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Number 617 • October 31, 2013 | Past Issues













Denial Down Under: Australian Prime Minister Calls Hogwash on Bushfire-Climate Change Link

A blaze in New South Wales re-ignited a climate debate last week when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters that linking the unseasonable bushfire to climate change was “complete hogwash.”

The proclamation is the latest in a series of alarming climate stances taken by Abbott’s government since he took over in September. Other climate-unfriendly actions include dismantling the Australian Climate Commission and working to repeal the carbon and mining taxes imposed by the previous administration.

The hogwash indictment was preceded earlier that week by a radio interview in which Abbott accused the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of “talking through her hat” when she linked the NSW fires with extreme temperatures, according to The Guardian.

“Fire is part of the Australian experience … it has been since humans were on this continent,” The Guardian quotes Abbot as saying. “Climate change is real … but these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they are just a function of life.”

Environment Minister Greg Hunt backed up the prime minister, saying specific events cannot be linked to climate change, according to the Associated Press.

Many climate scientists, including those with the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change, estimate that climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fires such as Australia’s one in New South Wales. 

Indeed, while the NSW fire, which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Blue Mountains roughly 50 miles west of Sydney, isn’t necessarily linked to climate change, the conditions that led to it and nearly 65 other bushfires are, according to Andy Pitman, director of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence for Climate System Science.

“The questions are more around whether global warming is increasing the risk of bush fires, did global warming make the recent fires more likely and therefore whether there is a global warming link to the fires in the Blue Mountains,” he wrote in an explanatory post on the Center Web site on Friday.

Pitman listed several factors that confirm the climate-fire connection, including increased temperatures (the month leading up to the fires was the hottest September on record in the country), increased fuel loads, and increased populations in vulnerable areas.

The posture of the Abbott government is especially concerning because of the inherent risk of more extreme fires, said Lesley Hughes, an ecologist at Macquarie University and a member of the Climate Council, a nonprofit group that sprung from the defunded Australian Climate Commission.

“It is crucial for the public, emergency service workers and health workers to be able to prepare for more of this type of extreme weather,” she told The Guardian on Friday. “To deny the influence of climate change on extreme fire weather, and not take appropriate action to prepare for these changed conditions, places people and property at unnecessarily high risk.”

Abbott has said multiple times that he believes climate change is a reality, but he recently told the Washington Post that the discussion has become “far too theological for anyone’s good,” and that “there is too much climate-change alarmism.”

That level of skepticism raised international concerns and his government’s other climate-impacting decisions—especially the planned repeal of a tax on CO2 emissions—have drawn criticism from the UN, nearby Pacific island nations, and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. National concerns are similar, although tinged with chagrin.

“Tony Abbott is making Australia an international laughing stock by continuing to deny the link between climate change and the probability of extreme bushfire conditions,” said Christine Milne, leader of Australia’s Green Party, told The Guardian. “The biggest sources of climate hogwash in Australia are our prime minister and environment minister. They are an embarrassment. It would be laughable if it were not so serious.”

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Keeping Up With Offshore Oil: Report Recommends Regulators Go Big

Recent disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill have highlighted the need for government regulators to better understand the technology involved in offshore oil and gas production. But to do that the Department of the Interior will need outside help and a lot more money.

That’s the conclusion of a recently released report from the National Research Council and the National Academy of Engineering. The report, Best Available and Safest Technologies for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations: Options for Implementation, looks at ways in which the DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) can better ensure public safety in the face of the lightening-fast technology advancements in the energy development.

The challenges of drilling in extreme environments pushes the industry to invest billions each year in developing new techniques and technology, according to a National Academies news release. Even while the BSEE is mandated by Congress to make sure these methods are safe, federal compensation limits mean the government can’t afford to retain top experts.

Top on BSEE’s plan for addressing this is the creation of an independent institute that would help the bureau perform critical technical assessments, economic analysis, and independent reviews, according to the release. While that’s a good plan, the report authors recommend broadening beyond the current scope.

The current scale of the institute, to be called the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, needs to be “significantly expanded to fully address the range of offshore challenges,” and the current funding of $5 million over five years is likely to be insufficient, the report states.

Instead, report authors suggest creating federally funded research and development center or a university-affiliated research center and funding it over multiple years.

“It will need a funding commitment that is consistently in the range of several million dollars per year to attract and grow the skills and competencies required…and keep pace with industry technology developments,” the report states.

Other recommendations include hiring a BSEE scientist with industry expertise to act as a liaison with the institute, using incentives to encourage industry investment in safety technologies, and broadening the range of focus to study both instrumentation and “often overlooked human factors.”

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Disaster News Redux: Kiribati Man Seeks Refuge from the Climate

Sinking Slowly: 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 among the most vulnerable to climate-induced sea level rise. As a result, they have made plans to buy land in India, Sri Lanka, Fiji and elsewhere so they can to relocate their citizens if necessary.

