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Number 633 • September 25, 2014 | Past Issues













Disability and Disaster: Lawsuits Push for Better Emergency Planning

Washington, D.C., is the latest in a series of communities that have been called to the carpet for failure to adequately address the needs of people with disabilities in emergency planning. Lack of information about accessible shelters, poor emergency communications for people who are deaf and blind, and lack of accessible evacuation were among the claims cited in a federal class action suit filed against D.C. earlier this month.

“The lack of a specific emergency plan for people with disabilities is a matter of life and death for Washington, D.C.’s most vulnerable residents,” Julia Pinover Kupiec of Disability Rights Advocates, said in a September 9 news release. “People with disabilities face the greatest risk during disasters and suffer tragic consequences when governments fail to develop emergency plans for all citizens. The District cannot afford to wait for another disaster to strike before taking action.”  

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee, the United Spinal Association, the DC Center for Independent Living, and three individuals joined Kupiec’s organization in filing the suit. The group is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the District and its mayor, Vincent Gray, according to the blog of the Legal Times (subscription may be required).

“What I would like is for the judge to realize that the D.C. emergency plan is lacking and that there do need to be changes made to the program so it can serve members of the community,” Alexandra Bennewith, vice president of government relations for United Spinal, told the blog. “That’s the whole point. There is not a plan right now.”

Years of research and policy directives have made some advances in emergency planning for people with disabilities, but not enough to ensure consistent and specific planning. In recent years those gaps have been highlighted in civil court.
In November a federal judge ruled that New York City had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make necessary accommodations for people with disabilities in evacuations.

“Hurricane Sandy dramatically demonstrated the consequences of this failure,” the New York Times quoted Judge Jesse Furman as writing in his ruling. “Plaintiffs provided substantial evidence that people with disabilities, unable to leave their buildings unassisted or to locate accessible transportation, remained trapped in high-rise buildings for days after the storm.”

A similar ruling in 2011 found the City of Los Angeles violated the ADA and put residents at risk by not having a specific plan addressing the needs of people with disabilities, according to the Associated Press.

“Because of the city's failure to address their unique needs, individuals with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to harm in the event of an emergency or disaster,” a U.S. District judge wrote in that ruling.

Neither ruling overlooked the formidable task emergency managers have in creating response plans that prepare their communities to face disaster. But the lawsuits seek to shine a light on vulnerabilities that need to be addressed, said Michael McManus, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the D.C. suit.

“Not a lot of additional resources need to be spent, Just time and attention,” he told the Legal Times blog. “There is no consideration given to disabled people.”

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Kashmir Flood Response Awash in a Deluge of Politics

The emotional toll of disaster can test even the most cohesive communities, so it’s no surprise that extreme flooding in Kashmir has caused major political challenges. What remains to be seen is whether those challenges can be turned into opportunities for change.

The region, which includes autonomous states administered by both India and Pakistan, was struck early this month by the worst flooding in decades, leaving nearly 300 dead and thousands stranded without food and water. Subsequent landslides left many others without transportation or electricity.

In the first days of the disaster, relief efforts created an atmosphere of tentative hope and goodwill in the heavily militarized area. For instance, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi put their border tensions on hold to offer assistance to each other.

Similarly, a strong government rescue response in Jammu and Kashmir—and promise of $164 million to rebuild the largely Muslim state—was seen as an opportunity to ease the distrust many there have had for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Less than a week into the disaster, though, that goodwill had vanished. In Pakistan, militant-fueled public opinion blamed Indian water management practices for the flood, while angry Kashmir residents accused India of only rescuing Indian tourists and others it deemed important, while the majority of the residents had to wait for humanitarian help to come. The government denied prioritizing relief.

“Our air force does not permit selective rescue,” a senior army official told Reuters. “The population has been affected by a tragedy. This reaction is a reflection of their lack of faith in the civic administration.”

That lack of faith is regrettable under normal circumstances, but in a widespread disaster such as the one in Jammu and Kashmir, it can exacerbate an already deadly situation. Longstanding resentment against military forces in Kashmir are slowing delivery of food and aid, as residents threw stones at rescuers and attack supply vehicles, according to the New York Times. When deliveries are made, the supplies are often left untouched by citizens who refuse to take assistance from the government they loathe.

