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Number 627 • April 17, 2014 | Past Issues













All's Not Fair: Illinois Battles Over Being Too Big To Feel FEMA's Love

Life isn’t fair, and neither is FEMA, according to Illinois lawmakers who are miffed at being passed over for public disaster assistance.

Illinois Senators Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican, said Monday that when it comes to distributing disaster funds, the Federal Emergency Management Agency discriminates against more populated states. They want to see the process changed.

“The thinking is that large states have the resources to absorb the recovery costs,” Durbin said in a statement.  “Well, that’s just not the case in Illinois, and it’s certainly not the case for these communities.  Senator Kirk and I agree, it is time to fix the metrics FEMA uses to determine which communities deserve disaster assistance.” 

The senators’ ire stems from being turned down for public disaster funds after a November tornado cut a swath of destruction across nine Illinois counties. Although the counties were declared disaster areas and grants were given to individuals, local governments were on their own when it came to recovering disaster related costs, according to a NPR report. Durbin’s statement also references February storms in Southwestern Illinois.

At the heart of the issue is a population-based formula used by FEMA to determine whether or not states can recover without federal funding. The formula assigns an amount per resident—this year that amount is $1.39—that the state should be able to pay on its own before needing assistance, according to NPR. Smaller states would therefore have lower thresholds to receive funding.

“Tomorrow, I say to my colleagues, it could be your state,” Durbin told NPR. “You could find out that a devastating natural disaster does not qualify for federal disaster assistance simply because of the population of your state.”

Durbin and Kirk introduced the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act to counter what they see as discrimination. The Act would require FEMA to take into consideration local economic factors including the local assessable tax base, the median income as it compares to that of the state, and the poverty rate as it compares to that of the state, according to Durbin’s statement.

Without doubt, communities like those in Illinois are distressed by the practice, but is the practice truly unfair? Don’t states with a larger population, and by extension a larger taxbase, have more capacity to recover without federal help?

In Illinois, that seems to be the case. After FEMA turned down two applications for relief funds, the state came up with $45 million to help the affected governments. The scenario lends support  to the argument, debated in the most recent presidential election, that states don’t plan well enough for disasters because they feel assured the federal government will be there to bail them out.

Even if that’s so, FEMA’s methods for determining what qualifies as a disaster and what amount of assistance will be granted is indeed perplexing. State governors have long been flummoxed by what they see as the whims of disaster declarations.
But given the increased instances of extreme weather and the tenuous state of federal funding, perhaps the tack of another Illinois lawmaker is a better one to take.

In early April, State Sen. Dave Koehler introduced a measure requiring the state emergency management agency to grant relief funds to communities when FEMA won’t. It passed the senate unanimously. Although it has yet to be funded, it could possibly bring a little more peace of mind to affected communities than by taking on the vagaries of FEMA.

“We’re trying to use the experience of Nov. 17 to look ahead and see if we can’t give a little more comfort to communities,” Koehler told the Peoria Journal Star.

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New Strain of Ebola Carries the Same Old Challenges

An unprecedented Ebola epidemic in West Africa just became even more exceptional, as scientists Thursday announced the outbreak was caused by a new strain of the virus.

The West African outbreak, which has killed 122 people in Guinea and 22 in neighboring Liberia, was already concerning because it of its widespread appearance in a region that hadn’t previously suffered from Ebola. The discovery of the new strain means the virus is indigenous to the region, according to Reuters.

“This study demonstrates the emergence of a new EBOV strain in Guinea," according to preliminary findings from the New England Journal of Medicine, which Reuters quoted. “The emergence of the virus in Guinea highlights the risk of EBOV outbreaks in the whole West African subregion.”

Ebola is a highly lethal hemorrhagic fever that kills nine out of 10 of its victims, according to the World Health Organization, which called the recent outbreak the most challenging it has ever faced. There is no vaccine or cure for the disease, which WHO has predicted could be prevalent for at least another two to four months. 
Because of the dire consequences, the presence of Ebola has caused panic, complicating the job of healthcare workers trying to stanch the spread of the disease. In one incident, Médecins Sans Frontières came under attack from locals who threw stones at doctors, thinking they were responsible for the outbreak.

“We're dealing with quite a lethal infection, and because of that, these kinds of outbreaks are often surrounded by a great deal of fear and anxiety, creating rumors and making communications both challenging and very important,” Keiji Fukuda, WHO's assistant director-general for health security, said in a Washington Post article.

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Disaster News Redux: Grid Security Gridlock

Powered Down: Vandals sent a resounding wake-up call to power companies last year when a highly organized rifle assault on a San Jose substation nearly turned off the lights in California’s Silicon Valley.

While much attention had been focused on cyberthreats to the interconnected electric grid, the low-tech attack highlighted the impacts that could cascade from an assault on physical infrastructure.

The blitz on the substation began about just before 2 a.m. on April 16, 2013, 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. 

