Healthcare officials braced for a long winter of fighting swine flu can breathe more easily now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has an approved vaccine to protect against the H1N1 flu virus. The rest of the world, though, could remain a little congested—especially since some feel the United States is needlessly hoarding vaccine.
Four manufacturers were cleared last week to begin producing 195 million doses for use in the United States, meaning “we will have enough vaccine available for everyone,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated in a Los Angeles Times article last week.
The problem is that “everyone” won’t want the vaccine. Factors that vary from apathy to public distrust in vaccines keep up to half of the population targeted for vaccinations from getting one, according to the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times cites an even lower national average—33 percent—and points out that only 42 percent of healthcare workers choose to be vaccinated.
Stockpiling more vaccine than might be needed isn’t itself a cause for sideways glances. But adding to that is the United States’ insistence on eschewing adjuvants—additives that reduce the amount of antigen needed in each dose.
While adjuvants can help stretch vaccine dosages and sometimes boost effectiveness, they also might spur autoimmune diseases, according to a related article in the New York Times.
“Our insistence on the safest vaccine possible means halving the supply, even as our own domestic drug factories are devoted to more-profitable drugs,” writes science and medicine writer David Dobbs in an article for Slate. “Effectively, we're taking two doses from others to give us one. We come off looking rather like the proverbial first-class passengers who, having scoffed at the need for lifeboats because they take up deck, now scramble into the few rafts while steerage looks on.”
U.S. health officials have said they don’t want concern about adjuvants to further hamper use of a vaccine already seen as hastily created and approved.
“If you add what the public would perceive as another unknown there, there’s a concern that people would be reluctant to get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the New York Times.
Although U.S. actions on both the supply and the anti-adjuvant front can be seen as effective preparation for weathering a pandemic, the lack of vaccine worldwide—and especially in poor countries—casts a greedy shadow. The United States isn’t the only wealthy country that’s been called to the carpet for looking out for its own.
“Rich countries have a responsibility to stand in line and receive their vaccine allotments alongside poor countries, even if they have paid for their vaccine before others could do so,” writes Tadataka Yamada, president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Global Health Program, in an article for the New England Journal of Medicine. “It would be inexcusable to force poor countries to wait until the rich have been served under their existing contracts with vaccine manufacturers.”
The United States has since announced it will donate 10 percent of its vaccine supply to the World Health Organization for distribution in poorer countries, according to the Washington Post. Eight other countries also pledge vaccine donations.
Still, according to Yamada’s article, even if manufacturers’ full production capacity was directed toward making H1N1 vaccine, it wouldn’t come close to meeting the world’s needs—a fact that WHO Assistant Director General Keiji Fukuda recognized.
“The least developed countries are not really going to have a chance of getting the vaccine,” he is quoted as saying in the Washington Post, acknowledging that “nobody expects the numbers to work out in this pandemic.”
That might be even more of a reason for wealthy countries to do the morally right thing, according to Yamada’s philosophy.“The prospect of a worsening global influenza pandemic is real and will not go away anytime soon,” he wrote. “I cannot imagine standing by and watching if, at the time of crisis, the rich live and the poor die. It will take collective commitment and action by all of us to prevent this from happening.”
By now, everyone’s heard the story of climate change and disaster—disappearing ice caps, rising sea levels, increased hurricane activity, and a bevy of other impacts that could (and in some cases are) raining down on our warming planet. It seems the latest chapter, though, is still being penned by geologists and others investigating the slower, less obvious effects climate change might have on volcanoes and earth movement.
“The fact is we are causing future contemporary climate change,” Bill McGuire of the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London, told Nature. “[Geological hazards are] another portfolio of things we haven't thought of.”
Until recently, that is. Volcanologists, oceanographers, climatologists, seismologists, and others with an interest in climate and geomorphological change met last week to discuss the topic at a conference hosted by the center. According to news reports, there was general consensus on several points—climate is affecting geology and there needs to be more awareness of exactly how.