“At this point, anything coming from the government, a government vehicle passing through the street, would be pelted with stones,” Gull Wani, director of the Institute of Kashmir Studies at Kashmir University, told the Times. “It’s not necessarily for the old reasons, but because the government has not been able to deal with the current situation.”

It’s unfortunate that the situation is so volatile that the first few days of amity can’t be recaptured. As the Center for Climate and Security points out, these types of disasters can be invaluable in mending breaches in trust.

“If political will and resources are concentrated during these pivotal moments, it may be possible to unstick certain conflict dynamics that are intractable under normal circumstances,” the Center wrote in a recent blog post. “Given this reality, leaders in the region (and internationally) should focus not only on building resilience to these disasters, which is imperative, but also on ensuring that disaster-response efforts include within the seeds for the longer-term resolution of conflict.”

Although there doesn’t seem to be many options for salvaging the current situation, it’s possible that in a region marked by extreme disaster risk and political unrest there will be other opportunities—but it will take forethought and cooperation.

“There are lessons here. New infrastructure should be planned with flood preparedness in mind,” a New York Times editorial states. “Meanwhile, India and Pakistan should also seize this common crisis to work together against future flooding in the region.”

That might be too much to ask of governments woefully unprepared to deal with catastrophes and embroiled in border disputes, but sooner or later the past will have to be set aside to deal with the future, said one resident.

“It is not the time to put blame on each other. However, we should be ready to introspect that what could have been done and what can be done to avoid such calamities in the near future,” Hamid Iqbal Tak writes in an opinion piece for the Kashmir Times. “The lesson here is that we had either forgotten our past or became too inattentive but nature never forgets and never sleeps.”

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Natural Hazards Observer Editor Wanted!

The Natural Hazards Center is seeking a dynamic, forward-thinking individual to serve as editor for the Natural Hazards Observer, a newsletter produced every two months with a national and international subscriber base. The successful candidate will lead the Observer into a new era while maintaining the integrity and strong voice for which it is known.

--Researching, writing, and editing content, including reports on recent hazards- and disaster-related legislation, grant awards, publications, research findings, and other news of interest to the hazards community;
--Soliciting articles and illustrations from and maintaining relationships with outside authors and illustrators;
--Taking responsibility for all aspects of Observer production, including digital production and layout;
--Managing the Observer printing and distribution process;
--Working closely with Center staff on financial planning, subscriber outreach, content development, and special projects;
--Ensuring the Observer is integrated with the Center’s mission and overall clearinghouse activities;
--Editing and writing other Center publications and assisting in the planning, and implementation of outreach initiatives and strategies.

Minimum Requirements:
--At least three years of broad editorial experience, including writing, proofreading and preparing publications for print and online distribution;
--A university degree in journalism or communications with a strong emphasis in an area related to hazards and disasters, planning, management, or social science research (e.g., sociology, political science, geography, environmental studies);
--The ability to write for a range of audiences and audience experience levels;
--An organized team player with strong time management skills who is flexible and able to work to work in a dynamic environment
--Advanced knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite and Web content management systems, as well as familiarity with multiple social media platforms.
--Technical and programming skills and experience with publication redesign highly preferred.

Salary: Commensurate with experience

To Apply:
Log on to the job posting. Applicants must complete the Faculty/University Staff and EEO Data (application) form, and upload the following required documents: curriculum vitae/resume, cover letter, writing samples (two maximum), statement of salary expectations, proof of highest degree earned, and a list of professional references.

The University of Colorado is an Equal Opportunity Employer committed to building a diverse workforce. We encourage applications from women, racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans. Alternative formats of this ad can be provided upon request for individuals with disabilities by contacting the ADA Coordinator at

The University of Colorado Boulder conducts background checks on all final applicants being considered for employment.

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

Call for Speakers
Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum 2014
UN Women
Deadline: As soon as possible

UN Women is seeking speakers from Asia and the Pacific region to share lessons learned in gender-sensitive adaptation from at the Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum, which will be held October 1-3 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Speakers will present on October 1. Sponsorship for speakers to attend the conference is not available. For more information e-mail Cecilia Aipira or Masumi Watase.


