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Number 631 • August 21, 2014 | Past Issues













Fighting Fire with Volunteers Could Become a Thing of the Past

In more bucolic days, many a local firehouse was staffed with volunteers who protected their communities from the ravages of fire and occasional emergencies. Now it looks like those days could soon be history.

All across the nation, places like Pennsylvania, Texas, Idaho, and many others are seeing an alarming decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters—down from 300,000 in 1976 to just 70,000 today, according to a special U.S. Senate report.

The reasons for that are many but boil down to one thing, according to a recent New York Times analysis of the trend—volunteering has lost its verve.

What was once a call to battle blazes has largely turned into a slog of fundraising and emergency medical calls. Add to that obstacles such as training, equipment costs, and the demands of work and family, and the labor starts to outweigh the love.

“The manpower problem is [going to] be a problem that is not going to go away, it's just getting worse,” Chief Keith Newburn, of Bullard Fire Department in Texas, said in an interview with KYTX News. “A lot of it is because of the economy the way it is right now; a lot of people are not able. Volunteers are having to spend more time at a paying job.”

That problem isn’t unique to Texas. Nationwide, demographics have changed—the young people who typically volunteer are less tied to their communities, often have to move for work or educational reasons, or are burdened with rigid work schedules or family commitments.

“There are a lack of daytime volunteers available because of things like the always-changing economy and a lack of manufacturing jobs that employ third-shift workers,” Nyle Zikmund, a district director for the International Association of Fire Chiefs told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “It's those factors and just pure demographics that are causing the shortage of volunteers.”

A shortage in volunteers means more and more departments have to turn to paid staff to make sure they can answer calls for service. And that, in addition to steeply rising training and equipment costs, creates another drain on volunteerism—the need to pass the hat to gather funds.

Fundraising to keep departments afloat can account for up to 60 percent of a volunteer’s time and are often cited as the biggest deterrent to staying active, according to the New York Times report. Not only is it not what recruits sign up for, it adds to an already overwhelming workload.

“I fund-raise, I train, and I go to fires,” the Times cites one fire chief as saying. “I can do two out of the three. You tell me which two out of the three you want me to do.”

Another problem, though, is that going to fires isn’t much of what volunteers get to do. In fact, fires accounted for only about five percent of calls in 2012, according to National Fire Protection Association numbers cited by the New York Times. The remainder includes mutual aid, hazardous materials, and medical calls. Medical calls have increased from about 6.4 million in 1986 to 21.7 million in 2012, according to the NFPA.

The collective effect of the changing volunteer culture is dampening, but there are efforts to change it. The Senate report suggests sweetening recruitment and training incentives with tax credits, tuition assistance, and service awards. Increasing grants for small departments to purchase better equipment and pay for training are also recommended.

Bills have been introduced at the federal level to encourage businesses to foster volunteer firefighter participation, give municipalities better taxation options, and arrange for student loan forgiveness for volunteers. Still, for those floundering in the face of a dearth of volunteers, action can’t come soon enough.

“If all these counties, and these cities, and these small rural areas start paying full time firefighters, they'll go broke,” Kevin Courtney, president of the Idaho Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services Association told KTVB News. “If there was a simple answer then we wouldn't be here right now and there's not and that's the frustrating part.”

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Disaster News Redux: Icelandic Volcanoes (Might) Strike Again

Past Whispers: Iceland’s volcanic underbelly gained international attention in April 2010 after emissions from Eyjafjallajökull filled the skies with a cloud of thick ash that stopped European air traffic for six days.

While those nearest the glacier-veiled volcano enjoyed clear days and relatively little fallout, the impacts to air travel were far reaching, stranding thousands of travelers and calling into question the systems used to determine aviation bans.

The global nature of the disaster provided a platform for many discussions, including the sustainability of our interconnected economies, our ability to respond to unexpected events, and our sometimes paltry efforts to mitigate the actions of Mother Nature.

Recent Rumbles: Another Icelandic volcano was heard from far more recently—on August 16—when activity from the Bárðarbunga Volcano set off a swarm of 3,000 small but intense earthquakes, according to the Associated Press.

In response, the Icelandic Meterological Office raised the aviation color code for the volcano to orange, indicating the volcano had an increased potential to erupt. Roads in the vicinity of the volcano have been closed and the Icelandic Civil Protection Service issued an Uncertainty Phase, a warning that means events could lead to a natural hazard in the future.

Bárðarbunga, located in an unpopulated area, is part of Iceland’s largest volcanic system. It sits roughly 765 yards beneath the Vatnajökull icecap. Its last confirmed eruption occurred in 1910, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s Global Volcanism Program. Currently, geophysicists believe the magma is moving horizontally beneath the ice but could eventually reach the surface.

“We have known for some time that Bárðarbunga was going to do something – we just didn’t know what. Because it is covered in ice, we rely on instruments to reveal its behaviour,” Dave McGarvie, a volcanologist at The Open University in Edinburgh, told The Conversation. “The clues from the patterns of earthquakes and earth movements reveal two clusters where magma is moving towards the surface, and if it gets there it will erupt.”

