University of Colorado at Boulder CU-Boulder Home CU-Boulder Search CU-Boulder A to Z Campus Map

Number 616 • October 17, 2013 | Past Issues













What Went Right: Success Stories from Cyclone Phailin

When it comes to tales of disaster, success stories are a rare genre. Even more so when the narrative hails from India, considered by the World Bank to be among the nations least prepared for disaster. So when a mammoth cyclone rips through a region inhabited by nearly 12 million people and kills less than 20, it’s a story that bears retelling.

That’s the plotline of Cyclone Phailin, which struck the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh with the strength of a Category 5 hurricane on Saturday, October 12. While the storm is considered the worst to beset the area in 15 years, lessons learned from previous cyclones made it among the best case scenarios.

“Credit is due to those who have been involved in efforts to reduce the scale of vulnerability to disasters across India,” Tom Mitchell, of the Overseas Development Institute, told Reuters. “The low loss of life, following the strongest storm ever measured in the Bay of Bengal, would almost certainly not have been possible without learning lessons from previous cyclones and tsunamis that have hit this coastline.”

Advances in Indian meteorology, a colossal evacuation effort, and improved communication and infrastructure are among the reasons Phailin failed to wreak the type of damage incurred by earlier cyclones in the region. By comparison, the most recent, the Paradip Super Cyclone of 1999, killed 10,000.

This time, however, meteorologists and emergency officials were prepared. Doppler radar systems, weather satellites, and other weather tracking improvements helped the India Meteorological Department issue warnings days in advance of the coming storm. And officials took heed. Relief supplies and personnel were moved into the area and emergency officials were able to evacuate more than 800,000 people, according to the New York Times.

“Because of the advanced warning, we were prepared for this situation,” Jibanananda
Mohanty told the Times. “I haven’t heard of any loss of life in my neighborhood.”

Increased usage of cell phones and more television access also played a central role in effectively evacuating the area, the Times noted. Reuters pointed out that evacuation drills and an increase in concrete construction and cyclone shelters surely added to the region’s ability to weather the storm.

The disaster management successes during Cyclone Phailin aren’t the end of the story, of course. Not all regions are ready to respond as effectively as Odish and Andhra Pradesh and cautionary tales still abound. Flooding as Phailin moved inland, for example, stranded more than 250,000 people and left five dead. Earlier this year, flooding in Uttarakhand disrupted more than 2 million people and left 6,000 missing and presumed dead.

Still, with the outcome of the Cyclone Phailin so positive, it’s important to celebrate such efforts and what their successes might bode for the future.

“The superior preparedness and response this time for disaster is in sharp contrast to previous disastrous storms like the 1999 super cyclone,” wrote reporter Bharti Jain inThe Times of India. “If there was a silver lining in the grim foreboding of a monster storm, it’s the realization that lives aren’t that cheap in India any longer.” 

Back to Top

Yarnell Hill: No Blame and No Real Answers in Firefighter Deaths

No one is to blame for the deaths of 19 firefighters who perished in the Yarnell Hill fire in June. That’s the gist of a long-awaited investigation report, released on Sept. 23, from the Arizona State Forestry Division that examined what lead to the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots team in June.

“The judgments and decision of the incident management organizations managing this fire were reasonable,” the report’s executive summary states. “Firefighters performed within their scope of duty, as defined by their respective organizations. The Team found no indication of negligence, reckless actions, or violations of policy or protocol.”

The report’s conclusion doesn’t satisfy everyone. “The investigators emphasized that they were unable to answer one of the most-asked questions about the fatalities—why the crew left the safety of the already burned area, the black [the safe zone], to attempt to walk 1.6 miles mostly through unburned brush to another safety zone, the Boulder Springs Ranch,” wrote Bill Gabbert in Wildfire Today.

The Yarnell Hill fire was started by lightning strikes at about 5:00 p.m. local time on June 28. The area is mountainous, with elevations ranging from 4,500 to 6,000 feet. It hadn’t burned since 1966. The area was very dry, with “chaparral brush, ranged in height from one to ten feet, in some places, was nearly impenetrable.”

On June 30 at about 3:30 p.m. local time, the Granite Mountain group was the only crew out on the ridge, which was on the southwest perimeter of the fire.

