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Number 641 • February 27, 2015 | Past Issues













Off the Rails: A Crazy Week of Train Derailments Inflame Debates on Carrying Crude

A week of fiery, crude-filled train derailments has reignited the focus on oil transportation safety. Although the derailments are likely to fuel the ongoing debate about the wisdom of shipping volatile Bakken crude by rail, they are only the latest two flare-ups in what is becoming a long line of explosive incidents.

The derailed trains—one in Ontario on February 14 and another in West Virginia on February 16—were both carrying the especially flammable form of crude along busy rail corridors that spider from Canada to various points in the United States. Although there were no injuries in either accident, the crash outside of Boomer, West Virginia necessitated the evacuation of two towns, spawned a state of emergency declaration, and ignited a fireball that burned for at least three days.

More disturbing than the closely spaced explosions, though, are the rate at which incidences like them have occurred since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy brought the issue to fore in 2013. In the past 12 months there have been at least three other significant derailments in the United States, and a six-fold increase in spills of all kinds from railway tankers, according to the Washington Post

There are more than a few reasons for that—including the fact that more trains carrying more crude have been traveling the rails since advances in technology allowed oil manufacturers to tap into North Dakota’s Bakken oil formation. That created the need to move crude from the north to refineries across the country. Since 2008, the number of tank cars carrying oil has shot up from about 9,500 to 400,000 according to the Association of American Railroads.

 “[The Bakken field operators] were pulling out hundreds of thousands of gallons of barrels a day,” investigative reporter Marcus Stern told NPR. “They were Texas without pipelines. They had all the oil production of Texas…but they didn't have any of the infrastructure in place. And so they very cleverly… turned to the rails because the rails were sitting sort of idle and not used very much except for by grain farmers.”

What ensued was what the Wall Street Journal has termed a virtual pipeline—a steady flow of railway crude that isn’t beholden to the same emergency response planning and inspection requirements that pipelines must follow.

And rather than traversing out-of-the-way locales like a pipeline might, railways drag the erratic material through the high population centers and alongside rivers. That means failures such as the most recent one in Boomer (or the one in Aliceville, Alabama, or the one in Lynchburg, West Virginia) are more likely to have widespread economic and environmental tolls.

It’s not that transportation officials are unaware of the problem. Both Canadian and U.S. officials have been working since Lac-Mégantic to eliminate unsafe practices and create safer tanker standards. The problem though is that efforts thus far have been largely voluntary and emergency orders have been open to railroad company interpretation. The U.S. Transportation Department is currently reviewing proposed rules that would change that.

Until something changes politically, though, the specter of these derailments will loom over every community close to a crude transport line, said Mollie Matteson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Back-to-back fiery derailments involving crude oil trains should be an unmistakable wake-up call to our political leaders,” she said in a statement. “People’s lives are at stake, clean drinking water is at stake, and the well-being of towns and wildlife along thousands of miles of rail line are directly in harm’s way of this unchecked, reckless increase in oil transport by rail.”

—Jolie Breeden

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In from the Code: Code Blue Is Only the First Step in Keeping the Homeless Warm

With record breaking cold temperatures and wind gusts of 30 miles per hour, officials of major cities in the Northeastern United States are declaring Code Blue.

Many cities have Code Blue procedures that mandate more lenient shelter restrictions during extreme cold (check out codes for New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia for a better idea). These procedures are designed to help get people indoors, extend shelter opening hours, and increase the number of teams that search for homeless people at risk. They also ease capacity restrictions.

In cities with large homeless populations, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Baltimore, volunteers and outreach workers work around the clock to get people—many who have to be coaxed—from the street into shelters and warming centers where they can get a hot meal and a bed. Those who refuse to go to a shelter are given blankets and other items to help them brave the cold alone.

"We're obviously really concerned when temperatures fall that low,” Patrick Markee, deputy executive director for advocacy at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told Reuters. “It can be a matter of life and death on the streets.”

Those without shelter are at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold related injuries. According to Markee’s organization, hypothermia alone kills an estimated 700 homeless people each year. Considering the deadly consequences of cold weather, one might wonder why some homeless people refuse to take shelter. The most widely cited explanation is a fear of overcrowded shelters.

David Pirtle, a formerly homeless schizophrenic who now advocates for the rights of people experiencing homelessness and mental illness, explained why he avoided shelters in an interview on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation.

“Part of the reason was the paranoia and the fear of large groups of people that comes along with schizophrenia, but part of the reason was also, and I think this is more generally the case with people, that you hear a lot of terrible things about shelters, that shelters are dangerous places, that they’re full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and that there are bedbugs and body lice,” he said.

