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Number 643 • April 10, 2015 | Past Issues













California Drought: The Golden State is Turning Brown

As California grapples with its fourth year of extreme drought and a full-blown water crisis, Gov. Jerry Brown has announced mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history.

In an executive order signed on April 1, Gov. Brown ordered the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns that cut usage by 25 percent.

Last year, Brown had asked residents to voluntarily cut water use by 20 percent but that effort consistently fell short, even as the drought worsened. February 2015 conservation statistics showed that water consumption was reduced by just 2.8 percent statewide.

To ensure compliance this time round, state officials said that they were prepared to enforce punitive measures, including fines for those water suppliers that failed to meet the reduction targets to be set by the state water board in the coming weeks.

"We're in a historic drought, and that demands unprecedented action," Brown said during a news conference at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada, where officials had gathered to measure snowpack. "People should realize we're in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day—that's going to be a thing of the past."

Brown joined Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, for the fourth manual snow survey, conducted when the snowpack is usually at its peak. The survey—done on bare grass for the first time in history—found that the snowpack was 5 percent of the April average.

The lack of snow will have devastating consequences for California’s summer water supply, since the Sierra snowpack, through runoff, provides roughly one-third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.

“We have to pull together and save water in every way we can,” Brown said in response to the survey result.

The question of whether truly everyone has to pull together remains, though. The mandatory restrictions largely spare agriculture—the one industry that uses more water than any other sector—and has led to observations that the state is perhaps not doing all it can to limit water use.

According to the Department of Water Resources, farmers in California—the nation’s largest farm state—use about 80 percent of available water, compared with 10 percent used in cities. So why is agriculture, which only accounts for two percent of the state economy, exempt from the mandatory water restrictions?

“Agriculture has already suffered major cutbacks,” Brown told reporters at the Phillips news conference. “A lot of people are letting their land go fallow. Trees are dying.” 

Felicia Marcus, the state water board chair charged with crafting the details of Brown’s plan, also defends going easy on agriculture.

“Agriculture water goes to growing food, which is important to urban areas,” Marcus, told the Los Angeles Times. “Someone in L.A. may have more in common with a Central Valley farmer than the guy next door watering his lawn.”

By cracking down on lawns and expanding existing technology like water recycling and desalination, officials hope to meet the new restrictions. Others don’t think that urban conservation is enough and have called for a multifaceted approach that would include agriculture.

Absent that, say experts such as Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the mandatory measures will not fix the crushing combination of ongoing extreme drought and the increasingly higher water demands of a growing population.

“Desalination is part of it and sewage recycling is part of it,” Famiglietti told NPR. “More efficient irrigation, better water pricing, better crop choices — there's all sorts of things we need to include in our portfolio to bridge that gap between supply and demand.”

—Elke Weesjes

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The Most Unkindest Cut: Hurricane Forecasting Takes a Hit

It’s sometimes wise to stop while ahead, although probably not in the area of improving hurricane forecasts. Still, it seems the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has chosen to do just that with a nearly $10 million cut to its Hurricane Forecasting Improvement Program.

The cut, which represents nearly two-thirds of the program budget, was announced this month during a presentation at the National Hurricane Conference in Austin, Texas. According to presentation materials, the dearth of funds will likely result in a focus on more immediate forecasts (as opposed to 7-day forecasting goals), elimination of global modeling efforts, a reduction in funding to academic partners, and fewer real-time experimental products.

While the magnitude of the cut and the program elements affected are alarming, the National Weather Service’s Chris Vaccaro told Slate the outlook wasn’t entirely bleak.

“It’s important to emphasize that there is still funding for HFIP, work is still being done and advancements will continue to be made,” Vaccaro said, pointing to additional $4 million for supercomputing that isn’t included in the cut.

Even so, scientists are concerned that hobbling the successful program—in five years the HFIP has made impressive advancements in both hurricane tracking and intensity forecasts—will have a chilling effect.

“It would be a shame to radically reduce this effort when gains seem to be in reach,” Bill Read, former director of the National Hurricane Center told the Washington Post. “While some improvements in the science of intensity forecasting may be attributed to HFIP over the past several years, more work is needed.”

Others point to the defunding as a myopic solution that will cost the United States more than it saves in the long run.

“Undeniably hurricane track improvement translates to lives and dollars saved,” Marshall Shepherd told Slate. “It is shortsighted to stunt this progress and hinder potential improvement in intensity forecasts. We can't continue to be a culture that cuts progress, then panics only after a horrific tragedy.”

Lack of recent tragedy is perhaps one reason making the cut more palatable. It’s been nearly ten years since a Category 3 or stronger storm made landfall in the United States. Without the momentum of a recent disaster driving need, it can be hard to secure funding and prove program effectiveness.