There wasn’t much of an outage because Pacific Gas & Electric was able to quickly reroute power from the disabled Metcalf station, 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, experts said.

“This wasn't an incident where Billy-Bob and Joe decided, after a few brewskies, to come in and shoot up a substation,” former PG&E vice president for transmission operations Mark 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.”

In all, 17 transformers were damaged. The Federal Bureau of Investigation ruled out terrorism immediately after the incident. But an ongoing investigation hasn’t led to any arrests in the case, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article.

Reboot: Just weeks ahead of the one-year anniversary of the transformer shootout, the Wall Street Journal reported on a disturbing analysis by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The analysis that found a similar attack on a handful of substations could plunge the entire country into darkness for more than a year.
“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer,” according to a FERC memo obtained by the Journal.

That is possibly a worst-case scenario, but it’s difficult to tell because the FERC report has not been made public, and FERC officials would not comment. The May 12 Journal article does not make it clear how reporters came by the memo or the report results, but it does state that some federal officials see the level of vulnerability as overstated. Others, however, feel it’s at least close to accurate.

“This study used a relatively simplified model, but other models come to the same conclusion,” A.P. “Sakis” Meliopoulos, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, told the Journal.

Meliopoulos used simulations common to the electric industry to estimate that it would take “a slightly larger number” of substation attacks to cause a nationwide blackout, according to the article.

Although FERC Chair Cheryl LaFleur has criticized the Wall Street Journal for giving “those who would do us harm a roadmap to achieve malicious designs,” others have pointed out that the shooting and the FERC findings are an opening to much needed conversations about how to ensure electric grid security.

Charging (ahead): Currently, utilities aren’t required to put security measures in place that would protect the grid. On March 26, however, legislation was introduced that would change that. The Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act (GRID) would give FERC the authority to ensure vulnerabilities were addressed.

It’s not the first time the GRID act has been run up the flagpole. According to the Los Angeles Times, the bill’s authors, Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Ed Markey, have introduced the bill two previous times. In each case, it met with pushback from industry experts who thought that grid management should be the purview of energy companies, according to the Times. Fears of costly security measures driving up electric prices were also cited.

There’s hope, however, that last years shooting incident and the attention drawn by the FERC findings will help the bill find traction this time around.

“The security of the electric grid is a critical and urgent issue,” Waxman said in a statement. “We will remain vulnerable to attacks that could cause devastating blackouts until security is increased and regulatory gaps are closed.”

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Student Paper Competition Deadline Approaching

The clock is ticking on the chance to win $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop. We’ll soon choose the winners for our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition. Graduate and undergraduate students have until April 21 to brush up that research and send it in!

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. Students must be enrolled for at least one term of the 2013-2014 academic year. 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 Applications
USAID/OFDA Graduate Fellowships
U.S. Agency for International Development
Deadline: May 5, 2014

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance of the U.S. Agency for International Development is accepting applications for two graduate fellowships. Ideal candidates will be working toward a thesis or professional report related to humanitarian shelters or settlements with an emphasis on disaster risk reduction. For full details and eligibility requirements, see the call for fellowship applications linked above.


Call for Applications

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Graduate Fellowship
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Deadline: May 12, 2014
The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are accepting applications for graduate fellowships supporting the science and practice of earthquake hazard mitigation. The nine-month fellowship will provide a stipend of $12,000 along with an additional $8,000 for research fees and tuition. Applicants must be U.S. citizens currently enrolled in an accredited U.S. college or university. For more information and application guidelines, visit the EERI fellowship page.


Call For Proposals

Earthquake Hazards Program
U.S. Geological Survey
Deadline: May 22, 2014
The U.S. Geological Survey is accepting grant proposals for research support in the areas of earthquake hazards, the physics of earthquakes, earthquake occurrence, and earthquake safety policy. For a full description of grant requirements and how to submit a proposal, see the call for proposals on the Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

America’s PreparAthon!
How do you get ready for America’s first National Day of Action? With a PreparAthon, of course! This Web site has everything needed for individuals and organizations to get geared up for the National Day of Action on April 30. Find out where you fall in the preparedness profile range, register to take action, and tap into a wealth of info on the four focus hazards—wildfire, tornado, hurricane and flood.

Coping with Unconfirmed Death

From landslides, to missing airliners, to ferry accidents, the news has been full of tragedies involving unconfirmed deaths. For children and teens who experience the loss of a loved one this way, coping can be difficult. This guide by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network will help caregivers get a handle on what kids are going through and how to respond when loss becomes that much harder to understand.


Climate Change Laws of the World

Need a little light reading while you wait for the next installment of the International Panel on Climate Change report? Consider boning up on the actions being taken by countries worldwide. This Columbia Law School database collects policies and laws from around the world that are related to reducing the impacts of a warming climate.


City Resilience Framework

The report from the Rockefeller Foundation explores what factors contribute to making a city resilient to climate change and disasters and creates framework for guiding change. The framework will form the basis of a tool that will guide cities as they begin to assess and understand resilience.


