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Number 608 • May 2, 2013 | Past Issues













Getting a Great Deal on Disaster: Bargain Retailers and the Bangladeshi Building Collapse

When most people think of ways they can prevent disaster, checking the label on their shirts isn’t usually one of them. But several recent disasters in Bangladesh—including last week’s horrific building collapse in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka—highlight how being willing to pay more for clothing and other goods just might save lives.

A building collapse in last week killed more than 400 people and has shined a spotlight on the deplorable working conditions in the Bangladeshi apparel industry. The April 24 failure came just a day after an engineer inspecting cracks told the building owner it should be closed immediately, according to the New York Times.

“This is not a crack,” the owner, Sohel Rana told local journalists, according to the Times. “The plaster on the wall is broken, nothing more. It is not a problem.”

Although some businesses in the building, Rana Plaza, closed, others told workers they risked loosing their jobs work if they didn’t come to work the next day.

“This is an example of the most irresponsible and insensible work by the authority,” Selim Newaj Bhuiyan, former Bangladesh deputy director of Fire Service and Civil Defense, told the Christian Science Monitor. “When the building was warned, how could the authorities ask the workers to come to work?”

Such is the state of apparel manufacturing in Bangladesh, though, by many accounts. In recent years, the country has seen unprecedented growth in the garment business, fueled by rising prices in China. The demand for cheap labor and maximized profits has grown into an $18 billion industry that accounts for more than 80 percent of the country’s exports and 10 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Bloomberg News.

As companies scrambled to capitalize on those new opportunities, buildings like Rana Plaza were expanded hastily and without much oversight. In the case of Rana Plaza, the politically well-positioned Ranas were able to bypass building permits and add additional floors to the original five-story structure without inspection, according to the Times. Even so, the Plaza is far from an anomaly.

“For the garment industry, Savar grew quickly, and in an unplanned manner,” Ashraf Uddin Khan, the former mayor, told the Times. “There are so many buildings like Rana Plaza in Savar.”

About half of the garment factories in Bangladesh don’t meet the countries safety standards, according to sources cited by Bloomberg News. Among their issues are shoddy wiring, an inadequate amount of exits, and a lack of emergency equipment. The woeful conditions have led to more than 630 people dying in 30 incidents since 1990, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Those incidents include more than 112 people who could not escape when a locked factory caught fire in November and another factory collapse that killed 64 people in 2005.

Although Bangladeshi authorities and political cronyism are to be blamed for much of the country’s garment business failings, many feel that it’s up to the global companies making profits—Europe, Canada, and the United States account for the lion’s share—to instigate change.

That might be a tall order considering retailers such as Wal-Mart have been asked to weigh in on safety compliance before, with tepid results. A 2011 proposal to require suppliers to deliver annual safety reports to the mega-retailer was soundly defeated on the grounds that it would cost too much, according to Reuters.

Others argue that consumers themselves should apply the pressure, refusing to purchase items that aren’t manufactured with concern for human welfare. The expense of making basic safety and wage improvements wouldn’t even be that costly, experts say.

Alas, as M.T. Anderson points out in an opinion piece in the New York Times, the dilemma is as old as the textile industry itself. It’s a cycle that has repeated itself many times and in many places. Which is not to say it shouldn’t come to an end.

“It’s well past time for all of us to reflect on this cycle and how cheap it would be to break out of it if only there were enough public pressure on the apparel industry,” he writes. “The cost for us is minimal; the cost for others is great.”

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Disaster News Redux: Fearing the Flu

Not Going Viral: Around this time last year, scientists were just beginning to thaw from a chilling moratorium on flu research. The controversy began in late December 2011, when the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended the results of that research into especially deadly bird flu strain not be published in their entirety. The board, which has no authority to enforce its recommendation, was concerned the full work might provide bioterrorists the instructions for creating a deadly pandemic.

The censorship generated plenty of conversation, including those who said the usefulness of making viruses deadly didn’t outweigh the risk. Others championed the surveillance benefits of such research in early pandemic response and said it should resume immediately.

Flu in the Coop: Although terrorism didn’t play a part, a new and especially deadly strain of bird has developed in China. The strain, H7N9, has infected at least 127 people and killed 27, according to Reuters. Because it’s more easily transmitted to humans than other strains, the World Health Organization has dubbed it one of the most lethal flu strains of its kind and warned that it could easily become a pandemic.

"The longer the virus is unchecked in circulation, the higher the probability that this virus will start transmitting from person to person," Colin Butte, an expert in avian viruses at Britain's Pirbright Institute, told Reuters.

At the moment, scientists only have evidence of the disease being transmitted from poultry—likely chickens—to humans.
Coming Home (and Other Places) to Roost: Although only one case of H7N9 exists outside China—a man in Taiwan contracted it while traveling—European scientists said Thursday that they expect the disease would soon be seen in Europe, as well, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, a Chinese shut down of live poultry markets seems to have at least slowed transmission of the virus, according to Bloomberg News. While scientists believe the reprieve is temporary, it does buy some time.