Rising to the Top: A Kiribati man is jumping ahead of mass relocation plans. Earlier this month he petitioned New Zealand to give him refugee status from the effects of climate change in his homeland.

Ioane Teitiota, who has lived in New Zealand since 2007, asked immigration authorities to grant him refugee status recently when his visa expired, according to France24. Teitiota, who has three children who were born in New Zealand, cited water contamination, flooding, and his inability to grow crops as reasons why he couldn’t safely return to his home.

"There's no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” Teitiota told the New Zealand appeals tribunal, according to France24.

Floating It to the Courts: Immigration officials denied Teitiota’s initial petition In June, but he has turned to the Aukland High Court to decide the matter. The court is set to rule this week, according to the New Zealand’s Times Live. If successful, he’ll likely be the world’s first climate refugee, the paper stated.

Although Teitiota’s claims of the difficulties on Kiribati, whose highest elevation is less than 370 feet, are well documented, New Zealand law experts don’t think his case has much merit because laws regarding refugee status are meant to protect those persecuted on grounds of religion, gender, or race.

“This guy doesn't quite fit because he hasn't been persecuted as an individual and there is no harassment inflicted upon him because of his race or gender,” University of Auckland professor Bill Hodge told Times Live.

Teitiota’s lawyer, however, said that if Teitiota is denied by the High Court he’ll appeal to the Supreme Court and on up to UN Human Rights Committee. The lawyer, Michael Kidd, remains hopeful that exceptions can be made to the country’s laws regarding refugees.

“I'd like to think the judge will sit down and say: Okay, well, perhaps the Refugee Convention is outdated and we could tweak here, and tweak there, and bingo, Teitiota would be allowed to stay…” Kidd told Times Live.

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What Sandy Taught Us: Quick Response Reports Look at Impacts and Recovery

It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy barreled up the East Coast and from emergency agencies to nonprofit groups to media outlets, there’s been a lot of looking back at what we’ve learned and what progress has been made. Now it’s our turn.

Shortly into the recovery phase, the Natural Hazard Center’s Quick Response Grant Program issued a special call for research related to Hurricane Sandy. The program provides small grants to fund travel to disaster-affected areas to capture perishable data. We received more than 35 proposals to study Sandy. The following reports were funded:

Influence of Household Recovery Capacity and Urgency on Post-Disaster Relocation: A Case Study of The Rockaways, New York After Hurricane Sandy
--Divya Chandrasekhar and Donovan Finn

Impacts of Superstorm Sandy on New York City’s New Waterfront Parks

--Rutherford Platt

Resilience and Post-Disaster Relocation: A Study of New York's Home Buyout Plan in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy
--Sherri Brokopp Binder

Partnership Behavior in Disaster Relief Operations: A Case Study of the Response to Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey
--John Coles and Jun Zhuang

Querying Facility Management Teams: Document Preservation and Debris Removal for Cultural Collections
--Paulette Hebert and Lori Schram

The Effects of Hurricane Sandy on the Homeless in New Jersey
--Marc Settembrino

Assessing the Impacts of Hurricane Sandy on the Port of New York and New Jersey's Maritime Responders and Response Infrastructure
--Tiffany Smythe

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

Call for Grant Applications
Climate Program Office Grant
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency
Deadline: November 14, 2013

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency is seeking grant applications for research supporting education, science, and technology that furthers NOAA’s goal of creating a better environmental future. Applicant research should focus on challenges such as climate impact on water resources, impacts on coastal regions, changes in marine ecosystems, and technology to mitigate climate change.  For application information, visit the posting on the Web site.


Call for Submissions

Seismic Design Competition
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Deadline: November 15, 2013
The Student Leadership Council of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute is accepting applications for its Undergraduate Seismic Design Competition. Applicants are challenged to submit designs for a cost-effective building that resists seismic loading. Models will be subjected to a series of structural tests to determine stability and ability to withstand seismic activity. For complete competition guidelines, design specifications, clarifications, and other submission information, visit the competition Web site.


Call for Applications

Assistance to Firefighters Grants
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: December 6, 2013
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications for its Assistance to Firefighters Grant program. AFG grants are available to help firefighters and other first responders purchase equipment, vehicles, training, and other needed resources. For full grant information, application guidance, and a list of items eligible to be purchased using grant funds, visit the FEMA grant Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

World Disaster Report 2013
Technology can be a double-edged sword in disasters, both enabling new levels of self-reliance and lending to dangerous infrastructure failures (think Fukushima). That’s why the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies chose technology as the focus of this year’s World Disaster Report. The report examines how technology has changed humanitarian action, new ways to use technology in disaster, and emerging trends in technology use.


Coastal Resilience

It’s bound to be an easy coast to resilience now that The Nature Conservancy has revamped its Coastal Resilience Web site to include a bevy of new apps, tools, and maps. Whether decision makers are looking to assess their coastal risk, find natural ways to reduce vulnerability, or check out possible impacts of the latest storm surge, the site is chock full of new, interactive ways to bolster coastlines.


