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Number 620 • January 9, 2013 | Past Issues













Yes, Virginia, There Is a Climate Crisis: Polar Vortex and Misunderstanding Climate Change

A phenomenon called the polar vortex swept across much of the Lower 48 this week, bringing with it snow, well-below-zero temperatures—and a flurry of misinformation about the connection between cold weather and the warming climate.

Scientists have their suspicions that the vortex might be climate related—it certainly fits the trend of the more extreme weather events caused by climate change—but they’re understandably cautious about linking short-term weather to long term changes. Those who are quick to dismiss warming, however, haven’t been so careful.

It often doesn’t take much more than winter to cause climate change doubters to shout foul, the vortex—essentially a mass of swirling arctic air that tipped over and spilled southward across North America—has provided an especially good opportunity for them to attempt to sway opinion toward the cold side of the debate.

“It looks to me like we’re talking about global cooling, forget this global warming,” said Fox Business’ Stuart Varney reporting on a research ship trapped in ice near Antarctica, “That’s just my opinion.” 

Varney was hardly the only one with that opinion. High-profile climate change deniers from Rush Limbaugh to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) to Donald Trump have pointed to the chill as proof that climate change was a science hoax concocted by the liberal media.

“It’s a hoax,” Trump told Fox News on Wednesday. “I think the scientists are having a lot of fun.”

Of course, scientists and media have stepped up to stop such silliness cold in its tracks, explaining the weather trends are not the same as climate and that extreme events such as polar vortex are possibly even linked to a warmer climate and melting sea ice.

“If you've been hearing that extreme cold spells like the one that we're having in the United States now disprove global warming, don't believe it,” White House science advisor John Holdren said in a video post on the White House Blog Wednesday. “A growing body of evidence suggests that the kind of extreme cold being experienced by much of the United States as we speak is a pattern that we can expect to see with increasing frequency as global warming continues.”

If scientific evidence is in short supply among climate-denying pundits, it is also lacking among the broader public. And surely such groundless claims only help to fuel the misinformation and confusion about climate change.  According to a March 2013 Gallup poll cited by the Washington Post, six out of ten people don’t think climate change will impact them in their lifetime. And another poll, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC, suggests that only 18 percent of Americans think global warming should be given top priority by the government.

It’s difficult to say how much of public opinion stems from statements made by climate naysayers, but even while an undeniable consensus of scientists can disprove those claims with research, yet another poll, conducted in 2012, shows that belief in science is waning; just 26 percent of the public trust scientists “completely” or “a lot,” while 32 percent have little to no trust.

In a world in which “certainty” in science rarely means 100 percent, maybe it should come as no surprise that many Americans can’t quite accept or understand that “95 percent” certainty is about as certain as it gets. The most recent report by the United Nation’s climate panel cites a 95 percent certainty that humans are the “dominant clause” behind global warming since the 1950s.

Not even John Holdren is not suggesting that there is a definite or even direct link between climate change and the polar vortex. But like many other scientists, he points to data that suggest that extreme weather events will become more frequent as the climate warms.

One thing is definite, though—the effects of the polar vortex will pass, while the vortex of climate confusion is likely to continue.

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From Our Director: Remembering Bill Anderson

The Natural Hazards Center sends condolences to the friends, family and colleagues of Dr. William A. (Bill) Anderson. Bill was a pioneer in the field of disaster loss reduction and his passing is truly a loss for our community. He died in December after a bicycling accident in Hawaii.

He was a mentor and friend to generations of hazards and disaster researchers and a giant in the field. His loss will leave us bereft both professionally and personally, as indicated by NSF Program Officer Dennis Wenger in this recent tribute:

“The world seems emptier today,” he wrote. “Bill’s character, dignity, integrity, humanity, and altruistic orientation made the world a better place. As the ultimate gentleman and colleague, when he interacted with you, he made you feel appreciated and significant. For all of us who viewed Bill as a friend, and I am sure that includes everyone, we have lost someone who made us better just by his presence in our lives.”

Bill was the National Science Foundation program officer for the Natural Hazards Center for more than two decades. He had a distinguished career in disaster risk reduction that spanned research, policy, and practice. After receiving a PhD in sociology at The Ohio State University (where he was a staff member at the Disaster Research Center) Bill accepted a faculty position at Arizona State University and rapidly achieved the rank of professor. He later moved to Washington, D.C., where he was the founding director of the American Sociological Association's Minority Fellowship Program.

Following his time there he moved to the NSF, where he served for more than 25 years as a program officer responsible for research on the societal dimensions of hazards and disasters. While on leave from NSF he took a position with the Disaster Management Facility at the World Bank, where he was one of the architects of the ProVention Consortium. In 2001 he moved to the National Academy of Sciences to direct the Disasters Roundtable and serve as associate executive director of the Division on Earth and Life Studies. 

