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Number 606 • April 4, 2013 | Past Issues













The More Things Spill, the More They Stay The Same: Recent Crude Incidents Do Little to Sway Stances on Keystone XL

Two oil spills in the last week have fueled the ongoing debate about whether or not the United States should allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline—but they’ve done little to clarify issues surrounding it. The two spills—one resulting from a train derailment and the other caused by a leaking pipeline—have people on both sides of the issue saying, “I told you so.”

The first spill loosed about 15,000 gallons of fuel after a train derailed March 27 near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, according to Reuters. Supporters of Keystone XL—a 1,700-mile pipeline stretching from Canada to the Gulf—held the incident up as proof of the need to build the 800,000 barrel-a-day pipeline.

“The train wreck illustrates one economic reality of the U.S. shale drilling boom, which is that energy companies have turned to shipping by rail as pipeline capacity has been filled,” writes an unnamed author in a Wall Street Journal editorial. “Rail is not the safest way to transport oil, however…. By contrast, oil pipelines carry far more crude and have fewer leaks per mile.”

A burst pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, though—just days after the derailment—seemed to give pipeline opposition arguments a leg up. Twenty-two houses were evacuated Friday after a “gash” in a 60-year-old pipeline filled yards and gutters with about 12,000 barrels of tar sands crude, according to a CNN report.

“This latest pipeline incident is a troubling reminder that oil companies still have not proven that they can safely transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States without creating risks to our citizens and our environment,” Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the House Natural Resources Committee told the Washington Post.

The Arkansas crude is the same type that will be transported by the Keystone XL and is thought by some to be more corrosive than lighter grades of crude. The type of fuel spilled in Minnesota has not been confirmed.

While clean up in both spills continues and the damages are thought to be limited, both may make an even bigger mess of the continuing disputes over building the mega pipeline—a struggle that’s slated to heat up again in a couple of weeks when the State Department holds a public meeting on the draft environmental statement of the latest pipeline plan.

Although, it’s likely at least some in the fray will point to the recent spills, the bigger issues with a Keystone approval or denial are more far-reaching than the possibility for transport problems (this nifty primer by the Washington Post touches on the latest politics). They include matters of environment, climate change, international relations, job creation, and energy security—just to name a few. 

“This project represents a collision of multiple national interests and multiple political interests,” P.J. Crowley, who served as spokesman for the State Department during part of the review process, told the Post in October. “Energy security and the environment normally go together, but in this case they are somewhat at odds. All have come together to make this a bigger deal than it might have appeared at first blush.”

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Living Behind Levees: Recommends a New Approach in Assessing Risk

The land behind levees might be far from flood-free, but that doesn’t mean those living there should be required to purchase flood insurance—not because flood insurance isn’t a good idea, but because the level of risk is mercurial and compliance is spotty anyway.

Instead, the Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to look at new ways to determine and communicate individual risk, a recently released National Academies report states. The report, Levees and the National Flood Insurance Program: Improving Policies and Practices, examines how the National Flood Insurance Program should handle the floodplains behind accredited levees that don’t meet 100-year flood protection standards.

The report was commissioned by FEMA when flood map modernization revealed that a number of levees weren’t meeting the 100-year standards, according to a statement. Rather than considering these areas unprotected (and therefore required to purchase mandatory flood insurance), the agency asked report authors to look into other options.

 “The whole idea that a levee is good or bad because water will or will not go over its top belies integrity issues, failure of structures, or whether gates will be left open,” Gerald Galloway, a research professor of civil engineering at the University of Maryland and lead author of the report, told the Times-Picayune.

With that in mind, report authors recommend using “computational and mapping techniques” to create risk estimates for all flood prone areas, accredited or not.

“It would assess how well levee systems are likely to perform, taking into account the probabilities that the many components of a system will function as designed,” according to the statement. “Such an approach would give individual property owners a more accurate view of the risks they face and inform communities of their levee systems' limits and potential vulnerabilities. It would also be able to account for any partial protection offered by non-accredited levees.”

Before that can happen, though, the National Academies states, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will need to get a clear picture of both the levees under their purviews and what lies behind them—a task flood managers have said was needed for years.

Once completed though, the end result could be a true boon to communities—more properties adequately insured and in an actuarially sound manner.

“Property owners would be more favorably inclined to buy flood insurance if individual risk is well-known, understood, and insurance rates are priced to match the probability of flooding and financial impact of flooding events,” the report stated.

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Disaster News Redux: Islands States and Sea Level Rise

Preparing to Swim or Sink: For the past four years, the looming threat of sea level rise has had islands nations from The Maldives to Kirabati planning to relocate their populations before the sea overtakes the atolls on which they live.

The small nations are some of those most vulnerable to climate-induced sea level rise and have put plans in place to buy land to relocate in areas such as India, Sri Lanka, and Fiji if necessary.

While preparing for the worst, however, the Nations’ have stated they would prefer larger countries make more effort toward stanching the human causes of climate change. The Maldives, in fact, began an ambitious plan in 2009 to set a carbon neutral example.

