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Number 634 • October 9, 2014 | Past Issues













Cloudy with a Chance of Eruption: The Uncertainty of Predicting Volcano Behavior

The deaths of more than 50 hikers killed in a Japanese volcanic eruption on September 27 left many wondering why officials weren’t more proactive in issuing warnings and keeping sightseers off the mountain.

The deaths occurred when Mount Ontake, a sacred Shinto peak and popular hiking destination roughly TK miles west of Tokyo, erupted suddenly, catching an estimated 250 hikers unaware. The Japan Meteorological Agency did detect tremors in the weeks before the eruption, but they went unannounced, spurring the criticisms, according to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Although the questions are natural in the wake of such a tragedy, they also highlight misunderstandings about the certainty and extent to which scientists can now forecast eruptions.

“The ability to predict volcanic eruptions is an ambition that volcanologists are far from realizing,” writes University of Hull volcano expert Rebecca Williams in The Conversation. “Magma movement under a volcano will cause volcanic tremor, make the ground rise and fall and release gases such as sulphur dioxide. If these signs are monitored closely, then it may be possible to forecast that an eruption may be imminent.”

Even if those signs are present, Williams goes on to explain, they don’t necessarily guarantee an eruption; scientists rely on data to decode the nuances of each volcano’s unique rumblings. And that’s where Ontake becomes an especially unpredictable case.

Ontake has only erupted three times in recorded history and of those eruptions—in 1979, 1991, and 2007—only one had adequate instrumentation to collect data on magma activity, according to Nature. There are currently 12 seismometers and five GPS stations used to gauge seismic activity and deformations in the earth caused by magma moving underneath.

Although the seismometers did show activity prior to the eruption, the GPS systems didn’t indicate magma movement. Scientists believe the reason for that was because the eruption was phreatic, a sort of steam-fueled explosion caused by groundwater interacting with magma.

So even while the JMA detected tremors before Ontake blew, there wasn’t reason to suspect an impending explosion based on the volcano’s sparse eruption history and absence of magma activity.

“It was generally very quiet,” said Koshun Yamaoka, a professor of volcanology at Nagoya University, told the Wall Street Journal. “The intensity of precursory seismic activities are typically correlated to subsequent eruptions, so nobody thought an eruption of this scale would happen. There's no doubt this was difficult to predict.”

That said, there are improvements that could be made to monitoring at Ontake, experts said. For instance, the addition of instruments that measure gases could have helped agency officials identify fumes released by the phreatic activity. By the same token, having staff physically in the area would also have been a benefit, Yasuyuki Miyake, a volcanology professor at Shinshu University, said.

“It's also important that we have more manned observatories near volcanoes,” Miyake told the Wall Street Journal. “It's easy to accumulate automated data, but it's important that we have people on location who are observing and sensing any changes.”

A nationwide early alert system should also be implemented, Toshikazu Tanada of Japan's National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention told Nature.

“Even if we just start implementing the system one step at a time, we need something that will keep this from happening again,” he said.

Perhaps the best system though, is one in which people realize the limitations of technology, volcano expert Toshitsugu Fujii pointed out in an interview with Reuters. “There is no guarantee of total safety when you're dealing with nature,” he said.

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Disaster News Redux: Disability and Disasters

Suiting Up: In DR 633, we reported on a series of class action lawsuits aimed at ensuring that people with disabilities were better provided for during emergencies.
The lawsuits—filed against Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles—highlighted the need to provide consistent and specific planning to address issues such as making shelters accessible, providing emergency communications for people who are deaf and blind, and creating evacuation plans for people with mobility issues.

The lawsuits, which were filed by individuals and a coalition of advocates for people with disabilities, sought declaratory and injunctive relief for previous instances that left people with disabilities vulnerable to disaster.

Made to Order: New York City has now filed a settlement agreement in its 2011 case, in which a federal judge ruled the city had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make necessary accommodations for people with disabilities in evacuations.

Under the settlement the city will make at least 60 shelters in the five boroughs accessible in the next three years, according to the New York Times. It also provides for a system of door-to-door canvassing after disasters to determine the critical needs of people with disabilities and a taskforce to look at high-rise evacuations, the Times reported.

