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Number 644 • May 8, 2015 | Past Issues













Red Tape Tangle: Bureaucratic Bottlenecks and Relief Efforts in Nepal

As the death toll from the recent earthquake in Nepal passed 8,400, public frustration with the Nepalese government’s inadequate disaster response is growing.

Survivors of the 7.8 magnitude Gorkha quake, which destroyed more than 300,000 homes and injured 16,000, have complained that help is arriving too slowly or not at all. Residents of isolated villages northeast of Kathmandu—where the impact of the earthquake was the greatest—have been especially impacted by the slowdown.

"We will die if there is no help from the government or other organizations," Dhan Bahadur Shresta, a resident of Deupur Sipaghat Kavre, a village close to the Tibetan border, told the BBC. “We will starve to death and could get diseases like cholera and dysentery and there could be an epidemic.”

District officials blame the country’s geographical and infrastructural issues for the lack of aid. In many cases, tough road conditions, landslides, and rubble from buildings destroyed by the earthquake make it nearly impossible to reach the already isolated mountain villages.

While those issues have impeded disaster relief efforts, the Nepalese government also played a part in hindering the distribution of emergency relief supplies, especially in the critical three days following the quake. Authorities obstructed the international disaster response efforts by insisting on following a long list of rules and regulations, including custom inspections and import taxes, according to the New York Times and other reports. As a result of all the red tape, supplies for the survivors were piling up the airport and other border crossings.

“They should not be using peacetime customs methodology,” United Nations Resident Representative Jamie McGoldrick told Reuters. “All relief material should get a blanket exemption from checks on arrival.”

Nepalese officials denied that the government was responsible for the hold up. After several days, however, the government loosened custom requirements somewhat and lifted import taxes on items such as tarpaulin and tents. But the damage had been done and the aid backlog at the airport didn’t clear until May 7.

Bureaucracy wasn’t the only thing bottlenecking relief, though. A severe shortage of supply trucks and drivers also delayed the ability to get assistance to the farthest reaches of the country.

“Our granaries are full and we have ample food stock, but we are not able to transport supplies at a faster pace,” said Shrimani Raj Khanal, a manager at Nepal Food Corporation told The Guardian.

It’s clear that the Nepal’s fragmented government has been overwhelmed by the devastation from the earthquake and is unable to manage the relief operation efficiently.

“The disaster has been so huge and unprecedented that we have not been in a position to meet the expectations of the needy people,” Nepal Communications Minister Minendra Rijal was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera. “But we are ready to accept our weakness, learn and move ahead in the best way possible.”

Some might wonder why a country in such a seismically vulnerable area wasn’t better prepared to deal with the aftermath of the devastating quake. Politics is the likely answer, according to David Gellner, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oxford.

Gellner posits that Nepal’s ability to coordinate relief efforts were hampered by unresolved government issues and a lack of strong leadership. Seemingly unrelated political strife—for instance, Nepal has not had a constitution since its ten-year civil war ended in 2006—are magnified during disaster.

“It might be tempting to think that delays over writing Nepal’s long-awaited constitution don’t matter, that life can go on as normal without political resolution,” Gellner wrote in The Conversation. “But the earthquake shows just how vital it is to have political institutions that work, both at the center and, even more importantly, at the local level.”

Local elections in Nepal have been continually postponed since 2002 as residents await the finalization of the constitution.

“As a consequence, in most of the country, there are no political leaders with sufficient legitimacy to lead and coordinate relief efforts at the village and district levels,” Gellner wrote. “And it is in the mountain villages north of Kathmandu where most affected victims of the earthquake are, in many cases, still awaiting help.”

—Elke Weesjes

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Opinion: On the Fifth Anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, We All Owe a Mea Culpa

Five years ago, devastating images of the BP Deepwater Oil Spill were everywhere—the raging rig fire, the thick ribbons of oil lapping the shores of Louisiana, “spill-cam” footage displaying crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. But now, the Deepwater disaster is a distant memory for many, and little has changed in the industry or in the choices we make about energy use.

The April 2010 explosion, which killed 11 rig workers and triggered one of the worst oil spills in history, exposed the costs of a corner-cutting industry that placed profits above human safety and environmental concerns. It also highlighted the too-close relationship between the energy industry and federal regulators. But what it didn’t do was cause any type of long-term change in the public behaviors that make oil such big business.

Investigations into who was at fault divided the blame between BP and its contracters—drilling rig owner Transocean and Halliburton, which cemented the faulty well. The federal government was also called to the carpet for failing to prevent the spill and performing poorly during the recovery phase. But—considering the U.S. dependency on cheap fossil fuels—perhaps the rest of the nation should be held equally responsible. The hunger for big cars, smooth roads, or any of the other 6,000 petroleum-based products used daily shouldn’t be allowed to cloud the memory of the spill.