Rising Worries about Sea Level: Representatives of vulnerable nations met informally with the UN Security Council earlier this year to discuss the continuing threat.

Although the “arria formula” meeting was little more than an opportunity to inform council members of concerns, the Marshall Islands had sent a strong message about the need for change.

“My country will be destroyed by climate change,” Minister Tony deBrum told the council. “It will be removed from the map by rising seas. Because it is happening inch by inch does not make the situation any less desperate, or any less urgent. This is an emergency.”

The minister described an islands’ current state as “destruction,” where water was rationed to an hour a day, three days a week and roads were regularly inundated during lunar tide cycles.

On the (Receding) Horizon: Minister deBrum said that his country will issue a “call to arms” for countries and corporations worldwide to take action to limit global warming to less than two degrees at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ Summit in September.

Meanwhile, a 2011 petition by Palau asking the International Court of Justice to weigh in on the impacts of climate change on island nations as a human rights violation is still languishing.

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

Call for Applications
Fall Internships in Geoscience Policy
American Geosciences Institute
Deadline: April 15, 2013
The American Geosciences Institute is accepting applications for fall semester internships focused on federal science policy. The 14-week internships will give students an opportunity to use their science knowledge to promote sound public policy in the areas of water, energy, mineral resources, and the environment. Interns will monitor geoscience legislation, attend House and Senate hearings, communicate information to AGI member societies, and update the AGI Web site. A $5,000 stipend will be awarded. For full information and to submit an online application, visit the Internship Web site.


Call for Nominations
National Youth Preparedness Council
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: April 19, 2013
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting nominations of representatives from the ages of 12 to 17 to serve on the National Youth Preparedness Council. Council members are young leaders that have made a difference in community preparedness. The council will complete a youth preparedness project, weigh in on youth disaster preparedness issues with FEMA and other national organizations, and participate in the Youth Preparedness Council Summit. For more information on eligibility and how to submit a nomination, visit the application page.

Call for Applications
Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: April 20, 2012
The Association of State Floodplain Managers is accepting applications for the Nick Winter Memorial Scholarship, which assists graduate and undergraduate students studying in fields related to floodplain or storm water management. The $2,000 scholarship will be awarded to a junior- and senior-level undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in an accredited college or university in the 2012-2013 academic year. Visit the scholarship page for full details and an application.

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Some New Web Resources

National Public Health Week
It’s National Public Health Week and if you’re not sure how to celebrate, this site is for you. The American Public Health Association has put together a wealth of resources that range from daily public health themes to a toolkit of information to get your community jazzed about public health and preparedness. Whether you’re in charge of public health outreach or just want to be a little more ready for possible health emergencies, the National Public Health week site has you covered.


Progress Toward Establishing a National Assessment of Water Availability and Use
Water, water, everywhere and not a drop… should go uncounted? Considering the increasing issues of drought and urbanization, probably not. Luckily the U.S. Geological Service has begun to assess what will be needed to conduct a national water census that would provide a snapshot of water availability across the nation. This report discusses steps that have been taken to create a water census, the role of water budgeting in assessing availability, reliability of census information, and what organizations will need to participate if the United States is to create a successful water census.


Sink or Swim
When it comes to preparing kids for floods, the City of Arlington, Texas, is getting graphic. Sink or Swim, a graphic novel about flood safety preparedness, is a sure way to get older kids on board with flood safety techniques. With a story that features adventure, time travel, daring rescues, and even a little romance, Sink or Swim is a fun and palatable way to teach kids what to do before, during, and after a flood.


Cooperative Research Programs: Security, Emergency Management, and Infrastructure Protection Research Status Report
When it comes to keeping citizens safe during transit, the Transportation Research Board has 101 ways to make it happen. Actually, make that 111 ways—and learn the status of them all in this monthly report. Since 2001, the TRB has been busy making sure travel in the United States is safe from terrorist threats and other dangers. So far, they and their partners have completed 111 research projects, with another 24 in progress and 10 in development. The report is a quick and easy way to keep tabs on $20 million devoted to keeping everything from railways to waterways terrorist-free.


National Fire Academy Off-Campus Courses
It doesn’t matter where you are, if you wish upon a National Fire Academy course, you’ll find one in your area. The Academy offers free fire and EMS training in all fifty states and this list will give you an idea of what’s coming up in your neighborhood. Class topics include executive development, hazardous materials, arson, incident management, and responder health and safety. CEUs are available in some instances.

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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 17-18, 2013
Third Annual Safe Buildings Conference
New Zealand Building Industry Federation and New Zealand Historic Places Trust
Wellington, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $2,085, open until filled
This conference will discuss issues of existing earthquake safety standards and how they can be made stronger. Topics include lessons from past earthquakes, innovations following the Christchurch quake, building codes, retrofit design principles, and the debate over whether accreditation standards will instill greater confidence in the construction industry. 