The agreement was crafted in cooperation with Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the suit. Full text of the agreement can be found on DRA’s Web site.

Final Fitting: The settlement still needs to be approved by Judge Jesse Furman before becoming final. Once approved, however, it will result in a major change in the way emergency agencies understand their responsibilities to people with disabilities, according to a statement made by DRA.

“This case was about saving the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities,” stated DRA Senior Attorney Christine Chuang. “As a result of this agreement, New York City will now have one of the most integrated emergency plans in the country. Most importantly, the lives and safety of New Yorkers with disabilities will no longer be put unnecessarily at risk during disasters.”

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In Case You Missed It: The Natural Hazards Center Is Hiring

Just a reminder that we’re continuing our search for a dynamic, forward-thinking individual to serve as the editor of the Natural Hazards Observer.

The successful candidate will lead the Observer into a new era while maintaining the integrity and strong voice for which it is known. If you know (or you are!) the next Observer editor, we can’t wait to hear from you. Check out our job posting for full information and feel free to share widely.

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

Call for Presenters
ASFPM 2015 Conference
Association of State Floodplain Managers
Deadline: October 31, 2014

The Association of State Floodplain Managers is accepting abstracts for presentation at its annual conference to be held May 31 to June 5 in Atlanta, Georgia. Abstracts will be accepted for concurrent sessions and workshops on the topics related to managing flood risk, making communities more sustainable, and protecting floodplain and fragile natural resources. For more information and to submit a proposal, visit the conference Web site.


Call for Nominations

Bruce Bolt Medal
COSMOS, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and the Seismological Society of America
Deadline: October 31, 2014

COSMOS, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and the Seismological Society of America are now accepting nominations for the Bruce Bolt Medal. The award is given to individuals who the lead the way in transferring scientific and engineering knowledge into practice or policy and whose work has led to improved seismic safety. For full information on eligibility and how to submit a nomination package, visit the award Web site.


Call for Abstracts

Fire Ecology and Management Congress
Association of Fire Ecology
Deadline: November 1, 2014

The Association of Fire Ecology is accepting abstracts for presentation at the Fire Ecology and Management Congress to be held November 16-20, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas. Abstracts on a variety of topics are welcome, including those addressing fire ecology and management, fire research, climate change, and the human dimensions of fire. For more information on how to submit an abstract, visit the conference Web site. 

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Some New Web Resources

Putting Libraries on the Map: A Protype for Location-Based Literature Collections
At the Natural Hazards Center, we’re always looking for ways to make our vast collection of resources more useful to the hazards community. With that in mind, we submitted this entry to the Knight News Challenge in hopes of funding our next great idea. We’d love for you to take a look, offer feedback, and let Knight know how our plan to provide map-based disaster information would benefit the hazards community.


Supporting the Supporters

This Winston Churchill Fellowship report by Jolie Wills of the New Zealand Red Cross examines the reality of those working in support roles during long-term disaster recovery. After conducting numerous interviews with individuals at all levels of disaster support, Wills has developed 12 principles to make sure those called on to continuously provide support to their communities are equally supported in return.



Public health workers will get schooled (in a good way) when they visit this site, dedicated to providing free courses on topics relevant to the field. TRAIN offers thousands of courses available on a variety of platforms, so public health professionals can easily keep their education current or learn about new topics. And with a national site and network of affiliates, the TRAIN users can learn as broadly or specifically as they’d like. Continuing Education Units are also available and the course offerings are easy to search, so start learning even more today.


Global Defense Security Index on Climate Change

This newly updated index by the American Security Project takes a country-by-country look at how nations around the world view climate change in the context of national security and their plans for addressing it. With easy-to-read summaries and full text reports, the index is a great resource for gauging the link between climate and security.


Resilience at the National Academies

This Web site is one-stop shopping for the many National Academies activities related to resilience. Visitors will find books, Web sites, workshops, and videos all categorized in easy-to-find topic areas such as natural hazards, critical infrastructure, health and pandemics, and terrorism.

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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 27-29, 2014
Disaster Resilience Workshop
National Institute for Standards and Technology
Norman, Oklahoma
Cost and Registration: $150, closes October 20

This workshop is part of a series of events that will focus on role that buildings and infrastructure lifelines play in ensuring community resilience. Topics will include the methodology to improve resilience, maintaining social fabric during and after disruptive events, and contributing to economic prosperity in the face of hazards.