Regardless of the will to continue funding at adequate levels, the NOAA budget (skip to page 758 for a quick access) clearly states the impacts of decreased support for the HFIP—coastal communities could experience unnecessary evacuations, NOAA’s reputation among the research community is at risk, and lagging improvement in HFIP models could affect a number of forecasting products.

But most of all, as University Corporation for Atmospheric Research President Tom Bogdan points out in an editorial that champions forecast funding in general, the biggest risks are those that cascade from not making long-term investments in much-needed science.

“The growing ability to forecast the weather plays a significant role in protecting our homeland, our businesses, our infrastructure and most importantly, our families and communities,” he wrote. “We need to continue to ensure that our society is prepared to meet the challenges and dangers of living inside Earth’s dynamic atmosphere.”

—Jolie Breeden

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Disaster News Redux: The Fracking-Quake Connection

Ground-Shaking Discoveries: In recent years, studies of swarms of small earthquakes in normally quake-free states such as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Ohio (as well as internationally) have indicated there is a connection between wastewater injections from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and induced seismicity. Those reports were followed by similar results from the U.S. Geological Survey, which released Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies in 2013.

The report looked at the connection between disposal wells and earthquakes in the Raton Basin of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. Authors found that from 1970 to July 2001, the region recorded just five magnitude-3 or higher earthquakes. Between August 2001 and December 2011, that number jumped to 95.

While some states and local governments took the connection to heart, banning fracking and wastewater disposal or shutting down wastewater wells, others have been more cautious in recognizing a connection, citing the need for further data to make a more definitive connection.

University Shake Down?: Last month, however, at least one state began to question whether or not the wait-and-see approach by state geologists had anything to do with research funding supported by the oil and gas industry.

In an April 3 editorial in The Guardian, Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey (R), recounted an instance in which the Austin Holland, lead seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey was summoned to meeting with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Harold Hamm, the CEO of one of the state’s largest oil an gas companies.

According to Murphey (and other accounts), the meeting stemmed from industry concerns about an official OGS statement that wastewater injection was a “likely contributing factor the increase in earthquakes.”

Holland has since told multiple news outlets that the meeting had no bearing on how OGS, which is an affiliate of the university, conducts business and that researchers had the “academic freedoms necessary for university employees doing research."

That was contradicted, however, by an EnergyWire report based on emails obtained through open record requests and the accounts of past OU researchers. Casting further doubt in the matter is the fact that Boren sits on the board of directors of Hamm’s company, Continental Resources.

What Could Shake Out: Among the energy sector’s concerns about the statements made by the OGS and the most recent USGS claim that the “rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes,” is that strong linkages between fracking and earthquakes could leave them open to litigation (subscription may be required) by homeowners affected by quakes.

That’s already being played out in Oklahoma, where several suits have been filed. And in a state where one in every six jobs is estimated to be related to gas and oil, the impacts for the economy could be far reaching if wells are forced to shutdown.

Still, Murphey said, a climate where big business is allowed to impede state rulemaking and academic research cannot be allowed to continue.

“Conflicts of interest cannot go unchallenged in academia,” he wrote in The Guardian. “It is in the interest of the public that the Oklahoma Geological Survey be removed from the university’s governance structure or – more importantly – that high level university officials forgo taking positions outside the university.”

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Geek Out With Us: The Natural Hazards Center Needs a Technical Librarian

If you’ve got an interest in hazards and mad programming skills, then you’re the librarian for us! The Natural Hazards Center is looking someone with experience developing and maintaining Web sites, programming for the web, and cataloging. The successful candidate will develop library, customer, and Web site information systems and oversee the migration of records to the DSpace open repository system and Koha ILS.


—Update and enhance Center web projects using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript/jQuery
—Use APIs to maintain and extend vendor tools
—Create original MARC records using Anglo-American Cataloging Rules Second Edition (AACR2) for descriptions, Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) for subject analysis, and local lexicon and classification systems, as well as edit MARC records using local standards
—Develop and update protocols and standards for bibliographic entry
—Instruct and supervise student assistants in related technical work

—A bachelor’s degree in a related field
—Experience with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, web analytics, and content management systems
—Experience with AACR2 and LCSH
—Knowledge of MARC bibliographic and authorities formats
—Demonstrated knowledge of current library technologies, standards, and best practices
—Working knowledge of metadata standards, particularly Dublin Core
—Knowledge of and interest in cataloguing trends and emerging standards
—Knowledge of and interest in web standards, usability, and accessibility
—One to two years of experience cataloging multiple material types and formats

Preferred Qualifications:
—Master’s in Library and Information Science
—PHP, JavaScript Frameworks, XML, JSON, web APIs and/or XSLT a plus
—Some familiarity with DSpace and Koha open source software

To apply, visit the job posting on the University of Colorado Job site.

