing budget constraints; and identifying strategies for organizational improvement. A bachelor’s degree, six years of experience handling high-level issues, and deep knowledge of public safety management and legislation are required.


Forestry Technician, GS-6/7
Bureau of Indian Affairs
Rosebud, South Dakota
Salary: $34,907 to $50,431
Closing Date: November 9, 2012
This position will act as a senior fire dispatcher and support fire suppression activities. Duties include coordinating aviation and dispatch operations, maintaining fire-related data in computer applications, processing and interpreting weather information, reviewing actions taken in relation to existing operating procedures, and providing logistical support and recommendations regarding resource usage. Wildfire-related, rangeland conservation, or livestock ranch operation experience is required.


Flood Risk Mapping Graduate Student Position
University of Gävle
Gävle, Sweden
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: November 11, 2012
This position will provide the opportunity for a PhD student to develop computer methods that analyze, model, and visualize flood risk. Duties include using hydraulic and geographic technology to predict flooding extent and accuracy, interpreting subjective results, and developing interactive visualization techniques. A master’s in geomatics, computer science, or computer engineering; interest in spatial modeling and human-computer interaction; and advanced use of GIS modeling are required.


GIS Manager
Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission
Front Royal, Virginia
Salary: $35,000 to $55,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for coordinating the data management and GIS functions of core programs and local technical assistance projects that could include areas such as community development, economic development, hazard mitigation, natural resources, and transportation. A bachelor’s degree in geography or planning, five years of experience, and significant data collection and statistical analysis experience are required.


Emergency Management Team Leader
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position is responsible for supervising emergency management staff, coordinating security, and maintaining emergency management processes. Duties include reviewing contracts and plans for needed security and emergency management action, conducting regular security inspections, assisting with emergency management investigations, preparing policy and procedure manuals, and serving as the primary contact in alarm and emergency situations. A bachelor’s degree in business administration, law enforcement, or a related field; five years of experience; and familiarity with federal and local emergency management regulations are required.

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