“Climate change doesn't just affect the atmosphere and the oceans but the earth's crust as well,” McGuire is quoted as saying in a Reuters’ AlertNet article. “The whole earth is an interactive system. In the political community people are almost completely unaware of any geological aspects to climate change.”
According to some models—and scientists agree there is a need for more and better models—those geological aspects could feature mayhem of biblical proportions. Events could include a series of succeeding disasters such as more explosive volcanoes, which would trigger underwater landslides, which could in turn set off huge tsunamis.
The domino effect—and a large portion of the uncertainty surrounding what will actually happen—lies in the stability ice gives volcanoes, both by providing a protective cap and by moderating the rate at which magma decompresses, according to Nature.
"As thick ice is getting thinner, there may be an increase in the explosivity of eruptions," Hugh Tuffen of Lancaster University said in the article.
Tuffen has studied volcanoes in many areas, including Iceland and Chile, and said that it would be hard to tell what the effects on different types of volcanoes would be without more research, according to Nature.
What we can say for sure is the same old climate change story. We need more information and to plan for worst-case scenarios—which is exactly what conference attendees plan to do. A follow-up meeting has been tentatively set for September 2011.
"We still don't really know what the threat over the next 100 years will be," says Tuffen. "I don't think we should be scaremongering, we should be thinking about hazard mitigation."
Surrounded by years of undergrowth and tinder-dry conditions, the Mt. Wilson Observatory—considered by many to be the birthplace of modern-day astronomy—would be little more than kindling if wildfire should rear its ugly head.
That’s the gist of what fire officials told Mt. Wilson stakeholders in March, less than six months before the ravenous Station Fire roared through the Angeles National Forest, threatening the historic observatory and nearby broadcast transmitters, according to the Los Angeles Times.
It wasn’t that they didn’t listen. In fact, the stakeholders quickly formed a nonprofit—the Mt. Wilson Fire Safe Council—and managed to score $200,000 in grants to help reduce fire risk. Fire, however, came more quickly than the check.
When the flames of the station fire started to creep nearer to the observatory, staff began to despair, Director Harold McAlister told Science. Not only is the observatory home to past examples of telescopic grandeur, but it also houses the Infrared Spatial Interferometer and a six-telescope optical/infrared array that produce “a lot of exciting science,” he said.
Although, the observatory has spent about $250,000 in tree thinning, has a water tank and pump, and gives employees some limited training in firefighting techniques, those measures are more for containing local, isolated fires, McAlister told the Times.
In the face of a beast like the Station Fire, the observatory had to rely on the dedication and expertise of firefighters, who McAlister said “worked like demons” to save the place. Fire crews lit backfires, cleared undergrowth, and doused the area in fire retardant gel to stave off the blaze. In the end, their efforts were rewarded and the fire narrowly missed the mountain.
Now, like a phoenix from the flames, initial efforts to keep Mt. Wilson fire-free have emerged stronger than before.
“This whole episode has clearly shown how vulnerable Mt. Wilson is, and we do need to come up with a plan to not make us a sitting duck up here," McAlister told the Times.
That plan could soon include a fire buffer of either concrete or fire-resistant vegetation around the perimeter of the complex, according to the Times. Although more costly than the measures originally planned, one thing the Station Fire did well is smoke out the promise of financial support—including possible federal funds.
"Having successfully dodged the bullet, we need to redouble our efforts," Rep. David Dreier told the Times. “I'm committed to doing anything we possibly can to have the buffer.”
Nearly a year after media reports decried that the nation’s pets were better cared for than children during disasters, a commission mandated to study the situation released the initial draft of congressional report.
The National Commission on Children and Disasters Interim Report makes several strong recommendations for improving the condition of children during disasters, many of whom are likely to be at school or childcare facilities when calamities strike—leaving them without an parent or guardian to advocate for their safety. Without systems in place to meet the specific needs of children, past instances of “benign neglect” will continue, according to the report.