Call for Participants

Web Site Usability Study
Natural Hazards Center
Deadline: September 30, 2014
The Natural Hazards Center is looking for volunteers to conduct usability testing on our Web site. Testing will take about 30 minutes and consist of completing a few short activities that will give us insight on how useful our Web site is for disseminating information. Volunteers can participate from any location that has a computer with a microphone, speakers/headphones, and a reasonably low level of ambient noise. Those interested will need to use a Google Plus account to access our testing platform. Participants who do not have Google Plus can use a generic account provided by the Center. Those interested in participating should e-mail Hazards Center librarian Ed Hill at the address linked above.


Call for Papers
Decentralized Disaster Governance in Urbanizing Asia
Asia Research Institute
Deadline: September 30, 2014
The Asia Research Institute is accepting papers for presentation at its Decentralized Disaster Governance in Urbanizing Asia Conference to be held March 5-6 in Singapore. Papers should examine the reflexive relationships between decentralization and disaster governance in urban Asia, including participatory forms of governance, social capital and environmental disasters, comparisons of decentralized governments and international cooperation, and other possible topics. For more information, visit the call for papers Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst
Researchers looking to help pedestrians hoof it out of harm’s way in an emergency will find the this new tool created by the U.S. Geological Survey very useful. The Pedestrian Evacuation Analyst is an ArcGIS extension that will estimate how long it would take to move out of hazard zones on foot, taking elements such as ground cover, elevation, and time of day into account. The site includes a handy workflow for those analyzing pedestrian evacuation movements. More information can be found in this USGS report on the software’s potential.


Ebola Outbreak 2014: Information Resources
The recent Ebola crisis continues to make headlines, but there’s now a better way to get information on the unprecedented outbreak. Visit this Web site compiled by the Disaster Information Management Resource Center at the National Library of Medicine and you’ll connect to an array of resources that range from international organizations to biomedical journals to maps and social media. Whether you’re already in the know or not quite sure what’s going on, you’ll increase your knowledge in no time.


Nature Toolbox

For scientists building on the latest in research, the right tool can make all the difference. These days, those tools are more likely to be found on the digital front, which is why the journal Nature has created a digital toolbox. The toolbox will collect Nature articles on software and Web sites that make it easier for scientists to do their job in one handy location and—even better—let users weigh in on what works and what doesn’t.


Save the Children 2014 Disaster Report Card

It’s 2014. Do you know how safe your kids are? The Save the Children Disaster Report Card will tell, but don’t expect to feel better. The report includes some disheartening information—including 21 states don’t require schools or childcare providers to have even basic disaster plans and only one cent of every $10 in federal preparedness grants target kid safety. Check out the report card to get the stats and see where your state falls on the spectrum of keeping kids safe.


TsunamiEvac Northwest

Northwesterners can now stay ahead of tsunamis, thanks to this app for iPhone or iPad. The tool allows folks along the Oregon or Washington coast to map their location for tsunami threat, plan evacuation routes, and find the latest information on impending tsunami hazards fast. Whether you live there or are just visiting, it’s a good app to have.


Natural Disaster Mitigation Video

Know the difference between natural disaster mitigation and natural hazard mitigation? You will after you watch this video—and you’ll also understand why it’s an important concept. Created by Western Washington University’s Resilience Institute, this 20-minute presentation will provide a good background in disaster research for general audiences.

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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 9-10, 2014
Homeland Defense and Security Education Summit
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Northern Command, and others
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Cost and Registration: $200, open until filled

This conference will examine homeland security education and research practices with an emphasis on infrastructure protection. Topics include teaching homeland and national security integration, team-based homeland security learning, building competency in defense support of civil authorities, cyber security and strategic collaboration, and gaps between risk management theory and practice.


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 16-17, 2014
Ready at a Moment’s Notice Conference
Van Horne Institute
Alberta, Canada
Cost and Registration: $400, open until filled
This conference will focus on supply chain logistics expertise developed by government agencies, the military, and the private sector as it relates to emergency preparedness. Topics include pandemic planning, preparing disaster response plans, food security, mapping, early warning and risk mitigation, operational response and recovery, and support services for frontline workers.


