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Number 623 • February 20, 2014 | Past Issues













Shootout at the PG&E: Threats to Power Grids Aren't All Cyber

For years, counter-terrorism officials have been fretting over how to best protect the United States from cyberattacks on the power grid—and rightly so. Just one well-placed strike on the wired network that delivers the nation’s electricity could potentially leave millions in the dark.

But while the technological approach to such threats is necessary, an analog attack could wreak just as much damage. That was demonstrated in April 2013, when a highly organized rifle assault on a San Jose substation nearly turned off the lights in California’s Silicon Valley.

“It is clear that the electric grid is not adequately protected from physical or cyber attacks,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is quoted as saying in a December regulatory meeting. “[This was] an unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons.... Under slightly different conditions, there could have been serious power outages or worse."

There wasn’t much of an outage because Pacific Gas & Electric was able to quickly reroute power from the disabled Metcalf power substation, according to the Los Angeles Times. But the minimal impact can probably be credited to luck rather than a lack of savvy by the perpetrators.

“These were not amateurs taking potshots,” Mark Johnson, former PG&E vice president for transmission operations, is quoted by Foreign Policy magazine as saying at a November event on power grid security. “My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal [for future attacks].”

Although the Federal Bureau of Investigation has ruled out terrorism, little is known about the motivation for the attack or who might have been behind it. Although the incident wasn’t widely reported (perhaps because it occurred less than 24 hours after the Boston Marathon bombing) it has all the makings of a Hollywood thriller.

The blitz on the San Jose substation began about just before 2 a.m. on April 16, when at least two individuals accessed an underground fiber optics vault and cut cell and landline transmissions in the area, the San Jose Mercury News reported. With communications severed, at least one shooter fired nearly 120 rounds from a high-powered automatic rifle at transformers from about 40 feet away. They made almost every shot, the Times reported.

The 17 transformers—which were under fire for about 19 minutes—were targeted in such a way that they leaked oil and shut down rather than exploding and attracting attention. Piles of rocks near the substation fencing suggest that the gunmen had previously scouted the area for the best places to shoot.

“This wasn't an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskies, to come in and shoot up a substation,” Johnson is quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal. “This was an event that was well thought out, well planned and they targeted certain components.”

The siege ended nearly an hour after it started, with police being dispatched after a traveler on nearby U.S. 101 reported seeing “fireworks” at the facility, the U.S. 101 reported seeing “fireworks” at the facility, the Times reports. The snipers fled leaving no evidence shortly before police arrived, leading authorities to speculate that they had also been monitoring radio traffic.

Perhaps more relevant than the who and why at this point is what can be done to mitigate physical attacks on facilities such as the San Jose substation. Jon Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time of the attacks, has been vocal about the need to meet low-tech fire with low-tech fire.

Something as simple as metal sheeting to block the site line to equipment could be effective, Wellinghoff said at the same meeting at which Mark Johnson spoke. He added that utility companies need more help developing security strategies and offseting the costs of implementing them.

“If you do all those things then you might be able to get them to move,” Wellinghoff said, according to Bloomberg News. “We have to start anticipating what will be our future with respect to both natural events and also events that may be perpetrated by those who would do us harm in the areas of physical and cybersecurity.”

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Disaster News Redux: Drilling Up a Quake

Shaky Ground: For the last several years, increases in earthquake activity have led many to speculate that human activities such as deep well injection mining might be to blame.

DR first raised the issue in 2011, when we reported on a swarm of low-magnitude earthquakes that plagued Guy, Arkansas. The flurry of uncharacteristic quakes had some residents point to the practice of injecting drilling waste deep into the earth as the culprit.

While the area wasn’t normally prone to earthquakes, local geology made scientists wary of definitively connecting drilling with the quakes. Still, growing concern over the swarms led the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to not only shut down wastewater wells, but also ban the drilling of any new disposal wells.

As time went on, similar events across the country continued to point to the possibility that injection wells could spawn manmade earthquakes. Subsequent studies in OklahomaArkansasOhio, Colorado, and internationally have shown links between the two.

Standing Firm: More recently, additional evidence has surfaced to support those connections. A January news report from the U.S. Geological Survey, for instance, announced that the number of U.S. earthquakes had increased dramatically in the past four years—and that in some instances increases coincided with deep well injections.

USGS scientists logged an average of more than 100 magnitude 3.0 or larger quakes per year since 2010. That compares with the previous average of 20 quakes per year for the years from 1970-2010. In a variety of locations, such as rural Oklahoma, where a 5.6 quake in 2011 caused injuries and damage, geologists have been able to show a strong correlation between seismic activity and wastewater injection.

“Injection-induced earthquakes, such as those that struck in 2011, clearly contribute to the seismic hazard,” USGS geophysicist William Ellsworth writes in the abstract of a Science article on the subject. But he adds, “Quantifying their contribution presents difficult challenges that will require new research…” 

Digging Deeper: The USGS is partnering with other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, to better understand how wastewater injection contributes to seismicity. Meanwhile, Ellsworth suggests developing a “threshold system” where changing seismicity could be monitored and wastewater disposal halted when the threshold was reached.

