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Number 622 • February 6, 2014 | Past Issues













Water, Water, Nowhere: California (and the Rest of the West) Suffer From Prolonged Drought

California has been pummeled by the worst drought on record for three years, and the blows just keep on coming.

In mid-January, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in response to dwindling water supplies and continued lack of rain and snowfall. Now, state water officials have announced the faucet on state reservoirs would be shut to local agencies.

“The harsh weather leaves us little choice,” Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a statement. “If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs.”

The move means the 29 agencies dependent on the California State Water Project will have to rely on overextended groundwater supplies and similarly strained resources to provide about 25 million people with water and irrigate about 750,000 acres of agricultural land.

“A zero allocation is catastrophic and woefully inadequate for Kern County residents, farms and businesses,” Ted Page, president the Kern County Water Agency's board, said in a statement, as reported by the Associated Press. “While many areas of the county will continue to rely on ground water to make up at least part of the difference, some areas have exhausted their supply.” Kern County lies at the southern end of the California Central Valley.

In fact, at least 17 communities could face severe water shortages is less than four months, according to the AP.

While California might be in the vanguard of states with their fists up against drought, it’s far from alone. Portions of 11 states were declared federal disaster areas last month, including Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Idaho. Texas, Oregon, and Hawaii are also on the list. But Southwestern states differ in that in addition to regional drought they must also contend with a morass of complicated water-sharing agreements and the diminishing Colorado River.

In the Southwest, a Gordian knot of water rights, which was formed on the assumption that there would always be the same amount of water to go around, proves difficult to untie to meet new realities. At the same time, efforts to stanch increased demand for water have been scant. There’s some indication that this drought might be the impetus for long needed change.

“The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end,” John Entsminger, the senior deputy general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the New York Times last month. “It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

Entsminger wasn’t speculating. He spoke in response to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decision to lower the flow of water from Lake Powell into Lake Mead—a first of it’s kind measure that will affect the amount of water available to cities and farms from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

The decision still allows lower Colorado Basin states and Mexico to draw their full allotment of water—at least for now. Bureau officials believe there’s a 50 percent chance that that water will need to be rationed to those states as early as next year, according to the Times.

Agencies such as the newly formed National Drought Resilience Partnership stand ready to coordinate federal drought response and help communities grapple with water woes. But it remains unclear how states might react to an unprecedented rationing and if the many far-flung and patchwork water agreements will hold up to the stress.

As the quote often (and unverifiably) attributed to Mark Twain says, in the West “whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over.”  

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Vanquishing Listlessness: LA Council Hopes to Use Catalog of Concrete Buildings to Energize Earthquake Safety Efforts

One of the most controversial lists in Los Angeles in recent months has nothing to do with star power or secret Academy nominations. Instead it’s a list of nearly 1,500 non-ductile concrete buildings that could be at risk of collapse during an earthquake.
The list, which was compiled by University of California Berkeley researchers, had been imperiled since October, when a Los Angeles Times article highlighted the dangers of such buildings in earthquakes.

At that time, UC Berkeley refused to make the list public because it feared lawsuits from property owners, according to a January 17 Times article. The list was compiled over several years with funding from the National Science Foundation. The university eventually turned over the data on January 21, however, with the caveat that the buildings inventoried were only potentially problematic.

“Some of these buildings are perfectly safe in their current condition, some of them may already have been retrofitted but there will be some within this inventory of buildings that are likely to be judged as vulnerable,” Jack Moehle, an engineering professor who led the research team, told NBC4 News, last week.

In that regard, having the list in hand is only the beginning for LA officials, who must now determine the best way of facilitating the individual safety inspections needed for the buildings, which include schools, hospitals, hotels, and tourist attractions. Preliminary assessments could range from $4,000 to $20,000 each and those that need to be retrofitted could cost as much as $1 million, depending on size, according to a follow up Times article on January 25.

The steep costs will likely draw plenty of pushback against implementing safety measures, a persistent problem in Los Angeles. But LA officials have said having the list is a big step toward raising community awareness and political will. In that sense, the hullabaloo caused by not immediately turning over the data might actually be useful.

“When you have a big earthquake, you get a lot done — but after that, it’s hard to get traction,” Lucy Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist and earthquake advisor to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, told the New York Times. “It’s really great that we are doing this without having to kill people first.”

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Disaster News Redux: State Department Releases Keystone XL Pipeline Report

Previously in the Pipe: What a difference a couple years can make. Planning for the Keystone XL Pipeline had slowed to a trickle in November 2011, after the U.S. State Department announced it would halt permitting on the hotly contested project to assess possible environmental and health impacts of the 1,700-mile pipeline.

The move appeared to be a political maneuver by President Barack Obama to put off the controversial decision until after his bid for reelection in 2012. Obama had said he would approve the project if the pipeline—which would carry about 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada —would not significantly exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.