Plume Possibilities: At the moment, it’s impossible to tell what an eruption at Bárðarbunga might look like, McGarvie said. Possibilities range from the magma remaining under the ice and causing little more than instrument readings to an explosive eruption that melts glacial ice and causes ash plumes and flooding.

“To the southwest of Bárðarbunga lie the rivers which produce much of Iceland’s hydroelectric energy, and a fissure eruption in this area could cause big problems,” McGarvie said. “Icelanders have long known about this possibility and have specific plans in place should this happen.”

What’s not likely to happen is a repeat of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull incident, scientists say. That’s because the impacts of the Eyjafjallajökull plume were caused by a rare combination of lots of fine, easily transported ash; dry weather; and winds that carried the ash directly into well-traveled flight paths. Flight cancellations are also less likely, McGarvie said.

“There are two main reasons for this,” he told The Conversation. “First is that the old flight rules – avoid all ash – have been relaxed so aircraft can now fly when there is some (but not too much) ash in the sky. Second is that the Met Office revised its model that estimated ash concentrations in the atmosphere, so we now have more certainty about how much ash there is and where it is.”

For now, the world will have to wait and see what Bárðarbunga has to offer. Volcano watchers can keep up with the latest activity in a variety of ways (see this great collection of resources at Volcano Café), including a bird’s-eye view from the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s webcam.

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The Natural Hazards Center Says Goodbye to Observer Editor Dan Whipple

The Natural Hazards Center is preparing to bid a fond farewell to Natural Hazards Observer editor Dan Whipple, who will be retiring on November 1. Dan was key in making many changes to the Observer in the past six years, as well as creating the print program annually for the Natural Hazards Workshop.

Dan joined the staff in May 2008, after spending more than 30 years as a writer and journalist, specializing primarily in science and environmental issues. Previously, he served as editor of High Country News and Northern Lights and held several editorial positions at the daily Casper Star-Tribune in Wyoming.

While we’ll miss Dan greatly, we’re exited to start yet another great era in Observer publication. Keep an eye out as we begin our search for Dan’s replacement and feel free to send you feedback and farewells to him directly.

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

Call for Abstracts
Climate Leadership Conference
The Climate Registry, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and others
Deadline: September 5, 2014

The Climate Leadership Conference is accepting abstracts for topics to be presented at the 2015 conference to be held February 23-25 in Washington, D.C. Themes for the conference include water and energy, infrastructure and resilience, climate action, and engagement strategies. Submitters should be recognized subject matter experts and have excellent public speaking skills. For more information, visit the call for abstracts page on the conference Web site.


Call for Applications

Enabling the Next Generation of Hazards and Disasters Researchers Fellowship
National Science Foundation
Deadline: September 24, 2014
The Enabling the Next Generation of Hazards and Disasters Researchers Fellowship Program is accepting applications for 2015 fellows. Up to 20 fellows will be selected. Eligible candidates should be early career tenure-track faculty who have not yet received tenure and promotion at a U.S. institution and who are interested in developing research in natural and man made hazards, risk, and disasters. For more information on the fellowship and how to submit an application, visit the fellowship Web site.


Call for Feedback

Disaster Resilience Indicators
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: Open
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is requesting feedback on the risk reduction priorities outlined in the FEMA Strategic Plan, specifically those that focus on disaster resilience indicators. The plan calls for a strategy to build a risk and threat exposure baseline model with indicators to measure community-level and national performance in hazard risk reduction. For more information and to give your thoughts, visit the Ideascale topic page linked above.

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Some New Web Resources

Wildfire Risk Assessment Tool
The wildfire risk assessment ball can now be in the public’s court—at least in some southern states. That’s thanks to this new tool from the Southern Group of State Foresters. The group, which is made up of foresters from 13 southern states, has crafted interactive maps that allow folks in their state to examine their wildfire risk under extreme conditions. With applications for the public, professionals, and at-risk community planners, there’s a little something for everyone.


Airport Terminal Incident Response Planning

When disaster is afoot, the last thing aviation managers need is to be flying by the seat of their pants. This report by the National Academies Transportation Research Board will serve as a guide for aviation managers in creating terminal incident response plans to better prepare airports for needs such as evacuation, sheltering in place, and overall disaster readiness.


Resilient America

By now that most communities realize they need to be “resilient.” But how does a community become truly learn how to weather the ravages of disaster? The National Research Council now has a program to help. Resilient America is a roundtable program created to help communities determine their risks, understand them, and begin building a culture of resilience. Check out their Web site to learn more and connect with experts.


The (New) FEMA Flood Map Service Center

Enhanced searches, subscription services, multi-file downloads and all for free? There’s a lot to love about the new and improved Federal Emergency Management Map Service Center. Anyone that needs flood hazard tools—including the public—will be thrilled with the much-easier-to-use site. Check it out and be more resilient to flooding today.


