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Number 630 • August 7, 2014 | Past Issues













Not-So-General Mills: Food Giant Leads the Way in Saying Cheerio to Corporate Climate Ambivalence

When it comes to making headway in reducing carbon emissions and water usage, it’s always good to see corporations get on board. But when one of those corporations is mega-food company General Mills, there’s hope for real change on the horizon.

The Minneapolis-based corporation announced a new climate policy last week aimed at reducing its own greenhouse emissions and encouraging similar behaviors for companies in its supply chains. It will also work to promote government policies that guide other corporations in instituting climate mitigation and adaptation measures, according to the policy overview.

“Business investment in innovations that help reduce natural resource use and create energy alternatives is essential to reach scalable practices and technologies,” the overview stated.

General Mills estimates that its suppliers create about 92 percent of greenhouse emissions associated with its products, so looking beyond its own operations was key. To that end, the company will ask the providers of its 10 top ingredients to commit to instituting environmentally sustainable practices by the year 2020, according to the policy. Sustainable landuse, watershed protection, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste reduction will be the focus.

“The imperative is clear:  Business, together with governments, NGOs and individuals, needs to act to reduce the human impact on climate change,” the overview stated.

The company’s effort was lauded by Oxfam, which recently began a strident push to get the food and beverage industry to address its contributions to climate change. General Mills was one of 10 companies the organization specifically called out in its May report, Standing on the Sidelines: Why Food and Beverage Companies Must Do More to Tackle Climate Change. Coca Cola, Kellogg, Mars, Pepsi, Nestle, Unilever, and Associated British Foods were among the others.

The report stated that if the top 10 food and beverage companies were a country, they would be the 25th most polluting country in the world and called them silent accomplices to an unfolding crisis. It called on General Mills and Kellogg, in particular, to make changes in the agricultural practices in their supply chains.

Although both companies disputed Oxfam’s claim that they were the worst offenders in the industry, General Mills clearly took heed.

“We applaud General Mills for taking this vital first step,” Oxfam campaign manager Monique van Zijl said in a statement. “We look forward to tracking the actions the company takes to follow through on their promises. The ball is now in Kellogg’s court to respond to the hundreds of thousands of people calling for climate action.”

Kellogg has not commented publicly on the General Mills policy or any similar measures it might take, nor is there any indication Oxfam’s other “Big 10” companies will follow suit. Still, as Bloomberg’s Eric Roston points out in The Grid Blog, the earnest and careful tack General Mills has taken could lead the industry no choice but to change.

“Will a vow of rigor and seriousness from one company solve the problem? No,” he writes. “Has the economic mainstream realized that this is a pretty big deal and they better get crackin'? Yes.”

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Disaster News Redux: All-New Ebola Calls for All-New Approaches

New Strain: In April, scientists announced that an unprecedented Ebola epidemic sweeping through West Africa was the result of a new strain of the virus.

At that time the highly lethal hemorrhagic fever had claimed 150 lives in a little more than a month, prompting the World Health Organization to say that it was the most challenging outbreak it had ever faced. Along with the difficulties of stanching the spread of the disease, medical workers faced violence stemming from locals who believed they had somehow caused the outbreak.

Since then, the situation has worsened.

“This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told West African leaders at an August 1 meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times. “If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries.”

The most recent WHO report puts the death toll at 887 as of August 4—a number that represents more than a third of all people who have died of Ebola since the virus first appeared in 1976, according to NPR.

Although the present outbreak had been confined to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone; Nigeria saw its first Ebola death late last month and has identified at least five new cases. A state of emergency has been declared there while the original three countries have imposed severe measures to stop the virus, including shutting down schools and quarantining entire regions, according to Reuters.

At least five humanitarian workers, including two Americans and a prominent Liberian doctor, have contracted the virus. The Peace Corps began removing its 340 volunteers from the area last week after two members were exposed.

New Serum: Although there is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, there could be a viable treatment on the horizon in the form of a new drug called ZMapp.

The experimental serum was given to two Americans—Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol—who were stricken with the disease while working in Liberia. The results seem positive, although Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, warned against being too optimistic.

“We're hearing that the administration of this cocktail of antibodies improved both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol, but you know, we don't know that,” Fauci told The Atlantic. “And we don't know that they weren't getting better anyway.”

Fauci’s caution stems from the fact that Brantly and Writebol were the first humans to receive the serum. Previously, the drug had only been only been tested in monkeys. Because of the seriousness of the outbreak however, the benefits of trying the drug outweighed the risk, Fauci told the Washington Post.  

New Questions: News of Brantly and Writebol’s improvement immediately spawned speculation about whether the drug would be made available to Africans battling the disease. The answer is probably not, or at least not for a while.