In the meantime, builders of the pipeline attempted to ameliorate one of the major concerns by changing the Keystone Route to avoid Nebraska’s environmentally important Ogallala Aquifer and the wetlands of the Sand Hills. The change allowed Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman get behind the project, according to a letter he wrote to President Obama in January of 2013.

Since then, supporters of the project and those that opposed it have continued to debate its merits and drawbacks. Supporters have pointed to a series of rail accidents as need for a pipeline, while opponents have held up pipeline breaks as reason to be cautious.

Piping Hot Now: The debate is poised to heat up now that the State Department released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement last week. On the question of greenhouse gases, the 11-volume report found that while extracting the tar sands would increase greenhouse gas emissions, extraction would likely occur at the same rate whether the pipeline was built or not.

That assessment should open the door for approval of the project based on Obama’s previous comments, pipeline supporters say. Opponents, however, dispute the report’s objectivity and point to a pending investigation into an earlier version as reason not to jump to conclusions, according to the New York Times.

Down the Pipeline: The report is only one piece to be considered as the permitting process begins to ramp back up, according to the State Department Web site. Because of the international aspects of the pipeline, Secretary of State John Kerry will need to make a recommendation on whether the pipeline serves the national interest. That includes factors such as energy security, environmental and economic impacts, and foreign policy. 

Kerry’s office will also coordinate feedback from eight U.S. agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, according to the Washington Post. Public comments are also being accepted until March 7, 2014.

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Anderson Family Creates Fund to Further Disaster Mitigation Research and Education

Late sociologist Bill Anderson worked tirelessly in the field of disaster risk reduction and was a great proponent of attempting to understand and address the ways in which vulnerable populations suffer in disaster. With this in mind, his family has announced the creation of a new fund that will further those ideals.

The William Averette Anderson Fund for Hazard and Disaster Mitigation Education and Research
will assist earth scientists, engineers, practitioners, and social scientists focus on mitigating the impacts of disasters on vulnerable and underserved populations in the United States.

“As I considered how best to honor Bill, my thoughts were immediately directed to his deep commitment to promoting the study of women, children, African Americans, persons of color and of other vulnerable populations in disaster hazard mitigation,” his wife Norma Doneghy Anderson wrote. “It is with his commitment in mind that I am establishing the William Averette Anderson Fund for Hazard and Disaster Mitigation Education and Research.”

Anderson passed away unexpectedly on December 29. For more than two decades, Bill served as the National Science Foundation program officer for the Natural Hazards Center, providing invaluable guidance and support. His distinguished career included positions at the American Sociological Association, NSF, the World Bank, and the National Academies. He was a consummate researcher, mentor, and leader. 

Those interested in learning more about the fund or making a contribution can visit the Fund Web siteor check in on a Facebook page that’s been created to help promote the effort.

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Nominations Now Open for Mary Fran Myers Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2014 Mary Fran Myers Award. The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Individuals eligible for the award will have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The selection committee is especially interested in nominations from outside the United States. Previously nominated individuals who have not won the Mary Fran Myers Award are still eligible.

The award winner will be invited to participate in the Natural Hazards Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on June 22-25 and will be acknowledged in the Workshop program. Workshop fees will be covered. Travel to and accommodations at the Workshop are the winner's responsibility.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  • Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  • The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae (three-page maximum)
  • A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  • An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization

Nominations should be submitted by April 14 to Questions can be forwarded to Maureen Fordham or Elaine Enarson.

Please note that the Mary Fran Myer Award is different from the similarly named Mary Fran Myer Scholarship. For more information on the scholarship, please visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site

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

Call for Nominations
National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Deadline: February 14, 2014

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is accepting nominations for committee members to sit on the 15-person National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters. The committee provides expert advice to on planning and policies related to the needs of children during all stages of disaster. Non-federal professionals from the public health, scientific, and medical fields are eligible. For more information or to submit a nomination, visit the Committee Web site.


Call for Abstracts

World Weather Open Science Conference
World Meteorological Organization
Deadline: February 24, 2014
The Organizing Committee of the World Weather Open Science Conference is accepting abstracts for presentation at the event to be held August 16-21, 2014 in Montreal, Canada. Abstracts of 250 words or less on topics related to weather and social science are welcome. Only one abstract per person will be accepted. For more information and to submit an abstract online, visit the conference Web site.


Call for Applications

IAWF Scholarship Program
International Association of Wildland Fire
Deadline: March 15, 2014
The International Association of Wildland Fire is accepting applications for its 2014 Scholarship program. Two $3,000 scholarships are available for masters or PhD students studying wildland fire or wildland fire-related topics. Eligible students will be members of IAWF and enrolled full-time with at least 8 months of their program remaining at the time of application. For full information on how to submit and application, visit the 2014 Call for Applications at the IAWF Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Historical Sea Ice Atlas
What does sea ice have to do with disaster planning, you might ask? Plenty.  This elegant and accessible Web site allows users to make comparisons of the extent of ice past and present, figure out the lingo of ice experts, and download a wealth of data from various collections. Created by a partnership of Alaskan agencies to help assist decision makers and encourage public participation in coastal planning, this Web site will keep apathy on ice.