Bill was influential in establishing many programs and initiatives, including the Enabling the Next Generation of Hazards Researchers project; the Second Assessment of Research on Natural Hazards; the NSF-sponsored earthquake engineering research and education centers; and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES).  

Bill is survived by his wife, Norma; daughter, Candice; and sister, Janice Spear. A Celebration of Life Service will be held March 22.  The family also plans to launch an on-line Memorial Guest Book in the near future, where those who knew him can post remembrances. The Natural Hazards Center will post that information as soon as it becomes available.

—Kathleen Tierney, Director, Natural Hazards Center

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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 January 2014 Observer include:

--Taking the Naturalness Out of Disaster (Again)
--Haiyan Highlights the Havoc of Hurricanes
--Have Scientists “Substantially Underestimated” Sea Level Rise?
--Advances in Tsunami Warnings
--Killing them Softly… With Spanish Flu

And don’t forget, for those of you who 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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There's Still Time to Submit Your Ideas for Natural Hazards Workshop Sessions

Each year the Natural Hazards Center collects the bright ideas from the hazards community and works to turn them into thought-provoking conversations at our annual Workshop. Well, it’s that time again.

We’ve extended the deadline to submit session proposals for our 39th Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop, to be held Sunday, June 22 through Wednesday, June 25, 2014. You can send us your thoughts on what you would like to see discussed by January 12.

Like last year, we will only consider submissions that are reasonably complete, and you will be asked to take a role in organizing sessions we accept. A complete Hazards Workshop session generally consists of the following:

--An interesting and descriptive title;
-- A concise session description that will frame the panelists' discussion;
-- A moderator with the background and personality to draw panel members and the audience into the discussion; and,
-- Three panelists with differing perspectives on the topic, preferably from different disciplines or sectors.

Note that the following still apply:

-- In most sessions, panelists are not permitted to present slides or papers but instead respond to a moderator's framing questions.
-- We are most interested in emerging questions, new perspectives, and topics of broad interest and applicability.
-- As needed, we will combine different proposals and panelists to reframe issues and encourage discussion.

If you make a complete session proposal using the Web form linked here, we will notify you whether or not it has been accepted by January 24.

The Workshop encourages lively discussions among people from different areas of the hazards and disasters community who might not otherwise connect. Your input is critical to achieving this goal, and we thank you in advance for your participation.

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

Call for Applications
Resilience STAR Pilot Program
U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety
Deadline: January 17, 2014
The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety is accepting applications for homes to be considered for a Department of Homeland Security pilot program to gauge the resilience of private homes. The program, Resilience STAR, will create standard resilience designations and a system from ranking home resilience. Homes selected for the project will include new construction and retrofits of existing structures. Familiarity with the IBHS FORTIFIED program will play a role in the final selection. For more information on the pilot and on FORTIFIED, visit the IBHS Web site.


Call for Papers

GEO Business 2014
Diversified Business Communications
Deadline: January 29, 2014
The GEO Business Conference Technical Committee is now accepting papers for presentation at the 2014 GEO Business event to be held May 28-29 in London. Papers should related to issues facing the geospatial industry, including the role of geospatial professionals in processing big data, operations and system integrations, building information modeling, hydrologic and near-shore mapping, and the impact of geospatial developments on disaster management. For more information on possible topics and how to submit papers, see the conference Web site.


Call for Nominations

Keck Futures Communications Award
W.M. Keck Foundation and the National Academies
Deadline: February 7, 2014

The Keck Futures Initiative is accepting nominations for its 2014 Communications Award, which recognizes authors who have clearly communicated issues of science, engineering, or medicine to the general public. Authors of books, online works, and film, radio, and television will be recognized. For more information on eligibility and to submit a nomination, visit the Futures Initiative Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

National Health Security Preparedness Index
The nation now has a new tool to gauge its readiness to handle health emergencies during disaster. The National Health Security Preparedness Index, looks at a wide variety of state-level data to a snap shot of preparedness professionals can use to guide policy and improvements. The effort, which was guided by the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be ongoing and collaborative, so take a look at the successes and challenges of 2013 and provide your feedback for the years ahead.


The National Academies of Sciences Year in Review

When it comes to keeping the nation informed on the latest scientific research, it’s hard to beat the many publications of the National Academies of Sciences. Last year was no exception. Now readers can find all the highlights of 2013 in one handy place. With reports on topics such as climate change, transportation safety, immunizations, land use, and levees, there’s sure to be a compelling report you want to read… or read again.


Risk-Based Adaptation Frameworks for Climate Change Planning in the Transportation Sector

Extreme weather and other climate-related issues can have crippling effects on transportation infrastructure. So how do we keep our show on the road in the face of climate change? That’s the topic tackled in this recent report published by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies. The report synthesizes several shared features of commonly used risk-based approaches, including motivation for climate change adaption planning, principles used to develop frameworks, framework focus, and barriers to adaptation.