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

Call for Comment
Draft Guidelines for Implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: May 6, 2015

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is seeking public comments on implementation of a proposed Flood Risk Management Standard. The Standard will require federal floodplain investments to meet an established level of resilience and reduce flood risk. For more information on the proposed standard, to read the draft guidelines, or to submit comments, visit the Flood Risk Management Standard page on the FEMA Web site.  

Call for Applications
Earthquake Hazards Program Grants
U.S. Geological Survey
Deadline: May 19, 2015

The U.S. Geological Survey is seeking grant proposals from researchers focused on improving the understanding of earthquake processes, hazards, and risks. Proposals should provide innovative ideas that reduce losses from earthquakes and improve earthquake forecasting. For more information on grants and how to apply, visit the notice on the Web site.


Call for Applications
Liu Huixian Earthquake Engineering Scholarship
Huixian Earthquake Engineering Foundation and the U.S.-China Earthquake
Engineering Foundation
Deadline: June 30, 2015
Applications are now being accepted for the Liu Huixian Earthquake Engineering Scholarship, which encourages earthquake engineering students to pursue academic careers. Scholarships of $1,500 will be awarded to students pursuing an advanced degree in earthquake engineering or a related field. U.S. student will be given the option of a 10-day visit to the China Earthquake Administration in lieu of a monetary award. For more information on requirements and application guidelines, visit the Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Time and the River
Anyone interested in the resilience of Southern Louisiana will find a wealth of fascinating material in the blog, written by Louisiana State University law professor Edward Richards. The site covers a wide array of issues that pertain to the area (including climate change, building standards, coastal restoration, geology, insurance, etc.) but overall explores an idea not often considered—“how man can retreat from endangered coastal areas in an orderly fashion.”


Dam Safety Awareness Day
It’s coming up on that time of year when lots of organizations try to make sure the public gives a damn about the safety of, well, dams. If yours is one of those, you’ll find lots on this site to help celebrate May 31—Dam Safety Awareness Day. Check it out and find key messages, press release templates, tips to get the media’s attention, and even fun ideas for kids.


Hospital Surge Evaluation Tool

A mass casualty event is not the time to learn there are gaps in your hospital’s preparedness plan. That’s why there’s this tool, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The tool is “surge evaluation in a box” and has all the elements to help hospital managers assess their readiness for mass events. Included are components for triage and hospital incident command centers, tabletop exercises, and instructions on how to run a successful drill.


MRC Connect

Members of the Medical Reserve Corps can now stay in touch with a social media app created just for them. The app, which is available in an online version, as well, allows Corps volunteers to communicate about issues such as public health preparedness, share community stories, and discuss best practices in emergency response.


Affordability of National Flood Insurance Program Premiums

This National Academies report is the first of two that will address National Flood Insurance Program affordability in the wake of the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act and subsequent Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act. This first report looks at methods to create affordability in the program in advance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s upcoming efforts to create an affordability framework.

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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]

May 7, 2014
Public Policy Colloquium
New York State Preparedness Training Center and the National Center for Security and Preparedness
Albany, New York
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled

This conference will focus on community resilience from a theoretical and practitioner perspective. Topics include developing emergency management networks, findings from the County Emergency Preparedness Assessment, assessing resilience and preparedness, and the challenges of clearly defining resilience.


May 11-15, 2015
National VOAD Conference
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $475, open until filled

This conference will address best practices among emergency management volunteers and practitioners to build more resilient communities. Topics include managing donations, supporting vulnerable populations, leading millennials during disaster, building resilience in diverse communities, animal rescues in large-scale disasters, and the emotional needs of children in a disaster.


May 11-16, 2015
World Congress on Stress, Coping, and Trauma
International Critical Incident Stress Foundation
Baltimore, Maryland
Cost and Registration: $720, open until filled

This conference will educate crisis intervention professionals on techniques that can assist during a crisis situation. Topics include dealing with line-of-duty injuries, ways to deliver bad news, building psychological resilience, preparing for disaster in faith-based organizations, providing crisis support in the private security sector, and a law enforcement perspective of the Boston Marathon Bombing.


May 19-22, 2015
Australian Floodplain Management Association National Conference
Floodplain Management Association
Brisbane, Australia
Cost and Registration: $1,020, open until filled

This conference will focus on creating flood resilient communities, buildings, and infrastructure. Topics include issues in the Brisbane River catchment, models and tools that identify flood risk, using community engagement for successful flood mitigation, reconstructing cities after multiple disasters, and Queensland response and recovery programs.