National Preparedness Month Toolkit
National Preparedness Month is nearly upon us and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is ready to help you get your community fired up. This toolkit features a number of ways to help engage people in preparedness, including digital resources for getting the word out, a quick guide for getting involved, and logos and other marketing material.

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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]

October 12-14, 2014
Normative Aspects of Resilience
Global Forum on Urban and Regional Resilience
Arlington, Virginia
Cost and Registration: Free, closes October 10
This conference will look at the ethical and normative aspects of resilience in urban and regional settings. Topics include normative aspects in current narratives of resilient cities, tensions in building resiliency, planning and policy issues that contribute to social inequity, and conceptual frameworks for addressing normative issues in resilience research and practice.


October 22-24, 2014
Canadian Risk and Hazard Network Symposium
Canadian Risk and Hazard Network
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $595, closes October 16
This annual symposia examines the multiple dimensions of risk management and disaster reduction from and interdisciplinary viewpoint. Topics include critical infrastructure protection, managing arctic risks, cybersecurity, risk insurance, aboriginal disaster resilience, technological threats, and coastal hazards.


October 27-30, 2014
National Flood Mitigation and Flood Proofing Workshop
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Broomfield, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $300 before October 4, open until filled
This workshop will offer tools and techniques that to reduce flood risks and look at the latest thinking in flood mitigation and flood proofing. Topics include recent Colorado flooding, public policy and programs, engineered mitigation, project formulation and funding, and natural mitigation concepts.


November 19-21, 2014
Annual FLASH Conference
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes
Orlando, Florida
Cost and Registration: $400, open until filled

This conference will focus on best practices, lessons learned and innovations in disaster safety with an emphasis on resilience. Topics include climate resilience and disaster safety, resilience in residential construction, science and communication strategies, volunteer organizations, and resilient building codes.


November 20-23, 2014
Global Crisis Communications Conference
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Cost and Registration: $890, open until filled

This conference examines the necessity of effective crisis communications for organizations and governments and how they can be achieved. Topics include social media and crisis communications, crises and reputation, managing the media during crisis, environmental crises, managing misinformation, water crises communication, and measuring communication impacts.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Public Assistance Crew Leader, GS12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Various Locations
Salary: $60,877 to $79,138
Deadline: September 3, 2014
This position will support the FEMA Incident Management CORE Program. Responsibilities include conducting kick-off meetings with new applicants, providing education on the program, analyzing data and monitoring project development, providing technical assistance, and completing project reviews. One year of experience at the GS-11 level and specialized knowledge of program eligibility rules, policies, and regulations are required.


Assistant Professor

University of Delaware
Newark, Delaware
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: September 30, 2014
This tenure-track position will support the university’s department of sociology and criminal justice which specializes in disasters and the environment, social welfare, urban sociology, and the sociology of health. A PhD in a relevant field, expertise in advanced quantitative methods and applied data analysis, and an interest in one of the department specialties are required.


Associate/Assistant Professor of Emergency Management

Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, Oklahoma
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: October 15, 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 and the ability to effectively teach Federal Emergency Management Agency programs are required.


Division Manager, Wildland Fire Operations

National Fire Protection Association
Denver, Colorado
Salary: Not listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position is responsible for developing and overseeing programs, products, services and outreach activities that empower people to take action to prevent fire and injury. Responsibilities include developing and implementing a strategic three-year plan, defining performance objectives, managing federal grant contracts, and overseeing budgeting and expenditures. A bachelor’s degree and ten years of fire service experience are required.


Senior Program Manager, Office of Public Health Preparedness

Boston Public Health Commission
Boston, Massachusetts
Salary: $55,000 to $65,000
Deadline: Open until filled
This position is responsible for developing, implementing and supervising education and training programs for the Office of Public Health Preparedness, including the statewide DelValle Institute of Emergency Preparedness (DVI). Duties include developing and delivering classroom and online education, reporting on DVI activities for various audiences, conducting qualitative and quantitative evaluations of education activities, promoting and marketing of public health preparedness training programs, and coordinating outside education programs. A master’s degree in a related discipline, at least 6 years project management experience, and one year of experience in a public health education setting is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

September 5, 2014, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EDT
Measures of Disaster and Community Resilience: From Lessons Learned to Lessons Applied
Resilient America Roundtable
Cost and Registration: Free, register in advance of the event

The Resilient America Roundtable of the National Academies will webcast its workshop on disaster resilient indicators for communities. The workshop will examine how to measure the ability of built and critical infrastructure to recover from disaster impacts, social factors that limit or enhance recovery, and ways to identify special needs groups. Registration to physically attend the workshop in Washington, D.C. is also available.


Virtual Workshop
September 16, 2014, 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. MDT
Get Prepared, Stay Alive, Rebuild Your Life
National Fire Protection Association
Cost and Registration: Free, limited registration, open until filled
This online workshop will feature the story of Linda Masterson, who lost her home in a 2011 Colorado wildfire. Masterson will take the audience through the experience step-by-step and, in doing so; highlight need for preparedness and how to accomplish it.

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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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