April 22, 2013
Health Care Emergency Management Symposium
Baylor Health Care System
Dallas, Texas
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference will discuss the evacuation and closure of several hospitals and nursing homes during Hurricane Sandy. Topics include lost research, lessons learned from area medical centers, and the impacts of the hurricane on an already overwhelmed healthcare system.


April 30 to May 2, 2013
Great Lakes Homeland Security Training Conference
State of Michigan Emergency Management & Homeland Security
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Cost and Registration: $350, open until filled
This conference will discuss a wide range of homeland security responsibilities, such as school security planning, cybersecurity programs, emergency healthcare credentialing, and lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy. Topics include business continuity in disaster recovery, smart phones as mobile toolboxes for emergency preparedness and response, public health response to radiation emergencies, and partnerships for preventing and managing school emergencies.


May 8-10, 2013
Preparedness, Emergency Response, and Recovery Consortium
Chesapeake Health Education Program
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference will provide up-to-date disaster preparedness, response, and recovery training. Topics include evacuation decisions and implications, objective risk assessment methodologies, the role of social media in disaster, mental health intervention for disaster response, volunteer integration, preparedness and emergency response for children with special health care needs, healthcare facility workplace violence, emergency preparedness in rural areas, and incorporating the Hospital Incident Command System into healthcare emergency management programs.


May 21-22, 2013
Aid and International Development Forum
Aid and International Development Forum
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This forum will discuss challenges faced by the aid and development sector after disaster. Topics include post-disaster coordination of shelter, water, and sanitation, halting the spread of malaria and other diseases, innovations in humanitarian relief, using social media to improve disaster preparedness and crisis response initiatives, and building state capacities to reduce disaster risks.


May 28-31, 2013
Floodplain Management Association National Conference
Australian Floodplain Management Association
New South Wales, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,149, open until filled
This conference will examine lessons learned from recent major floods. Topics include better land use planning, disparities in flood information across jurisdictions, how to determine acceptable risk, managing flood risk through statutory planning, and developing and maintaining flash flood warning systems.


June 9-14, 2013
ASFPM 2013 Conference
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Hartford, Connecticut
Cost and Registration: $605 before June 1, open until filled
This conference will look at improvements that can be made in flood risk management and national policy. Topics include Risk MAP communication challenges, community-funded mitigation programs, coastal risk communication, modeling stormwater management, community outreach and social media, sea level rise planning and adaptation, dam and levee management tools, and post-disaster damage assessment tools.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Emergency Preparedness Planner
State of Montana Public Health and Human Resources
Helena, Montana
Salary: $33,508 to $41,891
Closing Date: April 9, 2013
This position will develop and test public health emergency response plans. Responsibilities include facilitating public health preparedness trainings and responding to public health emergencies and exercises. A bachelor’s degree in public health and two years of emergency management experience is required. Experience working with tribal governments is preferred.


Director of Emergency Response
Tulane University
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: April 17, 2013
This position will improve the University’s emergency response capabilities. Responsibilities include leading disaster preparedness drills, working with local agencies, providing emergency support for students and staff, and promoting collaborative all-hazards emergency management activities on and off campus. A bachelor’s degree in emergency preparedness and at least five years of applicable experience is required. Emergency management certification is preferred.


Disaster Response Director
World Relief
Baltimore, Maryland
Salary: $60,000 to $65,000
Closing Date: April 30, 2013
This position will oversee World Relief disaster response efforts. Responsibilities include maintaining relationships with key partners, representing the disaster response unit to major donors and the media, setting strategic growth initiatives for disaster response efforts, and managing the disaster relief budget. A master’s degree in emergency management, five years of experience in a senior leadership position, and five years of overseas experience is required.


Interagency Exercise Coordinator
New York Office of Emergency Management
Brooklyn, New York
Salary: $50,000 to $65,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will implement drills and exercise programs in compliance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant funding requirements. Responsibilities include testing New York City emergency response plans, reporting on exercise outcomes, and developing benchmarks for emergency management drills. A master’s degree in emergency management, public administration, or urban planning and one year of emergency management experience is required.


Storm Surge and Tsunami Senior Research Scientist
FM Global
Norwood, Massachusetts
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will estimate property losses based on storm surge and tsunami models. Responsibilities include developing computer models to assess property loss, identifying trends in hazard frequency and intensity, and proposing prevention and mitigation techniques. A PhD in a related field, knowledge of modeling, analysis and GIS programming, and significant experience developing tsunami and storm surge models is required. Experience in probability, statistics, and parallel computing is preferred.


Hazard Mitigation Specialist
Hunt, Guillot and Associates, LLC
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will provide comprehensive grant management assistance to FEMA mitigation program grantees. Responsibilities include preparing grant applications (including project descriptions and budgets), monitoring and overseeing funded projects, assisting in the identification of potential projects, and completing benefit-cost analyses. A bachelor’s degree and three years of experience leading FEMA-funded mitigation projects is required.

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