“Personnel who communicated with the Granite Mountain IHC knew the crew was in the black at that time and assumed they would stay there. No one realized the crew left the black and headed southeast, sometime after 16:04. At 16:30, thunderstorm outflows reached the southern perimeter of the fire. Winds increased substantially; the fire turned south and overran the Granite Mountain IHC at about 16:42,” the report states.

“There is a gap of over 30 minutes in the information available for the Granite Mountain IHC. From 16:04 until 16:37, the Team cannot verify communications from the crew, and we have almost no direct information for them. There is much that cannot be known about the crew’s decisions and actions prior to their entrapment and fire shelter deployment at around 16:42,” the report says.

Had the crew stayed in the black, however, they likely would have survived.
The way in which other fire investigations have been handled might be one of the reasons so many questions remain unanswered, according to a blog post by Cally Carswell in High Country News. The 2001 Thirtymile Fire in Washington, for instance, resulted in an incident commander originally being charged with manslaughter in the death of four firefighters.

“The manslaughter charges were reduced, but he pled guilty to the false statements indictment. This hadn't happened before and it sent shivers through the firefighting community,” Carswell writes. This criminal investigation was the result of changes in investigative procedures in such cases to see if crimes were committed, and whether firefights should be charged.

Wildfire Today’s
Gabbert wrote that the potential for criminal charges may have led to a lack of cooperation by firefighting personnel in the aftermath investigations.
The forestry division report concludes with a few recommendations, including a “cooperative effort to reduce hazardous fuels and improve overall suppression efforts for communities that are at high risk from wildfire.”

The report also found some problems with radio communications during the fire, and suggested a review of state wildfire communications plan and program, along with several other reviews.

—By Dan Whipple, Editor, The Natural Hazards Observer

Back to Top

Disaster News Redux: The Reality of NFIP Changes Hit Home

Changing the Plan: The National Flood Insurance Program, which is currently $25 billion in debt, received an overhaul last year in an effort to bring the flailing insurance scheme in line with actual risk-based premiums. The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 was the result of a lengthy effort to reform the NFIP, which is both financially unsustainable and encourages risky development in floodplains, according to many experts.

The act, which was signed into law in July 2012, extended the NFIP for five more years while mandating changes, such as eliminating rate subsidies for second homes and repetitively flooded residences. The changes have been rolled out gradually, but those that affect policyholders the most began earlier this year, with rate increases for second homeowners implemented on January 1 and subsidies for business and severe repetitive loss properties ended on October 1.

The termination of subsidies will result in ratepayers seeing their premiums increase by 25 percent per year until rates reflect the full risk, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administrates the program.

Planned Out: Although the plan to end of subsidies has been in place for more than a year, many home and business owners have been caught off guard by the increases, according to the New York Times. Lawmakers, including bill sponsor Rep. Maxine Waters, are also up in arms.

“[I am] outraged by the increased costs of flood insurance premiums that have resulted from the Biggert-Waters Act,” Waters said in a statement in Time. “I certainly did not intend for these types of outrageous premiums to occur for any homeowner.”

It’s difficult to understand how Waters thought the NFIP, which subsidizes below-market insurance rates for about 1 million property owners, would become solvent without a significant increase in the long discounted policies. But that’s not even the point.

“So property owners who will see their flood insurance rates are paying the price for the unintended consequences of the Biggert-Waters Act,” wrote Bryan Walsh in Time. “But take a dive into the very perverse world of subsidized flood insurance, and you’ll see that we as a country have been paying for unintended consequences since the NFIP was born in 1968.”

Planning for Change: While it might make sense to provide assistance to homeowners who will be directly affected by the increases, neither lawmaker ire nor cries of unfairness will do much good now that the law is in effect. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate told Senate committee last month that his hands were tied when it came to reeling in soaring costs, according to the Times.

“I fully believe we should stop subsidizing risk as we go forward for new construction, for secondary homes and for businesses,” he said. “But I think we need to look at affordability for people who live there, look at how we can mitigate their risk.”

In the meantime, states are taking matters into their own hands. Mississippi has filed a suit in federal court to stop the increases and Louisiana is also looking at ways to avert them. If their and others’ efforts are successful, though, it’s unclear what that might mean for the NFIP as a whole. Perhaps homeowners find that instead of paying increased premiums, they don’t have to pay for flood insurance at all.