CDC Prevention Status Reports

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released the latest batch of Prevention Status Reports—state-specific reports that highlight the current state of public health policy and practice. Simply pick a category such as food safety, healthcare-related infections, or motor vehicle injuries and get an overview of where we are as a nation. Then drill down to see how your state compares.


Emergency Relief for Disaster Damaged Roads and Transit Systems: In Brief

This report by the Congressional Research Service examines the state of the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Program and finds overspending by Congress, lack of a permanent funding source, and too-close relationships between the FHWA and state partners are eroding the program’s effectiveness.


Curriculum Recommendations for Disaster Healthcare Professionals: Behavioral Health

Those responsible for training or educating healthcare professionals elements of behavioral health factors during disaster will be glad to know that a set of curriculum recommendations exists to make for a handy starting place. The curriculum, created by National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, is part of a disaster health curriculum series that incorporates core competencies in disaster medicine and public health.


Homeowner-Driven Housing Reconstruction and Retrofitting in Haiti

After four years of helping Haitians rebuild and retrofit their homes, Build Change has issued a report recounting some of the lessons learned by the nonprofit while there. Topics include information on the homeowner-driven approach, costs, retrofitting, design and construction, and disaster risk reduction training.

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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 14-17, 2014
National Hurricane Conference
National Hurricane Conference
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $350 before February 28, open until filled

This conference is focused on strengthening hurricane preparedness and response in the United States and Caribbean by exploring new ideas and lessons learned, as well as the basics. Topics include hurricane readiness for coastal cities, debris management, FEMA logistics, insurance issues, private-public partnerships for recovery, and coastal resilience tools.


April 30-May 3, 2014
50th Anniversary Workshop
University of Delaware Disaster Research Center
Newark, Delaware
Cost and Registration: $100, open until filled
This workshop will focus on the ways in which urbanization, the economy, aging infrastructure, and growing populations are creating new challenges in disaster research and management. Topics include climate change, technological failures, new research directives and methodology, integrating findings with policy needs, and basic disaster science research.


May 28-29, 2014
The Geospatial Event
Diversified Communications
London, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $203 before April 11, open until filled
This event will analyze advancements in geospatial technology and showcase up-to-the-minute research on issues facing the industry. Topics include spatial processing of big data, the value of automated data, hydrographic and near-shore mapping, land management, and the potential impact of geospatial developments on disaster management. 


June 1-13, 2014
Emergency Media and Public Affairs Australia
Emergency Media and Public Affairs
Canberra, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,150 before February 28, open until filled
This conference will discuss the role of the press in emergency services and crisis communication and how to best collaborate for optimum communication. Topics include disaster mitigation and recovery in Australia, harnessing the power of social media, disaster operations, the language of emergencies, bushfires, and media relations.


August 16-21, 2014
The World Weather Open Science Conference
World Meteorological Organization
Montreal, Canada
Cost and Registration: $368 before May 22, open until filled
This conference invites the weather science community to weigh in on what’s needed in the next decade to prevent weather-related disasters. Topics include better prediction services, early warning systems, tropical cyclones, research on verification techniques, and data assimilation.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Preparedness Branch Chief, GS-14
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $104,184 to $135,434
Deadline: February 14, 2014

This position will supervise and manage preparedness branch operations related to preservation of life and critical infrastructure. Duties include providing oversight and guidance to Preparedness Branch staff, direct Branch projects, and coordinate emergency management planning programs. One year of experience at the GS-13 level and specialized experience in managing disaster preparedness programs are required.


Recovery Officer

New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Salary: $30,888 to $54,912
Deadline: February 16, 2014
This position will administrates, implements and runs complex disaster recovery grant programs in accordance to state and federal program requirements. Duties include preparing grants, forecasting budgets, working with communities, report writing, and recovery aid distribution. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management and three years of experience in emergency operations are required.


Strategic Advisory Services Vice President

Witt O’Brien’s
Washington DC, United States
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: February 27, 2014
This position will serve in the consulting services division developing high profile projects and overseeing their management. Duties include leading company efforts in independent assessments, health and hospital preparedness, management consulting, and online training. A master’s degree in emergency management, 10 years of emergency management experience, and a Master Exercise Practitioner Certification are required. 


Adjunct Instructor

Utah Valley University
Orem, Utah
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: 1 March, 2014
This position will lead lectures emergency topics and acts as a mentor to students. Duties include preparing instructional materials, assisting other faculty members, following new trends and teaching methods, and attending faculty meetings. A bachelor’s degree and five years of teaching experience are required.

Response and Recovery Coordinator

Samar, Philippines
Salary: Not Posted
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will assist in the recovery of the Eastern Philippines Island of Samar with a focus on public health threats. Duties include coordinating the delivery of  critical medicines and supplies, evaluating potential program partners and recovery projects, review proposals, preparing reports for external constituents, and assisting with media coverage. A bachelor’s degree and five years of experience in public health and disaster response are required.

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