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Number 605 • March 21, 2013 | Past Issues













Novel Coronavirus: The Latest Chapter In How We Communicate About Disease

There is a new disease afoot, one that has killed nine people since first being identified in Saudi Arabia in last year. The perpetrator, novel coronavirus or NCoV, is worrisome, but on a small scale for now. It’s infected 15 people in four countries, including a clustered outbreak in the United Kingdom, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists are working hard to analyze the virus and prevent its spread.

Perhaps, then, the more troublesome aspect of the illness is the light it shines on how disease—and what we know about disease—travels through our interconnected world.

“Today the world is one big virological blender,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy told Reuters. “And if [NCoV] sustaining itself [in humans] in the Middle East then it will show up around the rest of the world. It's just a matter of time.”

How then can we take precautions against an enemy that can arrive unannounced on our doorstep at any time? It is a question that was answered in part a decade ago when SARS, a distant relative of NCoV, first began to spread through China.

That epidemic spurred changes in the way nations work together to fight disease and led to revisions of International Health Regulations, according to Ars Technica. Increased reporting and surveillance are among the reasons scientists have so much to work with during this outbreak.

“Partly because of the way the field has developed post-SARS, we've been able to get onto this virus very early,” said Mike Skinner, an expert on coronaviruses told Reuters. “We know what it looks like, we know what family it's from and we have its complete gene sequence.”

Still, there are a lot of things health professionals don’t know, and there’s indication that some countries are less forthcoming than others. In this case, experts wonder if Saudi Arabia might be holding its NCoV cards a little too close to the vest.

Although the Saudi government has denied that it’s withholding any information, there has been speculation that the country might be trying to suppress an epidemic scare in the face of a large upcoming tourism event. Lending credibility to that theory are claims by the original reporting physician that he was dismissed for logging the new virus in the proMED infectious disease database.

“They didn't like that this appeared on proMED,” virologist Ali Mohamed Zaki, told the Guardian. “They forced the hospital to terminate my contract. “I was obliged to leave my work because of this, but it was my duty. This is a serious virus.”
Unfortunately, according to the Ars Technica report (which was based on a report in Science that is behind a paywall), Saudi Arabia is not necessarily an outlier in the non-reporting arena.

“Challenges exist today,” writes Allie Wilkinson. “National and local capacities called for in the regulations are still not up to standards, national legal arrangements are not always consistent with international laws, and member states still worry about maintaining their reputations when divulging information about outbreaks.”

That means that as far as we’ve come, there are still chinks in our defenses and wide world in which disease can make its home. And regardless of a wealth of reporting or a dearth of it, scientists still fight the same battle with each new viral outbreak.

"What we know really concerns me,” Osterholm said. “But what we don't know really scares me.”

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Disaster News Redux: L'Aquila Seismologists Get a New Day in Court

Finding Faults: In a verdict that shocked the scientific community, six Italian scientists were convicted of manslaughter in October for not providing the public with acceptable earthquake risk information. The charges stemmed from a public meeting in 2009 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.

Although its widely held that earthquakes are impossible to predict, the judge presiding over the case found the scientists and a public official guilty for what prosecutors called “incomplete, imprecise, and contradictory” earthquake warnings, according to Reuters.

Beyond the plight of the scientists on trial—who were sentenced to six years in jail as well as damages and court costs—many feared the verdict would hinder scientists who might feel a wrong move could spell jail time or large fines.

Shaken but Still Stirring: All seven defendants have filed appeals before the March 6 deadline, according to the Nature Newsblog. The scientists will argue that all their statements were scientifically accurate and that they are not responsible for official communications of risk to the public. They also maintain that there is no causal link that confirms those killed would not have been in their homes during the earthquake if not for the information disseminated at the meeting, according to Nature.

“The sentence is self-contradictory and illogical,” Giulio Selvaggi, one of he accused, told Nature. “The appeal is really about logic and cause-and-effect relationships, not about legal quibbles.”

The Next Shock: Three judges will preside over the appeals trial in L’Aquila, and the sentences will remain on hold in the meantime, according to Nature. A trial date has not yet been announced.

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Nominations Now Open for Mary Fran Myers Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2013 Mary Fran Myers Award. The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Individuals eligible for the award will have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The selection committee is especially interested in nominations from outside the United States. Previously nominated individuals who have not won the Mary Fran Myers Award are still eligible.