After Pirtle overcame his fear of shelters and stayed in one, he quickly realized that most of his worries were true. For the first time in his life, he contracted body lice and his shoes were stolen, he said.

Alongside the distrust and mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency is another reason it’s difficult to convince people to stay in the shelters. Most shelters do not allow intoxicants on the premises. They do, however, sometimes accept people under the influence—especially during Code Blue. The combination of severe overcrowding and intoxicated residents can lead to dangerous tensions that make shelters even less appealing.

Even with these drawbacks to shelter life, there is still more demand for shelter space than there is supply. Cities and shelters are struggling to provide enough beds and resources for the hundreds of thousands of homeless people in the regions hit hardest by the cold. Because of rapidly increasing homeless populations, most shelters in big cities are always at capacity, even when temperatures are not as extreme—and that means when the mercury drops there is no room for the estimated one-third of U.S. homeless that are unsheltered.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated that more than 138,000 Chicagoans were homeless during 2013-14 school year—a 19.4 percent jump from the previous year’s number. Now add to that an increase frigid February temperatures as low as -11 F that forced the homeless to flock to Windy City shelters in large numbers. Between 1,100 and 1,200 people—compared to an average of 600 in summer months—sleep at overburdened shelters during extreme weather, according to Stephen Welch of Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago.

“I think we’re probably the only place in the world that has triple bunk beds,” Welch told The Guardian.

The issue of overcrowded shelters brought on by the artic weather is a big problem, but there could be a solution in small places. All over the Northeast, churches and community buildings are opening their doors to those who need a place to sleep.

Take the Riverside Church in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, for example. Although the church already provided food, clothing, and haircuts, church leaders decided they needed to do more for the increasing number of homeless that showed up at the church’s doors so they converted its gym into a refuge for ten people.

The smaller venues allow homeless people that are too wary to go to traditional shelters to remain in the neighborhoods where they feel most at home. And because of their small size, these overflow shelters can offer safety and are able to tailor assistance to people’s specific needs.

More than that, though, they can fill a niche that addresses more than just the need to shelter people from the cold. As Riverside’s Director for Social Services Rev. Debra Northern told the New York Times, they could eventually lead to less homelessness in general.

“If they have some place to rest their heads, it’s a first step in beginning to reclaim other aspects of their lives,” she said.

—Elke Weesjes

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Hey, Students! Put Your Hazards and Disasters Papers to Work for You

Your research paper could net you $100 and free entry into this summer’s Natural Hazards Workshop if chosen as one of the two winners of our annual Hazards and Disasters Student Paper Competition.

Papers may present current research, literature reviews, theoretical arguments, or case studies on social or behavioral aspects of hazards or disasters. The competition is open to graduate or undergraduate students enrolled for at least one term of the 2014-2015 academic year.

Papers must be submitted by April 28, 2015. For more information and application instructions, visit the competition page on the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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Nominations Now Open for Mary Fran Myers Award

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2015 Mary Fran Myers Award. The award recognizes disaster professionals who continue Myers’ goal of promoting research on gender issues in disasters and emergency management.

Individuals and organizations eligible for the award will have added to the body of knowledge on gender and disasters or furthered opportunities for women to succeed in the field. The selection committee is especially interested in nominations from outside the United States. Previously nominated individuals who have not won the Mary Fran Myers Award are still eligible.

The award winner will be invited to participate in the Natural Hazards Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, on July 19-22 and will be acknowledged in the Workshop program. Workshop fees will be covered. Travel to and accommodations at the Workshop are the winner's responsibility.

To make a nomination, submit the following:

  • Your full name, mailing and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and those of the nominee
  • The nominee’s current resume or curriculum vitae (three-page maximum)
  • A nomination letter detailing specifically how the nominee’s work fits the award criteria described above
  • An optional one-page letter of support from another person or organization

Nominations should be submitted by April 17 to Questions can be forwarded to Maureen Fordham or Cheney Shreve Liu.

Please note that the Mary Fran Myer Award is different from the similarly named Mary Fran Myer Scholarship. For more information on the scholarship, please visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site.

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

Call for Applications
Student Scholarship Program
International Association of Wildland Fire
Deadline: March 27, 2015

The International Association of Wildland Fire is accepting applications for their student scholarship program. Applicants must be members of IAWF and Master of Science or doctoral students studying wildland fire. Applicants should submit a 500 to 750-word essay describing the challenges and benefits associated with their research, and how the scholarship will benefit future research. Winners will receive an award of $3,000 and might have their thesis and abstract printed in IAWF publications. To learn more about guidelines and submission rules, visit the Web site.