Disaster Reporter

If you already have the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Smartphone app, you’ll love the added functionality of Disaster Reporter, which allows those on the ground in a disaster to share photographs and report on conditions around them (and if you don’t have the app, download it easy access to a wealth of useful resources). Disaster Reporter contributions are transferred to a searchable map that can help disaster victims get a clearer picture of what’s going on around them.

President’s Climate Action Plan Tracker

Sure, you’ve probably meant to keep tabs on the progress of the President’ Climate Action Plan, but really, when was the last time you checked up? No worries, now that the Columbia Law School Center for Climate Change Law has implemented a convenient Web site to help you keep track. Just drop in to get the latest on the plan’s goals and what’s happened so far to achieve them.

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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]

February 10-11, 2014
2014 National Tornado Summit
University of Central Oklahoma, National Weather Center, and others
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Cost and Registration: $249, open until filled

This summit will discuss ways to improve tornado detection, preparedness, response, and recovery in tornado prone communities. Topics include incident management, insurance claims surges, tornado survivability, debris management, improvements in the Fujita scale for tornado intensity, and post traumatic stress treatment.


February 25-27, 2014
Colorado Integrated Emergency Management Conference
Emergency Management Association of Colorado
Loveland, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $175, open until filled
This conference will examine the roles of emergency medical response, law enforcement, and firefighters in disasters and disaster risk education. Topics include mapping data for vulnerable populations, damage assessment, local resource management, prison evacuations, the Colorado flood, and behavioral heath needs in disasters.


March 11-13, 2014
Best Practices in Higher Education Emergency Management Conference
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Cost and Registration: $225, open until filled
This conference will focus on best practices for addressing campus emergency functions, as well as needed improvements. Topics include public information, logistics support, exercises and training, engagement opportunities, effective response strategies, and recovery. Emergency management professionals in areas outside education are encouraged to attend and contribute their expertise.


April 4-5, 2014
Planning for Disaster Resilience Symposium
Texas A&M University Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center
College Station, Texas
Cost and Registration: $100, open until filled
This symposium will discuss the key role urban planning has in creating community resilience. Topics include hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness and response planning, recovery and adaptation, evacuation planning, engaging community in disaster planning, and risk communication and development policies.


May 5-7, 2014 
The Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference 
The Australian Institute of Emergency Services, Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Organization, and others
Gold Coast, Australia
Cost and Registration: $749 before March 28, open until filled
This conference will discuss post-disaster psychological and physical problems, as well as community ability to prepare for and recover from disasters. Topics include managing animals in disasters, current trends in emergency management education, the role of local government in business recovery, trauma and disaster mental health mitigation, community resilience, and data protection.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Emergency Management Recovery Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Lakewood, Colorado
Salary: $74,587 to $96,960
Deadline: January 16, 2014
This position will work with FEMA processing centers, regional management, and local committees to address recovery issues for those affected by recent disasters and help the community to rebuild. Duties include compiling field reports and briefings for tribal liaisons, creating resources to support the tribal community, explaining program policies to tribal leaders and supporting new community involvement strategies. One year experience at the GS-11 level and experience working with tribal communities are required.


Assistant Professor of Urban Design and Planning

University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: January 21, 2014
This tenure track position will teach environmental planning and conduct research in the areas of risk assessment, sustainability, and resiliency. Duties include giving lectures, conducting research, mentoring students, and working with communities and planning professionals. A PhD in planning, past research and teaching experience, and evidence of professional achievements are required.


Emergency Management Specialist, GS-15

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Colorado Springs, CO
Salary: $113,735 to $147,857
Deadline: January 22, 2014
This position will coordinate emergency management and crisis situation planning at Peterson Air Force base. Duties include serving as principal advisor to the director of strategy, creating effective disaster policies, and evaluating emergency response plans to determine the extent of military involvement in disasters. This position requires one year of experience at the GS-14 level and knowledge of disaster response policies.


Team Assistant

United Nations Internal Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Kobe, Japan
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: January 25, 2014
This position will focus on preparing for the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Sendai City, Japan and provide high-level administrative and communication support during conference activities and meetings. Duties include drafting meeting summary reports, coordinating events, and analyzing service and logistics. A high school diploma, UN administrative support assessment testing, at least three years of office support experience, and fluency in Japanese are required.


Changing Disasters Post Doctorate

University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Salary: Not posted
Deadline: February 15, 2014
This position will work in the Department of Food and Resource Economics as part of the Changing Disaster program, an interdisciplinary project exploring how disasters shape societies. Duties include conducting economics research and analyzing research data to determine if disasters are triggers to societal changes. A PhD in social sciences and publications in the field of economics, political science, sociology or related area are required.

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