The award winner will be invited to participate in the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on July 9-12 and will be acknowledged in the Workshop program. Workshop fees will be covered. Travel to and accommodations at the Workshop are the winner's responsibility.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  • Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  • The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae
  • A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  • An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization

Nominations should be submitted by April 30, 2013.

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

Call for Participation
Needs Assessment Survey
Evidence Aid
Deadline: Not Posted
Evidence Aid is asking for assistance from those working in the humanitarian and other sectors in determining how disaster risk reduction, planning, and response decision makers use the systematic reviews to accomplish their goals. Those who wish to participate can fill out a three-part online survey or download the survey in Word format. The results will be used to identify priorities for information needed following natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. For more information, please visit the survey Web site.


Call for Comments
Proposed Simplifications to Winter Hazard Headlines

National Weather Service
Deadline: March 31, 2013
The National Weather Service is accepting comments on a proposal to simplify and clarify headlines in winter weather hazard communications. The proposal recognizes public confusion over terms such as winter storm warning, watch, advisory, etc. and offers alternatives that might be used to help clarify the weather intensity being communicated. For full information and a demonstration of the proposed alternatives, visit the NWS proposal site. Instructions on how to submit comments are also included.


Call for Entries
Student Paper Competition
Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance
Deadline: May 15, 2013
The Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance is accepting entries for its annual student paper competition. Students enrolled in the 2012-2013 academic year may submit unpublished papers of less than 30 pages related to the gendered aspects of hazards and disasters. Papers will be judged on originality, organization, and knowledge of the topic. The winner will receive recognition on the Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance Web site and may elect to have their paper posted there, as well.

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Some New Web Resources

Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon
The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs, Colorado, last summer was one of many fires in the state to decimate property and force people from their homes. But unlike many, the burned area provided an opportunity to assess how pre-fire mitigation efforts contributed to fire loss reduction. Lessons Learned from Waldo Canyon is the Fire Adapted Communities Mitigation Assessment Team’s analysis of those results. The report finds that wildfire preparedness is most effective when it is communitywide, fuel reduction plays a significant role in limiting fire damage, and that more building design and material improvements are needed to keep homes safe.


CDC Pintrest Page
What does an agency that taps the trendiness of zombies to tout preparedness pull out of its social communication bag next? Pintrest, of course. The Centers for Disease Control and prevention have joined have joined the ranks of wedding planners and recipe mongers on the visual networking site. But don’t worry what kind of pics you’ll find there—the CDC site’s six boards contain public service campaign images on topics such as healthy living, preparedness, public health history and women’s wellness.


Wildland Fire Potential Map
When it comes to predicting large-scale wildfires, there is no crystal ball—but there is the Wildland Fire Potential Map. This raster geospatial map allows fire professionals to analyze the burn probability of landscapes on regional and national scales. The map was created by the U.S. Forest Service specifically to show places where fire would be intense and difficult to suppress. Information such as past fire occurrence, likely fire behaviors, and fuel characteristics were all incorporated to help fire professional see even further into the unknowns of the coming fire season.


Disaster Resistant Communities Group Just In Time Library
The Disaster Resistant Communities Group has long devoted itself to providing local governments and nonprofits with useful resources to assist in meeting preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation needs. Now it has another timely offering—the Just In Time video library. Filled with videos on topics such as active shooter incidents, psychological first aid, special needs shelter operations, and donation management, the library can give underfunded organizations access to training they might not get otherwise. Stop by and see what they have to offer, or submit a video of your own for community use.


Reforming Federal Support for Risky Development
In this somber funding climate, ideas to save the federal government are more welcome than usual. Why not start by cutting back the amount of money the government pays to rebuild in risky places? That’s one of several ideas Reforming Federal Support for Risky Development puts forth to reduce the amount spent responding and recovering from natural disasters. While the report authors maintain the government should still play role in providing assistance during disasters, they argue the costs of development in high-risk areas should be shared by locals, disaster resistant building should be incentivized, and the National Flood Insurance Policy should be further reformed. This report is part of a series on How to Rethink the Federal Budget.

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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]

April 17-19, 2013
Seventh European Conference on Sustainable Cities and Towns
Ville de Geneva and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives
Geneva, Switzerland
Cost and Registration: $974, open until filled

This conference will discuss the environmental, economic, and social goals of a green economy. Topics include future growth patterns in European cities, climate change adaptation, long- and short-term natural disaster preparation, urban water management, standards for resilient communities, and international management of shared groundwater reserves.