Although the system would help mitigate the risk of damaging quakes, Ellsworth noted that current reporting of wastewater injection rates and other factors would need to increase. That could mean pushback from the oil and gas industry, but even industry-friendly states such as Colorado and Kansas are looking at ways to limit quake risks.

“Recent seismic activity in south-central Kansas has raised concerns that fluid injection might be related,” Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said Monday as he announced a state task force to study the issue. “This is a matter of public safety.”

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And Now for Something Different… DR Offers New Resources

Nearly 30 years ago, when DR was first created, it was easy to categorize the resources available to hazards researchers. Since then a lot has changed. Typewriters have given up the ghost to computers, communication has turned digital, and there are a slew of training and educational offerings that didn’t exist all those years ago.

As these advancements have become more prevalent, it’s been increasingly difficult to fit them under our handy headings of jobs, conferences, and callouts. Now, that’s about to change.

With this issue we introduce you to a new category—Webinars, Training, and Education. Just as the title implies, we plan to provide you each issue with a sample of useful online courses, information about training and certification opportunities, and news about available education programs.

We’re starting off small in this issue, but we’re eager to make this newest offering as valuable to our audience as possible. As always, we welcome your feedback and contributions. Please feel free to send us your thoughts and suggestions as we continue to do all we can to make DR disaster research news you can use.

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Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition Now Open

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop if chosen as one of the two winners of our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. The competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students enrolled for at least one term of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Papers must be submitted by April 21, 2014. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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

Call for Abstracts
International Disaster Risk Conference
Global Risk Forum Davos
Deadline: February 28, 2014

The Global Risk Forum is accepting abstracts for sessions, oral presentations, and posters to be presented at the International Disaster Risk Conference to be held August 24-28 in Davos, Switzerland. Abstracts can be on one of the many conference topics or themes, including urban risk, mega catastrophes, disaster preparedness, integrated risk management, and science and technology recommendations for the Post 2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. For full information on abstract categories and to submit an abstract, visit the conference Web site.


Call for Applications

Risk and Resilience Workshop
Deadline: March 1, 2014
Integrate is accepting applications for participants in a interdisciplinary workshop examining the role risk and resilience play in environmental disaster preparedness and response. Workshop attendance is free for successful applicants, although travel and lodging is the responsibility of attendees. For more information on workshop topics, participant expectations, and selection criteria, visit the Workshop Web site.


Call for Comments

Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific
UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and others
Deadline: March 3, 2014
Authors of the Strategy for Climate and Disaster Resilient Development in the Pacific are requesting comments on the draft version released February 3. The strategy was created to help the Pacific region better address the risks and challenges presented by climate change and more extreme disasters. Feedback is sought from multiple disciplines and sectors. To comment, visit the link above, or read more about the strategy’s planning on the Strategy Roadmap page.

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Some New Web Resources

Thirsty Energy Initiative
Water is scarce, and for many, so is energy. Yet we depend on each element to ensure the world’s access to the other. This complex interconnection has led the World Bank to create the Thirsty Energy Initiative, which will help government manage the challenges of securing both resources. The initiative aims to increase awareness of the interdependency, develop technical tools and guidance for resource management, and build collaborative relationships to further knowledge and integrate the two sectors.


The Science of Science Communication II

Translating the complex language of science into a parlance easily understood by non-scientists can be daunting, but it’s increasingly necessary to ensure sound policy decisions and an informed public.  Toward that end comes this new publication from the National Academies Press. The book summarizes the results of a 2013 curriculum and offers advice on how to identify information needs, engage the public, navigate the politicization of scientific findings.


Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools

Along with the latest federal guidance on creating emergency plans for schools comes this useful Web site with a wealth of resources for both K-12 and higher education. The site features guides for developing effective plans, emergency resources, technical assistance, and a host of webinars and training opportunities.


Diabetes Disaster Preparedness

Diabetes is a tough condition to manage even under the best of circumstances, so imagine how difficult it can be to get the necessary food and medicine in a disaster. This guide, published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, offers handy checklists, tips, and advice on where to seek medical attention in an emergency.


See Me, Hear Me, Ask Me: Children’s Recommendation for Recovery Three months after Typhoon Haiyan

Children often experience disaster quite differently from adults, yet seldom are they given the opportunity to speak on topics that deeply affect them. In this recent publication, Save the Children gives a voice to the youth of the Philippines who are suffering the after affects of Typhoon Haiyan. Kids weigh in on topics ranging from health to education to rebuilding, and they show the wisdom children have to offer.

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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]

March 5-8, 2014
Nexus 2014: Water, Food, Climate and Energy
The Water Institute
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Cost and Registration: $475, open until filled

This conference will examine ways to achieve water, food, climate, and energy security in a global context, as well as provide input to the UN Sustainable Development Goals process. Topics include urban challenges, corporate stewardship, natural resource security, social and environmental entrepreneurship, and financing.