There are many reasons for that, but it mainly comes down to efficacy and availability. The drug hasn’t had the benefit of the years-long clinical trials required by the U.S. Food and Drug administration and there’s no way to tell what the long-term health effects will be, Fauci told the Washington Post. Although officials are working to fast-track treatment, he estimated that Phase I trials wouldn’t be complete until January and that they would only allow the drug to be used on an emergency basis.

Even if the serum showed signs of viability, availability would be an issue. One scientist who worked closely in the development of the drug thought it would take at least two months to produce 10,000 doses. Considering Writebol required two doses, that wouldn’t go very far.

Although much has been made about the ethics of giving the drug to two white Americans when hundreds of Africans are dying (see this opinion for a thoughtful response to that), it could very well be the better option to stick with tried testing methods. At least one other promising Ebola drug was put on hold recently because of FDA concerns about clinical trials in healthy adults.

In the meantime, the WHO announced a $1 million response plan to help West African nations address the epidemic. The plan will emphasize the importance of surveillance and the need for laboratory-based diagnostic testing. Protecting healthcare workers from infection and increasing the coordinated response to spread is also highlighted.

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The Latest Observer Is Online

The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the July 2014 Observer include:

--No Adverse Impact Floodplain Management
--The Literal Heartbreak of Disasters
--Mexico’s Earthquake Warning and Detection System
--Replication and Reliability in Disaster Science

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

Call for Presentations
Backyards and Beyond Wildfire Education Conference
National Fire Protection Association
Deadline: August 29, 2014

The National Fire Protection Association is accepting session proposals for presentation at its annual Backyards and Beyond Wildfire Education conference to be held October 22-24 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Sessions that focus on community safety, home and landscape design, technology and policy, and wildfire planning and suppression are welcome. For more information on the conference and how to submit, visit the conference Web site.


Call for Submissions

Social Media and the Crisis Lifecycle
Computers in Human Behavior
Deadline: November 1, 2014
Elsevier is accepting research related to social media and crisis communication for a special issue of its journal, Computers in Human Behavior. Submissions should investigate the use and extension of computer-based technology to transform communication throughout the crisis lifecycle. Papers from a wide array of crisis disciplines and professional fields are sought. For more information, visit the journal at the Elsevier Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Prevention Web’s Ask an Expert
Those tackling tough issues related to disaster risk reduction can now bend the ear of an expert, courtesy of Prevention Web’s newest feature. International experts in various fields will make themselves available to Web site visitors for a week. During that time, users are free to submit questions that will be answered publicly and archived for future use. So stop by, ask a question, and hear what the experts have to say—and for those of you who already are experts, lend a hand.


Movers and Shakers: Women’s Stories from the Christchurch Earthquake

This compilation gives voice to hundreds of women who experienced the Christchurch Earthquake and its subsequent impacts. The downloadable book was born of a project started by the National Council of Women of New Zealand Christchurch and includes excerpts of personal histories that detail the quake, its impacts on health and community, and the rebuilding process.


Combating Antibiotic Resistance

This blog series from the Department of Health and Human Services takes on the increasingly tangible threat of antibiotic resistance in the United States. Entries look at why antibiotic resistance is an impending public health threat, how the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is poised to address it, and business models that might encourage the development of new antibiotics.


1001 Blistering Future Summers

By 2100, summering in the Hamptons will be like summering in Missouri City, Texas. Not to worry, though. The neighborhood isn’t going to the dogs—just the climate. This new interactive site from Climate Central took 1,001 U.S. cities and projected their future highs based on current emission trends. The sweltering projections only include temperature, not humidity, so don’t try to console yourself with that but-it’s-a-dry-heat thing.


The Social Roots of Risk: Producing Disasters, Promoting Resilience

When it comes to disasters, it’s easy to look to the sky (or the ground, or the climate) and see the culprit in the catastrophe. But the true impacts of disasters aren’t caused by nature; they’re built into our social systems. Until we demolish the social roots of risk, and recognize the equally inherent capacity for resilience, we’ll continue to be victimized by hazards on an increasingly devastating scale. This book by Natural Hazards Center Director Kathleen Tierney elucidates how human action leaves humans vulnerable and how we can take steps to fix it.

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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]

September 21-26, 2014
Cochrane Colloquium
Cochrane South Asia
Hyderabad, India
Cost and Registration: $1000 before July 31 (sliding fee), closes September 1

This colloquium will focus on the opportunities and challenges of evidence informed public health, including delivering public health globally and crafting public health policies. Topics include population health, health inequality in South Asia, capacity building, research impacts on national policy, and healthcare communication. 