Among its recommendations, the commission suggests making children an immediate priority in emergency planning and applying national disaster planning standards to schools and government agencies that represent children. Providing appropriate and safe shelters for kids, creating an evacuee-tracking system to quickly reunify families, and prioritizing housing for those with children also made the list. The list is broken down by categories that include education and childcare, housing, evacuation, and disaster case management.
“The most vulnerable Americans in the most vulnerable settings are made even more vulnerable by government inaction,” Commission Chairman Mark Shriver stated in a September 15 press release. “Disasters don’t strike on government’s timetable, which means the time for government to act is now.”
The commission, formed by Congress in 2007 to assess children’s needs in disaster and emergency preparedness, response, and recovery, didn’t itself act for nearly a year. Its first meeting came weeks after national media reported a lack of child-friendly facilities and dangerous conditions for Hurricane Ike’s “littlest evacuees."
Editorials in the Washington Post drew attention to the fact that, despite a bevy of measures put into place in recent years for pets, there was a “stunning lack of forethought about or preparation for” evacuating families with children.
Despite the delay in starting, the commission has completed its work within the two years required by Congress. The result, Shriver stated, is “a clear roadmap toward a disaster preparedness, response and recovery system that finally meets the unique needs of children.”
The commission unanimously approved the interim report and will deliver it to the president and Congress before October 14.
Call for Abstracts
2009-2010 Conference: Experiencing Partnerships
Partners in Emergency Preparedness
Deadline: October 15, 2009
Abstracts are being accepted for presentations at the 2009-2010 Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference, April 6-7, in Tacoma, Washington. Presentations should focus on the effective use of partnership in emergency management and be limited to 75 minutes. For more information and to apply, visit the conference Web site.
Call for Papers
International Systems for Crisis Response and Management
Deadline: November 16, 2009
Papers are now being accepted for the 2010 ISCRAM conference May 2-5 in Seattle. Full research papers, works-in-progress, and practitioner reports will be accepted. Papers focusing on the conference theme of how rapidly changing technology affects crisis response are preferred, although any work on crisis response and management systems is welcome. More information, including track descriptions, submission guidelines, and a calendar of important dates, is available in PDF format.
Call for Papers
Special Issue: Safer School Construction
Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment
Deadline: December 4, 2009
The Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment is now accepting papers for a special issue highlighting disaster-resilient design in building schools. Articles that address improved school construction research, policy, or implementation will be accepted for a double-blind peer review. Five to six will appear in the special issue; others may be considered for future publication. Contact R.P. Haigh for information on how to submit articles.
[Below are some new or updated Internet resources we have discovered. For an extensive list of useful Web sites dealing with hazards, see www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/.]
NPR’s Don't Gimme Five!
If flu season has you a little nervous about physical contact, never fear. National Public Radio has a helpful, illustrated guide full of techniques that put the kibosh on germ-swapping handshakes and virus-ridden hugs. Once techniques such as the Snap and Flick, the Smackdown, and the Xena catch on, staying healthy will be the hottest new thing in etiquette.
The Big Picture: One Year After Hurricane Ike
Although the Boston Globe’s Big Picture photo arrays are often stunning, this series of photographic overlays of Ike-created damage are truly eye opening. Viewers simply click on each photograph and watch the photo fade from destruction to—in many cases—resurrection. If only real-life recovery were so easy.
NOAA’s Coastal and Waterfront SmartGrowth
Whether your community is down by the bay or at the river’s edge, living near the water means you’ll face a number of planning risks and challenges. This new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site is a rich resource for communities seeking to capitalize on their location without compromising safety and growth opportunities. Resources, planning tools, and case studies round out this 10-step guide.
FEMA Fire Prevention and Safety Grants
Get an edge on creating a winning 2009 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant application at the Federal Emergency Management Agency support site, which offers details and strategies for applying for the highly competitive grants. Applications for the grants—awarded to projects that mitigate fire hazards and increase firefighter safety—will be accepted until October 23, so there’s still plenty of time to make those grant proposals shine.