April 1-4, 2014
Preparedness Summit
The National Association of City and County Health Officials and others
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $750 before March 6, open until filled
This summit will take an interdisciplinary look at public health and healthcare capabilities that create more prepared communities. Topics include social media monitoring for public health response, legal topics in preparedness, the Strategic National Stockpile inventory, the role of hospitals in building resilience, regional collaboration, and preparing the national healthcare system for catastrophic disasters.


April 10, 2014
The Disaster Conferences
Disaster Conferences
Houston, Texas
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference series will help businesses, organizations, and individuals analyze disaster risk, create effective emergency operation and communication plans, and find resources after a disaster. Topics include business continuity strategy, social media, organizational resilience, and applying emergency management standards to business plans.


April 25-27, 2014
Wildland Fire Litigation Conference
Ken Roye
Monterey, California
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference discusses infrastructure, environment, and insurance issues in wildland fire litigation. Topics include the economic evolution of wildfire suppression, professional responsibility issues, enterprise liability, federal claims litigation, valuation of natural resources, fire weather, and managing disaster claims.


April 26-30, 2014
National Planning Conference
American Planning Association
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $1,045, open until filled
This conference offers sessions and workshops addressing issues in urban and environmental planning, regional planning, natural hazard risk reduction, and others. Topics include sustainable communities, stormwater planning, climate change and urban heat islands, hazard mitigation, ethics and public health, climate action plans, and climate-resilient transportation.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Regional Disability Integration Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Lakewood, Colorado
Salary: $74,587 to $96,960
Deadline: February 26, 2014

This position serves as the senior technical advisor on disaster disability integration issues and ensures access and needs of individuals with disabilities are included in all stages of the emergency management process. Duties include evaluating disaster programs for measures providing equal access to persons with disabilities, performing outreach and promoting inclusive practices in disaster and preparedness programs, and raising awareness of reasonable accommodations, policies, procedures, and resources available to disaster applicants in FEMA programs. One year of experience at the GS-11 level and specialized experience in the application of emergency management and disability rights are required.


International Climate Change Adaptation Specialist

Practical Action
Delhi, India
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: February 28, 2014
This position will lead Practical Action in not-for-profit climate adaptation consultancies, build the organization’s portfolio, and direct the group’s work in climate resilient agriculture. Duties include project management; budget development; representing Practical Action at key events, meetings, and workshops; and securing contracts. A PhD in a relevant field and five years of experience in climate change adaptation are required. Candidates from South Asia are preferred.


Environmental Protection Specialist, GS-11/12

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Denton, Texas
Salary: $ 61,288 to $95,496
Deadline: February 28, 2014
This position is responsible for determining compliance with the requirements of National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and federal Environmental Historic Preservation laws. Duties include monitoring for compliance, identifying problems and solutions, approving requests, and advising on technical issues. One year of experience at the GS-10/11 level is required.


Natural Hazards Planner and Policy Researcher

GNS Science
Wellington, New Zealand
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: March 9, 2014
This position will develop natural hazard guidance, implement risk-based planning, and undertaking consultancy projects that enhance research capabilities in land use planning. A postgraduate degree and five years of experience in land use planning is required. Commercial experience is preferred.


Community Resilience Design Fellow

Architecture for Humanity
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Salary: Dependent on experience
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will serve communities in Oklahoma affected by the May 2013 tornado
in long-term recovery. Duties include coordinating with local agencies; providing architectural, engineering, and planning expertise; and managing community-driven design processes. Experience in disaster recovery, architecture or related field are required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

February 27, 2014, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. EST
A Discussion on Climate Change: Evidence and Causes
National Academies of Sciences and the Royal Society
Cost and Registration: Free, register online in advance of the event
This webcast will broadcast the release of a new publication produced jointly by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and the Royal Society of the United Kingdom. The report, Climate Change: Evidence & Causes, was created to clarify questions of climate and points of debate in an easy-to-read format. The broadcast will feature report authors Eric Wolff of Cambridge University and Inez Fung of University of California, Berkeley in a discussion guided by PBS News Hour’s Miles O’Brien. Topics will include established and developing climate science and point of debate.


April 28 to May 2, 2014, Sanremo, Italy
International Disaster Law
International Institute of Humanitarian Law
Cost and Registration: $617, April 4 or until filled

This course will give attendees an opportunity to examine and analyze legal challenges presented by natural and manmade disasters. An overview of practical, diplomatic, and military issues associated with the prevention and management of disasters will be provided along with exercises that will help participants develop outcome-oriented solutions. The course is geared toward graduate and post-graduate students with backgrounds in law, security, international relations, or humanitarian assistance.


Webinar Series
Disaster Learning Webinars
National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
Cost and Registration: Free, registration not required
This webinar series features public health and disaster medicine professionals sharing their expertise on a variety of topics. Past events have included school disasters, disaster health competencies, and socioeconomic determinants of post-disaster health outcomes. Visit the series Web site for upcoming offering or to view past webinars in video or presentation formats.

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

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