Call for Papers
HazNet Newsletter
Canadian Risk and Hazards Network
Deadline: March 31, 2015

The Canadian Risk and Hazards Network is accepting article submissions for publication in their biannual newsletter HazNet. Submissions should have a focus on preparedness, include findings from recent disaster-related research, and be approximately 800 words. For more information on submission rules and guidelines, visit the Web site.


Call for Applications
FLASH Scholarships
Federal Alliance for Safe Homes
Deadline: April 15, 2015

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes is accepting applications for graduate scholarships. Applicants must be participating in a graduate program related to social or behavioral science, with a focus on natural disaster mitigation. Winners will receive $1,500 for research related expenditures and will present their research at the FLASH Annual Conference to be held January 27-29, 2016, in Orlando, Florida. For additional information on application requirements and scholarship details, visit the Web site.


Call for Applications
Summer Institute for Disaster and Risk Recovery
Beijing Normal University
Deadline: May 15, 2015
The Summer Institute is accepting applications from junior faculty, young researchers, and advanced doctoral students who have an interest and research experience in the disaster and risk field. This year’s focus is “How to understand the dynamics and characteristics of disaster and risk in a changing world, with a special focus on China.” Accepted participants will attend the two-week intensive Summer Institute and will receive up to $800 for travel accommodations.

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Some New Web Resources

Climate Security 101
The impact of climate change on national security might not be the most intuitive, but climate effects such as food shortages, extreme weather, and forced migration to more livable areas do cause social strife that can affect security. This project of the Center for Climate and Security answers many of the burning questions at the intersection of climate and security and lays out resources and documents that address the rest.


Migration for Memory: A Disaster Mitigation Framework for Cultural Resources
As anyone who has lived through flood, fire, or other disasters can attest, it’s the irreplaceable losses like documents, pictures, and keepsakes that cause the most heartbreak. The same is true for communities. Now comes this framework to give those safeguarding community treasures the tools they need to make sure cultural resources make it through. Everything from training to logistics to working with emergency managers is included, so take a look.


EMS Domestic Preparedness Improvement Strategy
Gaps in emergency medical service preparedness could mean life or death during a disaster, yet with so many distinct EMS agencies involved, it’s easy for cracks to appear. This report looks at four different categories necessary for effective EMS preparedness and outlines how they can be used to identify barriers to preparedness and create goals to overcome them.


Coping with Earthquakes Induced by Fluid Injection
As the practice of hydraulic fracturing has increased, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey have been looking at ways to mitigate the damage caused by the manmade earthquakes that ensue. With that as a goal, this paper calls for transparency and data on the practices and chemicals being used in the so-called fracking industry.


The National Academies Climate Intervention Reports
Recently we crossed into what scientists believe is a point-of-no-return in regards to climate change. But hopefully that doesn’t mean we can’t move ahead. These two reports examine two possible solutions—carbon dioxide removal and reflecting sunlight to cool the earth. Read about the pros, the cons, and how much it might cost to undo a little of the damage.

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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]

March 4-5, 2015
Critical Infrastructure Protection and Resilience in Europe
The Hague Security Delta and the Netherlands Ministry of Security and Justice
The Hague, Netherlands
Cost and Registration: $1,083, open until filled

This conference will examine threats to critical infrastructure in vulnerable areas of Europe. Topics include mitigating future threats, assessing security of telecommunication infrastructure, building resilient infrastructure, protecting critical infrastructure, and improving disaster risk reduction.


March 20-24, 2015
Wildland Urban Interface
International Association of Fire Chiefs
Reno, Nevada
Cost and Registration: $450, open until filled

This conference will provide in-depth education and information about the challenges of fighting wildland fire in the urban interface. Topics include fire effects on Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), wildland fire hazards in the home, the ethics of wildland fire suppression, FEMA mitigation grant funding, cohesive wildland fire strategies, insurance resources, and ways to examine evolving incident management.


April 27-30, 2015
Community Based Adaption to Climate Change
The African Center for Technology Studies, The International Institute for Environment and Development, and others
Nairobi, Kenya
Cost and Registration: $615, open until March 27
This conference will examine approaches to climate change adaption at the community level. Topics include tracking adaption, measuring development, using climate information to make adaptation effective, considering groups vulnerable to climate change, monitoring and evaluating radical adaptation, applying indigenous knowledge to climate change adaption, and ecosystem-based adaptation.