November 5-7, 2014
Community Capitals Framework Institute
National Drought Mitigation Center, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and others
Lincoln, Nebraska
Cost and Registration: $150, open until filled
This conference will focus on the Community Capitals Framework in the context of water management, drought planning, evaluation processes, and rural and community development. Topics will include using the CCF model in community level natural resources management, multi-hazard planning and public health, and overall community and economic vitality case studies.


November 19-20, 2014
Disaster Relief Summit
Aid and International Development Forum
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: $150 to $599, open until filled
This conference will look at ways to enable quicker and better response during crises and catastrophes in a more effective, sustainable, and cost-efficient way. Topics include effective communication and humanitarian social networks, field personnel safety, sustainable resource planning, products for onsite disaster relief, and information and communication technology for disasters.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Disaster Law Coordinator
International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Beirut, Lebanon
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: September 29, 2014

This position plans, manages, oversees, and coordinates the IFRC disaster law program in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Responsibilities include developing the biannual Global Disaster Law Program Operational Plan and budget for MENA, coordinating and overseeing program operations, recruiting consultants and interns, developing regional advocacy strategies, and conducting trainings and workshops on disaster law. A legal degree and at least one other degree in a related field, experience in disaster management and response, legislation development experience, and at least seven years of related legal work are required.


Environmental Protection Specialist, GS-12

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Atlanta, Georgia
Salary: $72,620 to $94,404
Deadline: September 29, 2014
This position provides comprehensive regulatory, policy, guidance, training, and technical assistance to help FEMA Programs to comply with Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) laws. Duties include ensuring agency disaster programs receive environmental review, reviewing and commenting on draft EHP documents, training stakeholders the application of agency policy, and gathering data and analyzing program performance. One year of experience at the GS-11 level and specialized knowledge of the National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act are required.


Senior Disaster Operations Specialist

USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance
Washington, D.C.
Salary: $89,924 to $116,901
Deadline: October 6, 2014
This position will play a central role in delivering disaster response, humanitarian assistance, and disaster risk reduction programs for the U.S. government. Duties include supporting regional response teams, providing training support, developing response strategies, managing assistance awards for humanitarian donor agencies, and assisting with complex response management. A bachelor’s degree in a related area, at least seven years experience with the U.S. government or the United Nations, and U.S. citizenship are required. Experience must include at least two years of assistance award management and one year of on-the-ground field experience.


Space Environment Risk Reduction Lecturer

Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction
London, England
Salary: $67,652 to $86,634
Deadline: October 10, 2014
This position will focus on the understanding, assessment and mitigation of risks associated with the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere, either in association with space plasma events (e.g. space weather) or as an indicator of developing high-risk situations. Duties include undertaking internationally competitive research, teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including PhD supervision, and active involvement in the work of the Institute and laboratory in risk assessment via data from relevant international space missions. A PhD in space plasma physics or a related area, and expertise in phenomena associated with hazardous or disastrous space environment events is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Hazard and Disaster Mitigation Professional Development Series
October 2, 2014, 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT
William Averette Anderson Fund Student Advisory Council
Cost and Registration: Free, register in advance of the event

This webinar will be the first in a series that features emergency practitioners, academics, and other disaster experts speaking on topics related to hazard and disaster mitigation. Students and young professionals interested in emergency preparedness and response will find this series especially useful.


Maintenance and Operations Resilience: Improving System Management and Performance During Adverse and Extreme Weather Events
October 2, 2014, Noon to 2:00 p.m., EDT
Transportation Research Board of the National Academies
Cost and Registration: $89 (free to TRB sponsors, affiliates, and media), open until filled
This webinar will examine systems and tools for performance evaluation in maintenance and operations in adverse weather events. Topics include how weather-related data can improve decision making, adaptation techniques that minimize extreme weather risks, cost effective risk reduction, and performance measurements and management. A variety of professional education credits are available.


International Training Course on GIS for Disaster Risk Management
October 27 to November 7, 2015
Asian Disaster Preparedness Center
Bangkok, Thailand
Cost and Registration: $3,175 including accommodation, register before September 28
This course is designed to assist disaster management professionals in using spatial data, GIS, and remote sensing data for disaster risk management and assessments. Course topics include post-disaster impact and damage analysis, pre-disaster risk assessment, and information for risk reduction planning.

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