May 31 to June 5, 2015
ASFPM Annual Conference
The Association of State Floodplain Managers
Atlanta, Georgia
Cost and Registration: $780 before April 16, open until filled

This conference will focus on effective mitigation to reduce human and financial losses caused by disasters. Topics include understanding local risks, social media for response and recovery, real time flood forecasting, coastal community resilience, green infrastructure, cost effective mitigation, levee challenges, and communicating real time and future risk.


June 8-10, 2015
Resilient Cities 2015
Local Governments for Sustainability
Bonn, Germany
Cost and Registration: $985 before April 15, open until filled
This conference will focus on adaptation challenges in urban environments. Topics include assessing risk and vulnerability, collecting data for adaptation planning, planning and policy strategies, linking adaptation and mitigation action, framing resilience in an accessible way, ecosystem-based adaptation, preventing climate-related public health risk, building the capacity of local government practitioners, and financing resilience planning and development.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Floodplain Management and Administration Engineer
City of Fort Collins
Fort Collins, Colorado
Salary: $66,716 to $102,392
Deadline: April 21, 2015

This position is responsible for managing the citywide floodplain management program in accordance with state and federal regulations. Duties include supervising staff engineers on work projects, ensuring compliance with project schedules and budgets, reviewing technical and hydraulic models, preparing floodplain analyses, maintaining floodplain files and databases, assisting with emergency preparedness and response, and preparing public outreach materials.


Senior Humanitarian Affairs Officer
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
New York, New York
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: May 26, 2015

This position will provide technical and policy advice on emergency relief and disaster response and management programs. Duties include guiding the development of UN humanitarian affairs policy, ensuring implementation of coherent disaster response strategies, leading multi-agency disaster assessments, establishing the program work plan and budget, and organizing international meetings, conferences, and task forces. And advanced degree in political or social science, public administration, or another related field and at least 10 years of experience in humanitarian affairs, emergency preparedness, or crisis relief are required. Referency Job ID 41376 when visiting the Web site.

Red Star Emergency Services National Director
American Humane Association
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will serve as the program head for the national Red Star Rescue for Kids and Animals. Red Star reunites animals with their families after disaster, as well as providing animal therapy for children affected by disaster. Duties include leading  staff and more than 200 emergency volunteers, serving as an international spokesperson for the program, making critical decisions in emergencies, overseeing contracts, and ensuring that training materials are up to date. A bachelor’s degree in a related field, experience leading emergency response teams, and knowledge of animal welfare principles are required.


Hazard Mitigation Planning Coordinator
City of Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Salary: $55,000
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will assist with the strategic planning, implementation, and evaluation of the integrated emergency management program. Duties include leading the update of the city mitigation plan, collaborating with the city and other agencies to develop and implement hazards mitigation strategies, and researching best practices for plan development. A bachelor’s degree in planning, management, environmental studies, public administration or a related field and previous hazard mitigation experience is required.


Emergency Management Director
County of DuPage
Wheaton, Illinois
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position is responsible for planning and directing emergency preparedness activities and programs for DuPage County government. Duties include collaborating with other government and non-profit partners, maintaining the the county all-hazards emergency operations plan, preparing the department budget, coordinating grant activities, and ensuring compliance with regulations. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management, political science, or public administration and at least 10 years of experience are required.


Post Disaster Specialist
St. Bernard Project
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled
This position supports the Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lab in its mission to help communities recover from disaster. Duties include identifying impacted communities, conducting outreach, creating strategic goals for community involvement, building partnerships, creating training materials, and delivering effective presentations. A bachelor’s degree and at least three years of experience in a field related to disaster management and knowledge of government and nonprofit roles in disaster recovery are required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Tots to Teens: Emerging Research and Practices
April 21, 2015, 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EDT
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Cost and Registration: Free, register before event

This webinar, offered by the FEMA Youth Preparedness Technical Assistance Center, will educate participants about how children cope with disasters and ways to help enhance their resilience. Topics include child psychology and disaster resilience, youth preparedness programs, and effectively mitigating vulnerabilities.


Hurricane Preparedness for Decision Makers
April 28-30, 2015
Emergency Management Institute
Suffolk, Virgina
Cost and Registration: Free, register before April 13

This state-specific course will provide Virginia decision makers with resources and tools to assist in better understanding hurricanes and protective measures to be taken during a storm. Topics include the National Hurricane Center’s forecasting process, forecast uncertainty, storm surges, and other hazards such as tornadoes and inland winds and flooding.


Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage
April 29, 2015, 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EDT
Applied Technology Council
Cost and Registration: Free, register before event
This webinar will focus on reducing damage to nonstructural components of infrastructure, such as electrical and plumbing systems and physical contents, such as furniture and equipment. Topics include safe evacuation and rescue, sources and types of earthquake damage, and methods for reducing injury and property loss.

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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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