“The flood insurance program is one big storm away from not existing at all,” Steve Ellis, the vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the New York Times. “There’s a lot of talk about fairness, but I would argue that it’s not necessarily fair that some people are paying full risk-based rates and other people aren’t.”

Back to Top

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

Call for Comments
Registry of Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments
U.S. Geological Survey
Deadline: October 21, 2013

The U.S. Geological Survey is requesting comments on information to be collected in support of creating a registry of climate change vulnerability assessments. Comments are sought in the following areas: information needed for agency operation, accuracy of the data estimates, and display enhancements and access to registry features. For more information and to submit comments visit the notification in the Federal Register.

Call for Speakers

Colorado Emergency Management Conference
Colorado Office of Emergency Management
Deadline: October 31, 2013

The Colorado Emergency Management Conference committee is accepting proposals for speakers at the conference to be held February 25-27, 2014. Speaker presentations must relate to the conference theme of “Partner Integration—Your Piece of the Puzzle.” Presentations will be given during 50-minute breakout sessions. For more information and to submit a proposal online, visit the Colorado Office of Emergency Management Web site.


Call for Presenters
ASFPM 2014 Conference
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: October 31, 2013
The Association of State Floodplain Managers is accepting submission for workshop and concurrent session presenters at its 2014 conference to be held June 1-6 in Seattle, Washington. Presenter proposals should focus on issues related to water resource management, the national flood insurance program, floodplain mapping, flood loss mitigation, and related topics. For more information on how to submit, see the ASPFM Call for Presenters flyer linked above.

Back to Top

Some New Web Resources

Red Cross Fukushima Archives
This newly created archive on the events of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster serves as a platform for future nuclear disaster preparedness and resources. There is a new operational manual that will allow for better response for future nuclear disasters.  Stories of loss and grief along with stories of resilience and hope serve as lessons about the effects of nuclear disasters and motivation to prevent future nuclear disasters as our demand for nuclear power continues to grow.


Children and Disasters Bulletin

This bulletin allows users to get the information they need about childern and disasters in one place. They do the work for you and take the guesswork out of which methods work well in pediatric disaster preparedness, response and recovery so you can focus more on the children. What’s great is that it’s provided by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, a leader in disaster preparedness research and methods.



Tribal groups are often overlooked in disasters. This association was created to give tribal groups a voice and creates a partnership between tribal groups, federal, state and local agencies to strengthen emergency management and services. The site provides important news affecting tribal group,; training and upcoming events, and recent projects are displayed for easy access. The site will be very helpful in future disasters and is bound to become very popular.


SMART Vaccines

In a world threatened by new and more disastrous diseases, its probably a good idea to track vaccines in development and prioritize which are developed first. This interactive tool from the National Academies of Science does just that. Should we focus on developing a vaccine to avoid a zombie apocalypse situation spend our resources on a vaccine for the common cold? Now there's a tool to help us decide.


Forecast Lines
Forecasting and looking up the weather has never been an exciting event. Web sites are often bland. No longer! This slick website provides quick forecasts in an easy to find and understandable way that can help you decide what to wear every morning fast. The information comes from reliable sources such as Dark Sky and variety of NOAA programs, and compresses them into a visually appealing display that people of any age can enjoy.  The world of dull weather forecasting sites just got a lot less mundane.

Back to Top

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 5-6, 2013
Humanitarian and Military Better Practices Exchange
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, closes October 25

This conference will discuss ways to reduce the environmental impacts of military and large-scale humanitarian operations, with a focus on identifying effective methods and policies. Topics include collaborating on survivor assistance, military engagement in environmental issues, creating action plans to address environmental impacts, reducing nonrenewable resource consumption, communities and the environment, and applying policy across military and humanitarian groups.


November 14-16, 2013
New Jersey Statewide Conference on EMS
New Jersey Office of Emergency Medical Services
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Cost and Registration: $275, closes October 17

This conference will focus on emergency preparedness in the health and safety field with an emphasis on knowledge and practices that increase the effectiveness of patient care. Topics include recognizing fatal response mistakes in mass casualties, hazardous material terrorism, responder safety during unrest, bombing injuries, using social media during disasters, and situational awareness. A symposium on emergency medical response during Superstorm Sandy will be held before the conference on November 12-13.