It didn’t seem as if it would in the early days of the spill. As the scale of the disaster became apparent, public outrage grew and for a brief moment close attention was paid to the way the United States produces and consumes fossil fuels. In the weeks after the explosion, the Obama administration issued a moratorium on off shore drilling, tens of thousands rallied to support clean up efforts, and a worldwide efforts to hold oil companies responsible gained traction. The time seemed ripe for change.

"We all need to take a hard look at how we're living. And how that is having an impact on our world and the health of the planet," Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, told the Associated Press in the days after the disaster. "How long will it take for folks to wake up to the truth? Clearly, if there is a moment for us to wake up, this is it."

But it wasn’t. The BP spill—like the Exxon Valdez spill before it—did not result in the push for sustainable energy that environmentalists like Schweiger hoped for.

In fact, five years after the explosion, offshore drilling is as popular as ever and carried out at even riskier depths beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The government has approved more than twenty ultra-deep wells and the number of deep water drilling rigs has increased from 35 at the time of the explosion to 48 last month.

Drilling so deeply exacerbates the factors that make drilling risky but, as critics point out, oil companies have not developed corresponding safety measures and federal oversight of deep water drilling is still inadequate.

“Going to greater depths, greater pressures, does present greater challenges,” Stephen Colville, president and CEO of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, told the Associated Press. “We have this desperate need for energy and we have to go after it wherever it is.”

That brings us to the very core of the issue, which is the United States is addicted to fossil fuel and largely unwilling to give up what many see as a right and a necessity for the American way of life—cheap energy. It’s a cognitive dissonance between the lifestyle we have and what we know about the impact of these lifestyles, according to Dieter Helm, a professor of energy studies at Oxford University.

“We want other people to do stuff, we want to divest from companies—but what about us?” Helm told The Guardian. “We are ultimately the consumers of those carbon-based products, and when we elect politicians, what’s worrying is that we’re not prepared to say: ‘Make us pay for the damage and the pollution we cause.’”

—Elke Weesjes

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Disaster News Redux: Are New Rail Transport Rules Too Crude to Stop Explosions?

Off the Rails: A week of fiery, crude-filled train derailments in February had reignited the focus on oil transportation safety and ongoing debate about the wisdom of shipping volatile Bakken crude by rail.

The two back-to-back derailments were part of a long line of explosive incidents in the United States and Canada. The increasing number of incidents—at least 24 since July 2013—has been driven by more trains carrying more crude by rail since advances in technology allowed oil manufacturers to tap into North Dakota’s Bakken oil formation. 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.

At the time of the February derailments, the U.S. Transportation Department was reviewing proposed rules that would create safer tanker standards and eliminate the problem of largely voluntary safety efforts and emergency orders open to railroad company interpretation.

All Aboard?: The U.S. Department of Transportation and Transport Canada issued a joint final rule for strengthening the safety of flammable liquids being transported by rail on May 1. The rule addressed tanker safety and braking standards, and introduced new protocols for routing and speed restrictions when transporting flammable liquids.
By May 5, however, the Wall Street Journal reported that rail industry officials would challenge the rule, especially a portion that requires electronic pneumatic brakes to be installed by 2021. Cars without the new brakes would be limited to speeds of 30 miles per hour. Industry officials say the brake technology is too expensive and not likely to make rail transport any safer.

As if to punctuate the debate, yet another crude train exploded near Hiemdal, North Dakota the following day, prompting the evacuation of the 20-person town and sullying nearby wetlands. Early investigations into the accident point to a possible wheel defect as the cause.

“The oil train rules released by the administration on Friday are obsolete before the ink is even dry,” Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, told the Los Angeles Times on May 6. “The new rules would not have prevented any of the first four fiery accidents in February and March, and they likely would not have prevented this one either.”

Down the Tracks: In addition to the backlash from industry officials and safety advocates, the new rule has come under scrutiny from federal and state lawmakers who say it makes it too difficult for the public to determine oil train routes and load amounts.

Railroads no longer need to notify state authorities of oil train shipments and instead must provide a company point of contact to answer questions, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune. Legislators are concerned that the reporting change would make it onerous for first responders, local officials, and residents to get information they might need in case of derailments.

The rail industry will challenge the new rule in court, while a group of U.S senators have called on the Department of Transportation to issue an emergency ruling addressing the notification issues.