“It looks like the human infections can be reduced with temporary management of the markets, but this isn’t a long-term solution,” Richard Webby, director of a WHO flu research center in Memphis. “The biggest question is still where the main reservoir of this virus is.”

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The Latest Natural Hazards Observer Is Online (and in Print!)

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the May 2013 Observer include:

  • The Hazards of Moral Hazards

  • Taking Earth to Its Limits

  • Lessons from Kenya Spring Elections

  • Bracket Busters: The Drought Tournament

And don’t forget, for those of you that would rather get the print edition, we’re now able to offer readers an Observer subscription for only $15 per year. Those interested in subscribing can sign up on our subscription page using a credit card, or be invoiced later.

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New Researchers Proposals Needed for the Natural Hazards Workshop

Looking for a chance to showcase your research and meet fellow student researchers in disaster studies?

There are four slots available at this year's Natural Hazards Workshop for graduate students, especially doctoral candidates (ABD), to present their projects at the Research-to-Practice (RPP) Session for New Researchers.

The RPP session is scheduled on Monday, July 15, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Interested students can submit a 250-word abstract to Wee Kiat Lim by May 13. Finalists will be notified by May 20, 2013. Unfortunately, the Natural Hazards Center cannot provide support for travel or lodging. Presenters are required to register as participants and must fund their own attendance.

For more information on the format of the RPP Session, visit the Workshop Web site.

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

Call for Applications
Earthquake Hazard Reduction Graduate Fellowship
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Deadline: May 13, 2013

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute is accepting applications for graduate fellowships supporting the science and practice of earthquake hazard mitigation. The one year fellowship will provide a stipend and of $12,000 along with an additional $8,000 for research fees and tuition. Applicants must be U.S. citizens currently enrolled in an accredited U.S. college or university. For more information and application guidelines, visit the EERI fellowship page.


Call for Participation
Annual Geoscience Congressional Visits Day
American Geological Institute
Deadline: August 31, 2013
The American Geological Institute is encouraging geoscientists to spend time in Washington, D.C., promoting lawmaker understanding of geoscience and geoscience-related engineering. Those participating in the two-day AGI event will receive an overview on conducting congressional visits, relevant legislation, and related federal programs on the first day, followed by visits with legislators on the second day. More information on the program is available on the AGI Web site.


Call for Participation
Forensic Investigations of Disasters Community of Practice
Integrated Research on Disaster Risk
Deadline: Not posted
The Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Programme is inviting researchers who use or who are interested in using the Forensic Investigations of Disasters (FORIN) methodology to join its newly created community of practice. The new community will serve as a platform to share FORIN news and ideas, build the capacity of FORIN researchers, and help develop an integrated approach to the study of disaster risk. For more information on the community and the FORIN working group, visit the Community of Practice Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses
For anyone that’s ever pondered the meaning of resilience, this new journal promises to overcome definitional bickering and get to the heart of practical and theoretical ideas around resilience. The international, peer-reviewed publication plans to examine ideas of resilience from multiple perspectives and come to a clearer understanding of how resilience can be used as a framework to inform practice, policy, and processes.


Women and Girls on the Map
Across the globe, women and girls have been making a difference in the area of disaster resilience—and this interactive map lets you see just where and how. Click on any data point and see the ways that the women and girls in your area—and everywhere else—are making a difference in disaster prevention and response.  Whether it’s fighting climate change in Saudi Arabia or overcoming disaster in Japan, there are plenty of great examples, so visit the map and to see new ideas and add your own efforts.


Drought in the United States: Causes and Issues for Congress
Although persistent drought plagues much of the United States, there is still no comprehensive national policy to address it. This Congressional Research Service report tackles U.S. drought issues, existing federal programs, drought forecasting methods, and the policy challenges we now face. The report concludes that although current fragmented efforts to address drought are ineffective, there is no guarantee that a concerted plan would fare better. The numerous and far-reaching impacts of long-term drought and dwindling water supplies remain difficult to manage.


Hurricane Sandy Recovery Guide
Those assisting with the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy will appreciate this collection of resources compiled by New York Disaster Interfaith Services. The group has brought together a wealth of assistance options, including categories such as cash assistance, mold remediation, immigrant resources, property tax relief, home repair and housing, disaster case management, pet resources, and health and mental health assistance. Chances are, if you need it to recover from the Superstorm, you’ll find it listed here.


Prepare in a Year
There are many reasons families choose not to prepare for disasters, but for those that are simply overwhelmed by the task, this simple program from the Washington State Emergency Management Division might help. Prepare in a Year breaks down the sometimes-daunting task of getting ready for disaster into 12 one-hour task that can be completed each month. Simply get started with the Division’s handy checklists in January and by the winter holidays you’ll be ready for whatever may come.

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]

May 9, 2013
Naturally Hazardous Queensland
Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand
Brisbane, Australia
Cost and Registration: $385, open until filled
This conference will discuss the increasing frequency of natural hazards in Queensland, Australia. Topics include recent natural disasters and recovery, new approaches to land use and floodplain planning, steps to dealing with coastal hazards, the importance of community engagement in climate adaptation plans, and the role of the insurance industry adapting to climate change.