November 19-21, 2013
2013 AHIMTA Conference
All Hazards Incident Management Teams Association
North Charleston, South Carolina
Cost and Registration: $325, open until filled

This conference will explore best practices in incident management, including lessons learned from recent disasters. Topics include interagency disaster response coordination, the Boston Marathon bombing, National Guard resources, emergency mobilization systems, incident response during Hurricane Sandy, writing incident management objectives, and the Moore, Oklahoma tornado.


December 3-5, 2013
Eighth International Conference on Urban Regeneration and Sustainability
Wessex Institute of Technology
Putrajaya, Malaysia
Cost and Registration: $980, open until filled
This conference will address the many aspects of urban environments that work toward creating a truly sustainable city. Topics include risk assessment and planning, transportation infrastructure, environmental management, cultural heritage, quality of life, urban planning, and waste management.


January 7-10, 2014
2014 International Disaster Conference
International Disaster Conference and Expo
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $300 before December 6, open until filled
This conference will examine disaster policies, practices, and mitigation efforts with a focus on private and public sector collaboration. Topics include flood planning, animal decontamination, the psychological perceptions of Hurricane Sandy, disaster cost recovery and management, healthcare emergency management, shelters, modeling disasters, and developing an incidence action plan.


March 19-20, 2014
2014 Aerial Fire Fighting Conference and Exhibition
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Sacramento, California
Cost and Registration: $1,400, open until filled
This conference will examine the impact of budget restraints on agriculture, forestry, and fire department processes and infrastructure. Topics include recent large-scale wildfires; pilots, aircraft, delivery technologies; navigation, fire suppression, rescue equipment; and emergency response methods.

Back to Top

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Disaster Preparedness Coordinator
City of Oxnard
Oxnard, California
Salary: $67,164 to $107,460
Deadline: November 1, 2013

This position is responsible for Oxnard’s disaster preparedness programs and all-hazard planning activities. Duties include providing technical advice to city departments, researching disaster situations and implementing action, and leading disaster preparedness drills. A bachelor’s degree in public administration or emergency management, emergency operations experience, and knowledge of disaster planning are required.


Postdoctoral Fellowship in Coastal Hazards and Risk Analysis

Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network
Vancouver, British Columbia
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: November 1, 2013
This position will work at the University of British Columbia conducting research and developing social risk indicators related to the flooding in coastal communities. Duties include gathering coastal disaster data and analyzing economic and physical damages to communities to understand what risk indicators to be tested. A PhD in social science, interdisciplinary research skills, a peer-reviewed publication history, and expertise in spatial data and risk analysis are required.


Emergency Management Planner

Texas Children Hospital
Houston, Texas
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will implement hospital emergency preparedness and develop strategic emergency plans. Duties include managing emergency preparedness grant funds, instituting educational programs, publishing a quarterly emergency management newsletter and leading preparedness drills. A bachelor’s degree and at least two years of experience in disaster preparedness and hospital emergency management are required.


Business Continuity Manager

Multiple Locations
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: Open until filled
This position develops business continuity strategy and procedures, conducts risk assessments, and creates an ongoing employee awareness of each person’s business continuity responsibilities. Duties include drafting policies and standards, using business and industry knowledge to create practices that maintain operational resiliency during emergencies. A bachelor’s degree in business or a related field, project management skills, and experience with business impact analysis and crisis management are required.


Emergency Administration and Planning Lecturer

University of North Texas
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: Open until filled
This position is will teach multiple undergraduate courses in emergency administration and planning and assist with the professional internship program. Duties include providing guidance to interns and students, course instruction and other departmental activities as required. A bachelor’s degree in public or emergency administration and at least five years of professional experience in emergency management are required. Reference Identifier Number 6000856 when searching. 

Social Scientist

I.M. Systems Group
Silver Spring, Maryland
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will improve and expand the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s social science efforts by developing guidelines for conducting evaluation studies and incorporating the results into performance standards. Duties include providing and analyzing statistics, maintaining ocean and coastal satellite systems, and improving risk communication data with an emphasis on behavior in disasters. A PhD in social science and experience analyzing and applying social science data to policies and program is required.

Back to Top

Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit or e-mail
University of Colorado at Boulder

Natural Hazards Center
483 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0483
Contact Us: | (303) 492-6818

A Center in the Institute of Behavioral Science

© Regents of the University of Colorado