NIST Final Report on the May 22, 2013 Joplin Tornado

This final report on the investigation by the National Institute of Standards and Technology looks at a number of factors related to the tornado and issues 16 recommendations, including improved tornado characterizations, new methods for tornado resistant buildings, enhanced guidance for community tornado sheltering, and improved and standardized emergency communications.

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Conferences 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 30 to May 3, 2014
Fire-Rescue Med
International Association of Fire Chiefs EMS Section
Arlington, Virginia
Cost and Registration: $525, open until filled

This conference provides education and training on fire-based emergency medical services and information on challenges in the field. Topics include the new mobile healthcare environment, rescue in active shooter incidents, EMS issues at a federal level, generational differences in fire service, improving fire-based EMS performance, and infectious disease management.


April 30 to 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 25-30, 2014
First International Summit on Tornadoes and Climate Change
Aegean Conferences
Chaina, Crete
Cost and Registration: $1,950 (includes hotel), open until filled
This conference will apply climate science to the understanding of tornadoes in an effort to better predict how climate issues might affect future tornado activity. Topics include quantifying tornado risk, understanding the relationship between storms and climate, tools used to examine risk over time, and methods to advance tornado prediction.


June 1-6, 2014
ASPFM Conference: Making Room for Fish and Floods
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Seattle, Washington
Cost and Registration: $625 before May 3, open until filled
This conference presents state-of-the-art techniques, programs, training and resources to better improve flood mitigation, watershed management, and other community goals. Topics include legislative updates, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, levees and dams, flood loss mitigation, and water resource management.


July 21-25, 2014
National Conference on Earthquake Engineering
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Anchorage, Alaska
Cost and Registration: $975 before May 15, open until filled
The conference will address the many aspects of earthquakes and their impact on society. Topics include the 1964 Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami, megadisasters, the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, resilient communities, planning for recovery, tsunami engineering, and subduction megaquakes.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Regional Hurricane Program Manager, GS13
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Denton, Texas
Salary: $87,354 to $113,560
Deadline: April 13, 2014

This position will support the region in responding to hurricanes. Duties include identifying state and regional readiness, producing plans, reports, and situational updates, and participating in regional and national working groups. One year of experience and the GS12 level and knowledge of hurricane evacuation planning at the state, local, and federal level is required. Experience providing evacuation preparedness or shelter in place assistance to government agencies is preferred.


Supervisory Attorney Advisor, GS14

Federal Emergency Management Agency
New York, New York
Salary: $110,112 to $143,141
Deadline: April 13, 2014
This position advises lead supervisors in the FEMA Office of the Chief Counsel. Duties include providing legal advice related to FEMA responsibilities (including complex research of statutes, regulations, and policies); providing advice on matters of federal ethics, Freedom of Information Act, and employment law; and contributing to FEMA-wide policies. One year experience at the GS13 level, five years of experience, and a juris doctorate is required.


Disaster and Emergency Management Major Research Project Supervisor

Royal Roads University
Victoria, British Columbia
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: April 28, 2014
This associate faculty contract position is responsible for supervising a group of 10 graduate students as they complete their final research projects in the Disaster and Emergency Management distance learning program. Duties include guiding students in developing their research prospectus, reviewing ethics applications, and providing supervision and support in the study and writing of the final report. A PhD in emergency management or a related field, graduate supervisory experience, and experience with web-based education is required. Please note revised deadline.


Risk Management, Decision Making, and Insurance Postdoctoral Researcher

Wharton Risk Management and Decision Process Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: April 30, 2014
This position will conduct research on the topics of risk management, decision making, an insurance in the context of flood risk and resilience. Duties will include undertaking original research and contributing to new and ongoing projects. A strong analytical background and a Phd in behavioral science, economics, psychology, sociology, or a related field is required.


Public Assistance Engineer or Architect

Hagerty Consulting
Multiple locations
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

These positions will provide technical support and expertise in recovery efforts. Duties include explaining regulation and policies of the FEMA Public Assistance program to stakeholders, performing field inspections of disaster damage, and developing a scope of work for repairs and estimating cost. Five year experience, ability to travel, knowledge of the FEMA Public assistance program, and a master’s in civil engineering or architecture is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

April 30, 2014, 8:00-11:30 a.m.
Your Roadmap to a Secure Future
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, closes April 29

This short training is aimed at helping all levels of government avoid cyberattacks and recover when they’re unavoidable. Attendees will learn about cybersecurity trends, mitigating risk, and evolving threats. A cybersecurity guide and three continuing professional credits are given on class completion.


Webinar Series
Emergency Information Infrastructure Project
Cost and Registration: None, register online
This longtime, always timely webinar series offers a wealth of information on disaster topics from the viewpoint of many different disciplines. Visit their Web site to view archived Webinars and learn more about how you can receive continuing education units for joining in.

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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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