November 3-4, 2014
Modeling the Health Risks of Climate Change
National Academy of Sciences
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This meeting will address the capabilities and development of health risk models for climate change and their impacts on public health. Topics include human health risks of climate change, model development, incorporating health risks into climate change impacts, and understanding the future vulnerabilities. The meeting will also be webcast for those unable to attend.


November 11, 2014
Emergency Services Conference 2014
Nottingham Trent University
Nottingham, England
Cost and Registration: $299, open until filled
The conference examine theoretical and empirical understanding of emergencies and their management and discuss research implications for future policy and practice. Topics include mental health of emergency services and trauma, interventions, research methods, community safety, and natural disasters.


December 8-11, 2014
AHIMTA Educational Symposium
All Hazards Incident Management Teams Association
Fort Worth, Texas
Cost and Registration: $325 before November 1, open until filled
This conference will address challenges faced by incident command professionals and focus on building leadership skills. Topics include nontraditional incident management training, developing local incident management teams, civilian and military incident management collaborations, all hazards planning, and marketing and finance for incident management.


February 11-12, 2014
Citizen Science 2015
Citizen Science Association
San Jose, California
Cost and Registration: $300, open until filled
This conference will work to inspire collaboration and an exchange of ideas between citizen scientists from a variety of backgrounds, disciplines, and experience levels. Topics will include challenges faced by citizen scientists, making connections in the educational community, digital opportunities, evaluating the citizen science experience, and designing and implementing citizen science projects.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Tribal Affairs Specialist
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Various Locations
Salary: $33,238 to $49,774
Deadline: October 21, 2014

This position will provide subject matter expertise in tribal affairs. Duties include conducting preliminary tribal research, briefing audiences on cultural competency, liaising with tribal officials, creating presentations for tribal meetings, and managing communication regarding specific incidents. This is a two-year appointment in the FEMA Reservist Program. Demonstrated experience and cultural competency in working with Tribal Nations, peoples, and villages is required.


Disaster Anthropology Post-Doctoral Researcher

University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark
Salary: $65,027 to $68,464
Deadline: November 1, 2014
This position will work with the Changing Disaster project, as well as developing an independent anthropological research project. Duties include conducting research, teaching, and supervision. Independent project areas should relate to new actors in humanitarian situations; commemoration, memory, or dark tourism; or the psychosocial effects of disasters. Interdisciplinary collaboration experience, solid qualitative research skills, and a PhD in anthropology or a related discipline are required.


Shelter Accessibility Coordinator

New York City Office of Emergency Management
Brooklyn, New York
Salary: $60,000 to $70,000
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will incorporate strategies to address issues related to emergency shelter accessibility for populations with special needs and their caregivers. Duties include working with emergency shelter facility providers to complete accessibility remediation measures, providing subject matter expertise on special needs issues, and indentifying accessible site needs as they arise. A master’s degree in emergency management, public administration, or a related field; knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act and related regulations, experience working with people with disabilities and access and functional needs is required.


Research Associate

Veterans Emergency Management Evaluation Center
North Hills, California
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will manage collaborative disaster research projects, administrate day-to-day project operations, and seek additional funding sources for the center. Duties include collecting data, performing literature reviews, preparing manuscripts and hosting meetings. A master’s in public health, social sciences, public policy or a related field, proficiency in quantitative research, and strong operational management skills 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.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Webinar Series
Shifting Paradigms: Medical Ethics, Public Health Ethics, and the Law
October 29 to December 16, 2014, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EDT
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Health Lawyers Association
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before the event

This three-part series will provide an overview of medical ethics, public health ethics, and the law and highlight current ethical issues related to patient safety and healthcare-related infections. A session allowing participants to participate in the discussion is also included. The first webinar in the series is October 29, 2014.


Multihazard Emergency Planning for Schools
March 9-12, 2015
Emergency Management Institute
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: Free, register before February 23, 2014
This training will provide school professionals with the tools and knowledge needed to create an all-hazards school emergency operations plan. Course topics will include conducting needs assessments, developing response and recovery procedures, and establishing a sustainable action plan.

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