April 22-26, 2013
Iterative Risk Management for Climate Change Adaptation Policy and Practice
Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia
Bangkok, Thailand
Cost and Registration: $1,500, open until filled

This conference will talk about how to gradually improve climate and disaster risk reduction policies. Topics include continuous and regular reevaluation of risk management plans, the evolution and convergence of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, challenges with using iterative risk management at local and national levels, and integration of iterative risk management plans with climate programs and projects.


May 19-22, 2013
Emergency Public Health and Disasters Conference
Southwest Regional Public Health Training Center
Torrance, California
Cost and Registration: $475 before April 1, open until filled

This conference will discuss the public health consequences of natural and intentional disasters with and emphasis on the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. Topics include public health perspectives of Hurricane Sandy, community partnerships, measuring and assessing preparedness, climate change, and community resiliency.


May 27 to June 1, 2013
National Professional Development Symposium
U.S. Fire Administration
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: Free, closes May 1, 2013

This symposium will discuss fire service safety culture, first responder safety training, and subjects such as fire operations and prevention, emergency medical services, higher education, and technology. Sessions will focus on residential sprinklers, pipeline safety education, alternative fuels and electric vehicles, promoting educational programs, mobile learning for higher education, and the Geospatial Location Accountability and Navigation System for Emergency Responders.


June 2-4, 2013
Emergency Communication Conference
Emergency Media and Public Affairs
Brisbane, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,387, open until filled

This conference will discuss pre- and post-disaster planning and communication between emergency management, public and private sectors, non-governmental organizations, and communities. Topics include the safety benefits of public-private partnership, community engagement campaigns, community behavior modification, media and emergencies in the United States, the future of social media and emergency management, and Auckland's cloud-based public alert system.


June 23-26, 2013
World Conference on Disaster Management
World Conference on Disaster Management
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $790 before March 31, open until filled

This conference will discuss a wide range of topics related to risk management, resilience, and recovery. Topics include crisis management simulations, catastrophic incident planning, mitigation of concentrated risk, ethics in emergency management, reputation management during critical incidents, critical steps in post-disaster recovery, and public-private partnerships in recovery and reconstruction.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Public Health Emergency Preparedness Planner
Boulder County Public Health
Boulder, Colorado
Salary: $41,892 to $60,324
Closing Date: March 29, 2013
This position will design and implement public health preparedness activities in Boulder County. Responsibilities include fostering collaborative partnerships with emergency response organizations, developing capability assessments, conducting training and exercises, and reviewing emergency preparedness plans. A bachelor’s degree in public health or emergency preparedness, and at least two years of experience in public health emergency preparedness is required.


Assistant Geophysics Professor
University of South Florida
Tampa, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: August 1, 2013
This position will expand existing programs in volcanology and geophysics and help to develop a new seismology program. Responsibilities include building a computational infrastructure for a seismology laboratory, developing external funding, mentoring graduate students, and teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in seismology and geophysics. A PhD in seismology or geophysics is required. Research and teaching interests in volcano seismology, earthquake seismology, infrasound, or geophysics is preferred.


Senior Seismologist
California Geological Survey
Sacramento, California
Salary: $67,464 to $81,408
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will support the California Geological Survey Earthquake Engineering Program, Strong Motion Instrumentation Program, and ground response unit staff. Responsibilities include selecting installation sites for ground response stations, determining shear wave velocity at the stations, and measuring soil response and other effects of strong earthquakes. State senior seismologist classification or similar certification, effective verbal communication skills, and a strong analysis skills are required.


Emergency Management Coordinator
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Daytona Beach, Florida
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will update and maintain the campus emergency management plan and coordinate Emergency Operations Team. Responsibilities include conducting emergency response training for various scenarios, maintaining and evaluating response procedures, responding to campus emergencies, assisting residential staff in fire drills, and conducting annual campus emergency response drills. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management and at least two years of similar experience is required. EMT certification and familiarity with the National Incident Management System is preferred.


Emergency Preparedness Planner
Kaiser Permanente
Santa Clara, California
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop cost effective emergency preparedness, response, and recovery plans. Responsibilities include maintaining the Emergency Operations Center, developing emergency response exercises, managing contingency planning projects and strategic communication plans, conducting risk analyses, and overseeing the implementation of an emergency communication system. A bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience in emergency management are required. A master’s degree and/or professional certification are preferred.

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