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Coming to the Natural Hazards Workshop? The Deadline to Submit is Approaching

With the 40th Annual Natural Hazards Workshop just around the corner, we wanted to remind you that there are only a couple of weeks left to submit your Research Highlights and abstracts for the Workshop poster session. The deadline for submissions is May 22.

Both are great ways to connect with other Workshop attendees and let the hazards community know what sort of work you’re doing. If you’d like to submit Research Highlights, you’ll find the guidelines on our Workshop Web Site. Poster session positions are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, but we still have some spaces left, so check out how to submit yours on the Poster Session page.

The Workshop is an invitation-only event that brings together hazards researchers, practitioners, and others interested in social aspects of disasters. Learn more about the Workshop and how you can request an invitation here.

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

Call for Comments
Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Deadline: June 26, 2015

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released a draft version of the Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure. The guide attempts define community-base resilience for built environments, identify and compile existing resilience standards, and identify gaps that might impede resilience. To access the drafts of the guide and its companion compendium, visit the NIST Resilience Web site.


Call for Papers
Governing Environmental Disasters in a Global Urban Age in Asia and the Pacific
Asia Research Institute and the National University of Singapore
Deadline: June 30, 2015
The Asia Research Institute and the National University of Singapore are accepting paper for presentation at a conference to be held November 5-6 in Singapore. Papers should explore issues of governing disasters across national borders and suggest innovative disaster governance practices that limit social and economic impacts. For more information on submission requirements and qualifications, visit the event Web site.


Call for Abstracts
International Conference on Risk Analysis
Wessex Institute
Deadline: July 1, 2015

The Wessex Institute is accepting abstracts for presentation at the International Conference on Risk Analysis, to be held May 25-27, 2016, in in Crete, Greece. Selected papers will be published by the Wessex Institute of Technology Press. Submissions should be no more than 300 words and focus on topics related to risk analysis and hazard mitigation. For more information on submission guidelines and requirements, visit the conference Web site.

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Some New Web Resources

Asteroid Day
While most of the current awareness of asteroid danger comes from improbable Hollywood plots, a new movement is looking to change all that. The first Asteroid Day will be held on June 30 (marking the day in 1908 when huge asteroid exploded over the Tunguska river in Siberia) and aims to educate people on asteroids and ways to protect the planet. Visit the Web site for a wealth of information on asteroid detection and tracking, strike prevention, and other planetary defense tactics. 


Archivist Pocket Response Plan

Local, state, and government archivist can now carry preparedness in their pocket thanks to this sturdy, credit-card sized response plan. The pocket plan is designed to be customized to hold all the information needed by archivists should their organization encounter a disaster. With elements such as an emergency communications directory and an emergency response checklist, this tiny guide will be a big addition to agency disaster plans.


FEMA Careers

Anyone with aspirations to join the Federal Emergency Management Agency team will appreciate this new Web site dedicated to helping navigate the federal employment process. Visitors can search for jobs, find career resources, learn about temporary and volunteer opportunities, and track their applications.


Drought Impacts to Critical Infrastructure

This recent report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis examines the impacts of current drought conditions on critical infrastructure systems such as water and wastewater, energy, food, and agriculture. The report outlines the effects now visible on systems and planning and policy measures to address them.


Bracing for the Storm: How to Reform U.S. Disaster Policy to Prepare for a Riskier Future

This SmarterSafer report takes a hard look at how current disasters in the United States are handled and provides recommendations for creating a more sustainable model. Among its suggestions are encouraging more mitigation and planning, fortifying infrastructure, reforming flood insurance, ensuring equity in disaster preparedness and response, and improving coordination among federal, state, and local response agencies.

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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]

June 6-14, 2015
International Summit on Hurricanes and Climate Change
Aegean Conferences
Chania, Greece
Cost and Registration: $1,516, open until filled

This conference examines the relationship between the recent increase in hurricane intensity and climate change. Topics include trends and cycles of hurricanes, hurricanes as a response to climate, climate processes associated with tropical cyclone activity, a thermodynamic theory of hurricane intensity, and the future of hurricanes.


June 8-11, 2015
World Conference on Disaster Management
Diversified Communications Canada
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $280, open until filled

This conference will focus on disaster management practices that improve mitigation planning and response. Topics include critical infrastructure assessments for local authorities, effective risk communication during crisis, building public confidence in emergency management, planning for catastrophic response, managing rumors in conflict zones, integrating climate change and disaster management, and mitigating telecommunication failures.