June 4-5, 2013
Ninth Biennial Bushfire Conference
Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia
Cost and Registration: $360, open until filled
This conference will explore how holistic fire management helps to maintain community resilience in a changing climate. Topics include how fire restores landscape, examples of resilient ecosystems, the pros and cons of ecological burning, fire in disturbed ecosystems, environmental and cultural assets in risk management plans, community engagement tools, the concept of “shared responsibility” and resilience, fire and pest species management, and fire regimes that maintain and protect healthy ecosystems.


June 4-7, 2013
Disaster Leadership Workshop
Wheaton College Humanitarian Disaster Institute
Wheaton, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $199, open until filled
This workshop will teach pastors and church leaders how to develop effective disaster ministries. Topics include the role of church in disasters, theological issues in disaster, leadership basics, congregational resilience, disaster shelters in church buildings, volunteer and finance management, spiritual first aid, conflict resolution, and global models of church-based response.


June 16-20, 2013
12th Americas Conference on Wind Engineering
American Association for Wind Engineering, University of Washington, and others
Seattle, Washington
Cost and Registration: $775 before June 13, open until filled
This conference will discuss the effects of wind on structures, communities, and energy. Topics include East Coast hurricanes, wind load models for green roofs, calculating wind loads on long-span bridges, developing a hurricane impact index, the effects of terrain on tornado paths, and the human perception of risks associated with strong winds.


July 9-11, 2013
Third International Conference on Disaster Management and Human Health
Wessex Institute of Technology
A Coruña, Spain
Cost and Registration: $1,280, open until filled
This conference will discuss the global health risks of disaster and how to reduce the human health impacts. Topics include disaster monitoring and mitigation, emergency preparedness, risk and security, socioeconomic issues, biological threats, lessons from disasters, risk mitigation, disaster analysis, and safety and resilience.


September 5-7, 2013
International Conference on Flood Resilience
University of Exeter
Exeter, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $421 before July 1, open until filled
This conference will discuss new research in flood management planning and resilience. Topics include flood impacts on human health, adaptive flood risk management plans, flood risk perception, the social impacts of urban floods, lessons learned in flood recovery, data collection and model calibration, weather radar technology in flood forecasting and analysis, urban development and flood risk, and the consideration of climate change and economic growth in future risk analysis.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Firefighter (Hazardous Materials Operations), GS-6
U.S. Air Force
Fort Dix, New Jersey
Salary: $39,359 to $51,164
Closing Date: May 7, 2013
This position will address potential fire hazards in airfields, fight structure fires, perform crash rescues, and assist in hazardous materials operations. Responsibilities include completing hazard and risk assessments, identifying hazardous materials, structural firefighting in various facilities, and maintaining firefighting equipment and station facilities. At least one year of specialized experience at the GS-5 level is required.


Chief of Emergency Management
Santa Barbara County
Santa Barbara, California
Salary: $89,746 to $120,009
Closing Date: May 16, 2013
This position will lead the County of Santa Barbara’s Emergency Management Program. Responsibilities include developing preparedness, communication, response, mitigation, and recovery plans, maintaining the county emergency operations center, representing the county at federal, state, and local agency meetings, coordinating with first responder agencies, and training county emergency operations center staff. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management and Incident Command System and National Incident Management System certification are required.


Postdoctoral Fellowship in International Disaster Response Law
University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: June 1, 2013
This position will research the legal framework of disaster interventions and disaster responses. Responsibilities include exploring the interplay between different legal frameworks (humanitarian law, disaster law, development law) or between different actors in disaster responses (legal frameworks applicable to private/public, national/international actors) and helping to establish an international, interdisciplinary research project entitled “Changing Disasters.” A PhD in law, sociology, or political science is required, as well as strong knowledge of relevant theories and empirical methods for analyzing international disaster law.


Tsunami Program Mitigation Specialist
Syneren Technologies Corporation
Silver Spring, Maryland
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will support the National Weather Service Tsunami Program team in outreach and education efforts. Responsibilities include planning subcommittee meetings, preparing and delivering presentations, leading discussions and workshops, and coordinating national education and research projects. A bachelor’s degree and at least 8 years of hazard mitigation experience is required. Certification as emergency manager with experience in education and outreach is preferred. 


Post Doctoral Fellow
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas
Salary: $40,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will assist in developing an interdisciplinary emergency management research center and teach courses in undergraduate and master’s programs. A PhD in public administration, political science, sociology, or emergency management and research experience in disasters and emergency management is required.


Emergency Planning Officer
City of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Salary: $35,443 to $43,085
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop and maintain the city’s all-hazards emergency operations plan. Responsibilities include leading emergency drills and table top exercises, identifying joint exercise and training opportunities with neighboring jurisdictions, facilitating planning meetings, and assisting the emergency management director as needed. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management and at least three years in public safety is required. Experience preparing grant applications and knowledge of Federal Emergency Management Agency reg

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