October 6-8, 2014
South Africa Society for Disaster Reduction Conference
South Africa Society for Disaster Reduction
Windhoek, Namibia
Cost and Registration: $370 before August 15, open until filled
This conference will discuss the context and drivers of risk in the Southern African Development Community Region with an emphasis on best practices and recent disaster risk research. Topics include disaster risk in the Namibian context, humanitarian relief, the future of the Hyogo Framework for Action, gender and disaster risk, and Africa’s changing risk profile.


October 8, 2014
Northeast Risk and Resilience Leadership Forum
Risk Mitigation Leadership Forum
Stamford, Connecticut
Cost and Registration: Free, closes September 15
This forum will look at the impacts of severe weather in the Northeast, including issues related to economic recovery, urban resilience, and weather science. Topics include the science behind Hurricane Sandy and ways in which risk perspectives are changing in the Northeast.

November 5-7, 2014
Conference on the Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services
World Meteorological Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
Cost and Registration: Invitation only, see contact information
This conference will examine the gender nuances of climate variability and climate change adaptation and seek to develop climate and weather services that build climate resilience. Topics include food security, water management, health, and disaster risk reduction. Conference outcomes will inform the post-2015 development agenda and the Global Framework for Climate Services.


November 13, 2014
Annual Conference on Fire-Related Research and Developments
The Institution of Fire Engineers
Gloucester, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $300, closes November 6
This conference will look at fire-related research and practice from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and international viewpoints. Topics include wildfire threat analysis, optimizing communication, large industrial fires, community fire safety, firefighter resilience and family support, and addressing arson.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Outreach Program Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
New York, New York
Salary: $78,361 to $101,866
Deadline: August 10, 2014
This position is responsible for coordinating and implementing the Multihazard Flood Map Modernization program which updates FEMA flood maps. Duties include providing quantitative data to support flood map recommendations, evaluating effectiveness and efficiency of the mitigation operations, and implementing regional programs to promote loss reduction. One year of experience at the GS-11 level and specialized knowledge of the Risk Map production, outreach, and community engagement.


Emergency Response and Preparedness Program Manager

Catholic Organization for Relief and Development Aid
Juba, South Sudan
Deadline: August 11, 2014
This position will design, manage, and implement emergency response and preparedness programs in South Sudan. Duties include program development and strategic planning, developing program capacity, working with CORDAID partners to promote program goals, and identifying and developing emergency preparedness projects and proposals. Five years experience in emergency response management, capacity building skill, and relevant education in humanitarian aid and development are required.


Deputy Director of Emergency Services

City of San Jose Fire Department
San Jose, California
Salary: $99,205 to $154,532
Deadline: August 14, 2014 (extended)

This position will lead the office of emergency services, drive community disaster preparedness, and oversee a variety of emergency management grants and programs. Duties include advising the fire chief in matters of department policy, strategic planning of departmental operations, daily administration and budgeting, and coordinating emergency activities with city personnel and regional stakeholders. Strong public speaking skills, six years of senior-level administrative work, and a master’s in public administration or emergency management are required.


Environmental Sociology Faculty Member

Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: October 1, 2014
This open-rank position will work in the Department of Sociology Environmental Studies program and contribute to university-wide discussions around issues of climate change, societal adaptation, food and water sustainability, and natural disasters. Duties include teaching graduate and undergraduate courses. A PhD is required.


Assistant Professor

Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: October 1, 2014
This position will in the support the university’s Fire and Emergency Management Agency program in the Department of Political Science. Duties include conducting research and teaching graduate and undergraduate courses. A PhD in political science, public administration, emergency management, or a related field is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

August 14, 2014, 1:30 p.m. EDT
Reports from the 2013 Disaster Health Information Outreach and Collaboration Projects
Disaster Information Management Research Center
Cost and Registration: Free, registration not required
This meeting will look at three outreach and collaboration projects funded in 2013 by the Disaster Information Management Research Center at the National Library of Medicine. As the projects near completion, the awardees will report on their projects, how libraries collaborated with disaster-related organizations, and the outcomes achieved.


September 10, 2014, 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. EDT
Evaluating and Improving Airport Environmental Sustainability Practices
Transportation Research Board
Cost and Registration: Free, register in advance
This webinar will provide an understanding of airport environmental sustainability practices, their impact on day-to-day operations and maintenance, and how to drive performance improvements. Accredited Airport Executives will be eligible for continuing education units for attending.


October 20-23, 2014
ArcGIS for Emergency Managers
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: Free, closes September 21

The training will teach new users how to use ArcGIS desktop software to support disaster risk management, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts. Participants will use hands-on techniques to get a basic understanding of the software and develop skills to manage and analyze data. Continuing Education Units are available upon completion.

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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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