April 28-30, 2015
South Asian Conference on Climate Change
Mehran University of Engineering and Technology and Research and Development Foundation
Jamshoro, Pakistan
Cost and Registration: $200 before March 15, open until filled
This conference will focus on climate change and its impacts on vulnerable countries in Asia. Topics include agriculture and climate effects on future rice yields, hazard prediction and preparedness in Asia, policy responses to climate change, and a look at Pakistan’s climate policy.


May 3-5, 2015
Australian and New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, Australian Institute of Emergency Services, and others
Gold Coast, Australia
Cost and Registration: $700 before March 23, open until filled
This conference will approach emergency management issues and innovations from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Topics include effective leadership during disasters, animals in emergencies, volunteer engagement and training, resilience in infrastructure, and disaster funding, law, and policies.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Program Officer
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction
Almaty, Kazakhstan
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: March 3, 2015

This position will be responsible for overseeing programs associated with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Central Asia and South Caucasus region. Duties include overseeing project development, producing research policy, conducting outreach, and preparing budget and funding assessments. A master’s degree in international relations, disaster management, or a related field and five years of project or program management experience are required. 


Climate Resiliency Specialist
San Mateo County
San Mateo, California
Salary: $73,923 to $92,414
Deadline: March 5, 2015

This position will be responsible for coordination and implementation of the county’s resiliency plan. Duties include assessing the county’s vulnerability to sea level rise, coordinating resiliency strategy with other local hazard mitigation plans, developing a long and short-term resiliency strategy, and reporting results to key stakeholders. A master’s degree in environmental studies, emergency management, or a related field and two years experience are required.


Communications Officer
International Research on Disaster Risk Program
Beijing, China
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: March 8, 2015

This position will design, implement, and evaluate the communications plan for the international program. Duties include managing the Web site, overseeing publications, maintaining the contact database, managing social media accounts, planning events, and ensuring secure internal communications operations. A master’s degree in a relevant field and five years experience are required.


Management Analyst, G-12
U.S. Fire Administration
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Salary: $76,378 to $99,296

Deadline: March 18, 2015
This position will oversee U.S. Fire Administration Web programs. Duties include creating and publishing content for the Web site; planning, implementing, and analyzing new projects, and driving project management outcomes. One year of experience at the G-11 level and specialized experience as a project manager for an IT system with lifecycle management responsibilities are required.


Plan Manager
New York City Office of Emergency Management
Brooklyn, New York
Salary: $55,000 to $69,592
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will lead emergency planning initiatives and improve response and recovery capacity for New York City. Duties include coordinating incidence response planning, developing preparedness strategy, developing emergency response plans, and participating in preparedness exercises. A master’s degree in emergency management or related field and one year of experience in emergency management are required. Reference Job ID 181112 when visiting the job Web site.


Professor of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Response
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position will serve as a senior faculty member and is open to scholars and practitioners with experience in the areas of health care, law, engineering, environmental science, social science, computer science, policy and planning, and business. Successful candidates will demonstrate experience in managing research projects, directing an institute or center in a related field, implementing disaster and emergency preparedness initiatives, communicating emergency preparedness issues to the community, coordinating with state and federal agencies, and working with international preparedness endeavors.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Disaster Chaplain Training Course
March 5-6, 2015
National Disaster Interfaiths Network and The Beecken Center
Sewanee, Tennessee
Cost and Registration: $355, open until filled

This training course will prepare participants to volunteer as disaster chaplains in emergency situations. Topics include different phases of disasters, psychological first aid, disaster site operations, and effective self-care practices for caregivers. Completion of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Incident Command System IS 100 training course is required. Certified education credits are available by request.


Webinar Series
Business Continuity Institute Webinars
Business Continuity Institute
Cost and Registration: Free, membership required

This webinar series focuses on the importance of business continuity planning for better response to unforeseen events. Topics include planning for infectious disease outbreaks, creating comprehensive business continuity programs, analyzing geohazard risk assessments, and assessing emergency management plans.


Disaster Management Training Course
April 27 to May 1, 2015
Fordham University
London, England
Cost and Registration: $913, register before April 13

This stand-alone course from the Master’s in International Humanitarian Action program will provide students with an understanding of measures that reduce disaster risk and minimize impact. Topics include analyzing past disasters and subsequent management strategies, coordinating with operations and planning teams, and analyzing existing preparedness plans.

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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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