Polar Portal

Not all Arctic ice is created equal, but this new Web site from Denmark will give you insight on what matters—sea ice and the Greenland Ice Sheet. The site reports the results of Danish monitoring of Arctic ice and includes details such as surface conditions, sea ice extent, temperatures, glacier positions, and mass changes. Links to resources, news, and information on monitoring methods are also available.


Guidelines for Smart Grid Cybersecurity

When it comes to the technology that controls the electrical grid, a lot has changed in the last three years. Luckily, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is on it with this draft edition of Smart Grid guidelines. The draft examines cybersecurity strategy, architecture, privacy issues, and other topics to ensure cyber issues don’t turn out the lights. The draft is available online and open for comments until December 23.


Responder Self-Care App

It’s no shock that first responders often neglect caring for themselves when they’re caring for others, but this app from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health won’t stand for it. The app contains checklists, reminders, and tips to make sure responders pack what they need, maintain their health and relationships, and take a moment to reflect when their mission is over. Available on iPhone and Android platforms.

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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 14-15, 2013
2013 Sustainable Disaster Recovery Conference
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis, Missouri
Cost and Deadline: $200, open until filled

This conference will explore sustainable development with a focus on disaster prevention and mitigation, as well as sustainable practices in disaster response and recovery. Topics include the role of government in sustainable disaster efforts, disaster preparedness for businesses, resilient building, sustainable recovery from floods and fires, and using social media to create sustainable recovery methods.


November 18-20, 2013
Euromediterranean Meeting on Wildfires
Consorcio International University, Pau Costa Foundation, and others
Barcelona, Spain
Cost and Deadline: $199, open until filled
This meeting will discuss the safety and effectiveness of current wildfire prevention procedures, learning from past events, and research-practitioner collaboration. Topics include anthropogenic effects on wildfires, forest management, and technological advancements in wildfire prevention in the Mediterranean.


December 3-4, 2013
Humanitarian and Military Better Practices Exchange
Geneva, Switzerland
Cost and Registration: Free, November 22, 2013
This conference will examine reducing the environmental impacts of humanitarian and military efforts while identifying effective methods and policies. Topics include military and humanitarian collaboration in assisting survivors, the role of military in environmental issues, creating action plans to reduce environmental impacts, and reducing nonrenewable resource consumption.


December 9-13, 2013
Ninth International Conference on Geo-information for Disaster Management (Gi4DM)
International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Hanoi, Vietnam
Cost and Registration: $200, open until filled
This conference will focus on the use of geoinformation technology to monitor potential disasters and to aid in disaster prevention and recovery worldwide. Topics include applying GIS to disaster management, flood and drought analysis, disaster search and rescue, landslide monitoring, and the disastrous effects of urbanization.


February 24-26, 2013
Climate Leadership Conference
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Association of Climate Change Officers, and others
San Diego, California
Cost and Registration: $525 before December 12, open until filled
This conference will discuss how policy, business, societal, and technological innovations can affect climate change and ways to create a sustainable future through climate mitigation.  Topics include understanding water risk and dependency, building resilience against catastrophic storms, climate risk in supply chains, making businesses greener, and carbon emission reduction strategies.


March 19-20, 2014
2014 Aerial Fire Fighting Conference
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
Sacramento, California
Cost and Registration: $1400, open until filled
This conference will examine the impact of budgetary restraints on agriculture, forestry, and firefighting department procedures and infrastructure in relation to recent large-scale wildfires. Topics include investing in future pilots and equipment, navigation technologies, fire suppression, rescue equipment, and emergency response methods.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

National Flood Insurance Program Senior Advisor
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $119,554 to $179,700
Deadline: November 7, 2013

This position directs the National Flood Insurance Program Office and will manage the programs transition to a new practices. Duties include creating strategies to smooth the transition, assisting with audits, serving as a key member of the Federal Insurance Mitigation Agency Management Team, and manage senior level project managers. Leadership abilities, strategic planning skill, and one year of specialized experience are required.


Disaster Risk Reduction Advisor
Save the Children Denmark
Nairobi, Kenya
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: November 10, 2013
This position will train staff and community members on disaster risk reduction with a focus on the children in the community. Duties include implementing a resilience strategy, provide technical expertise to the resiliency program, and supporting the Save the Children Denmark mission. A master’s in disaster management and five years of experience in child rights programming are required.


Assistant/ Associate Professor of Emergency Management

Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: Open until filled
This position teaches undergraduate emergency management courses and conducts research. A PhD in political science, public administration or related field, teaching experience, and evidence of productive scholarship are required.


Disaster Management Specialist

UN International Relief and Development
South East Asia
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will work to strengthen community self-reliance and reduce death and injury from natural disasters. Duties include working community members and government representatives to ensure preparedness and mitigation and creating policy and strategic objectives. A bachelor’s degree in disaster management or a related field, technical service experience and experience in disaster preparedness and response is 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. 

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