June 15-18, 2015
National Hydrologic Warning Council Training Conference
National Hydrologic Warning Council
Indianapolis, Indiana

Cost and Registration: $750, open until filled
This conference will educate water resource managers and emergency management officials on protecting lives and property. Topics include upgrading flood warning systems, using water velocity data for flood warnings, integrating Twitter into a flood warning platform, retrofitting early warning systems, modeling flash floods in small and medium catchments, improving flood-frequency analyses, and ensuring operational readiness.


June 17-20, 2015
NYSAFC Annual Conference
New York State Association of Fire Chiefs
Verona, New York
Cost and Registration: $95, open until filled

This conference will provide practitioners with the latest information and training needed to protect people, property, and first responders from fire. Topics include vehicle arson awareness, reducing home fires, emergency care in environmental extremes, medical treatment of patients in police custody, fire in the homes of hoarders, and enduring violent encounters as a first responders.


June 22-25, 2015
National Fire Protection Association Annual Conference
National Fire Protection Association
Chicago, Illinois
Cost and Registration: $985 before May 8, open until filled

This conference looks at ways to reduce the negative affects of fire and other hazards by providing practical knowledge. Topics include flammability standards for building materials, the reliability of automatic sprinkler systems, community risk reduction for fire chiefs, best approaches for effective communication, and creating social media toolkits and campaigns.


July 7-9, 2015
International Conference on Coastal Cities
Wessex Institute
New Forest, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,107, open until filled
This conference will discuss issues related to the management and sustainable development of coastal cities. Topics include urban planning and design, eco-architecture, water resources management, commercial ports, health services management, and acoustical and thermal pollution.

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Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Research Scientist
University of Delaware Disaster Research Center
Newark, Delaware
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: May 15, 2015
This position will be responsible for working on a Disaster Research Center resilience and recovery study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Duties include publishing, research, and center-related service obligations. A master’s degree, strong qualitative and quantitative research skills, and the ability to travel are required. A PhD in a social science discipline and research interests in disasters, the environment, and public health are preferred.


Program Officer
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Cairo, Egypt or Geneva, Switzerland
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: May 20, 2015

This position will be responsible for developing and implementing projects related to disaster risk reduction. Duties include identifying project challenges, collaborating with clients and providing technical support, sustaining productive partnerships with stakeholders, and coordinating outreach activities, including training and seminars. A master’s degree, knowledge of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation concepts, data collection experience, and seven years of program management expertise are required. Reference job number 42429 when applying.


Director of Compliance Policy and Standards
University of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Salary: $60,000 to $70,000
Deadline: Open until filled

This position is responsible for ensuring procedures are adequately designed to meet audit and compliance expectations, efficiency goals, and training objectives. Duties include evaluating security and safety solutions, understanding broad regulatory guidelines in sport safety and security, and managing client safety risk assessments. A bachelor’s degree in emergency management, law enforcement or a related field and at least 10 years of experience are required. Reference posting number 0003359 when applying.


Emergency Management Coordinator
Sony Entertainment International
San Diego, California
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This position will be responsible for recommending solutions to assure personnel preparedness and facility continuity. Duties include creating an emergency response program, directing incident management during emergencies, overseeing the emergency management budget, and developing emergency contact and notification lists. A bachelor’s degree and at least three years of experience developing emergency response programs are required. Search key word “Emergency Management Coordinator” when applying.


Assistant Professor in Emergency Management
University of New Haven
West Haven, Connecticut
Salary: Not Listed
Deadline: Open until filled

This tenure-track position will fulfill teaching and administration duties in the Fire Science Department and is responsible for coordinating the department’s new online Master of Science program in emergency management. A PhD in emergency management, fire science, or a related field is required.

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Webinars, Training, and Education

Reinventing the Conference Poster: Increasing Learning, Interaction, and Discussion
May 19, 2015, 1:00 p.m. EDT
The National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health
Cost and Registration: Free, registration not required

This webinar will present an innovative, dynamic approach to creating conference poster. The technique, which was developed by NCDMPH staff over multiple conference presentations, will boost audience engagement and learning and spur attendees to return to the poster multiple times.


Evaluation and Research in the Hazard and Disaster Mitigation Field
May 20, 2015, 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. EDT
The Bill Anderson Fund
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before the event

This webinar, the third in the Fund’s series on hazards and disaster mitigation careers, will focus on non-academic research and evaluation careers in the hazard and disaster field. The series features emergency managers, academic professionals, and research fellows as speakers.


Risk Management Applications for All Airports
May 21, 2015 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EDT
Transportation Research Board
Cost and Registration: Free, register online before event

This webinar will focus on risk management strategies and tools that can be applied to airports. Topics include applying project risk management techniques to airport project budgets and schedules, organizational strategies to implement safety risk management systems, and the relationship between airports and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

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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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