Planning for 2009 H1N1 Influenza: A Preparedness Guide for Small Business
Small businesses looking for a flu preparedness guide to meet their specific needs will probably have to roll up their sleeves and write their own. That task is less daunting, though, thanks to this guide put together by the Department of Homeland Security. With an emphasis on the need for a written plan, the guide offers practical steps for businesses—and their employees—to stay healthy.
We’ve all heard that emergency managers need to make the most of social media, stay on top of emerging technologies and be all-around computing gurus if they want to communicate with their tech-savvy public. Thankfully, there’s an app for that—or rather there’s a collection of apps for that, helpfully compiled by Uncle Sam. Apps.Gov lists applications—many free and most under $200—that can boost productivity, enhance computing power, and improve communications.
[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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]
October 13-14, 2009
London, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $656, open until filled
This conference enhances knowledge, planning, and decision making in the face of complex hazardous material incidents. Emergency response trends and technologies will be covered.
October 13-15, 2009
Workshop on Levees
United States Society on Dams
Cost and Registration: $495 before October 2, open until filled
This workshop will discuss levee issues, including the complexities of problem identification and analysis, mitigation in design and construction, risk analysis, and certification. An exhibition and field tour of Sacramento levee projects will also be held.
October 26-28, 2009
2009 California Water Conference
The Society of American Military Engineers
Cost and Registration: $575 before September 30, open until filled
This year’s conference will address challenges and business opportunities arising from California’s complex water and flood risk management issues. Elected leaders, water agency officials, academics, and business leaders will speak.
October 28-29, 2009
Secure London 2009
Shephard, Valentis Bridge, and CMS Strategic
London, United Kingdom
Cost and Registration: $1,715, open until filled
This conference will examine infrastructure protection during man-made and natural disasters. Speakers trained to deal with disasters will present case studies from their organizations as examples of London’s resiliency solutions.
November 13-14, 2009
17th Arctic Conference
Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and University of Colorado at Boulder
Cost and Registration: $50, Open until filled
This conference is an informal gathering that allows archeologists, anthropologists, ecologists, and geologists to collaborate and share their findings on alpine and arctic research. A keynote address on arctic archeology, poster session, and facility tours are included. Student participants are encouraged to present their work.
November 15-18, 2009
Emergency Preparedness and Prevention and Hazmat Spills Conference
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III
Cost and Registration: $200 before September 30, open until filled
This conference provides an opportunity to meet emergency management and prevention officials, attend training, and view exhibits. Sessions will cover a range of hazard-related education.
November 24-27, 2009
Sixth Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Symposium
Canadian Risk and Hazards Network
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This symposium identifies lessons, systems, and modules that improve communication and broader collaboration on Canadian disaster resiliency efforts. Sessions include public awareness and web-based applications; interdisciplinary, interjurisdictional and intercultural dialogue; and emergency preparedness exercises in secondary schools.
[The following job postings provided an overview of some selected openings in hazards-related fields. For more information on a particular job, please follow the links provided.]
Texas Division of Emergency Management
Salary: $35,650 to $40,815
Closing Date: September 29, 2009
This position administers the State Hurricane Preparedness Program and other projects that enhance state and local disaster response. A bachelor’s degree and three years experience in emergency management, disaster preparedness, contingency planning, hazard mitigation, risk management, or environmental science are required.
Disaster Risk Reduction and Response Manager
Closing date: September 30, 2009
This position develops humanitarian strategies and integrates disaster reduction and response with emergency preparedness programs. Responsibilities include directing needs and impact assessments, developing and reviewing contingency and preparedness plans, and providing technical emergency and response assistance. At least three years of international field experience in emergency and development program management, experience directing rapid needs assessments, and an understanding of humanitarian and related policy issues are required.
Public Assistance Program Specialist, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Kansas City, Missouri
Salary: $64,613 to $87,893
Closing Date: October 2, 2009
This position ensures disaster declaration work is completed, monitors the potential for emergency and disaster support requests, and makes sure adequate resources are available in the program. One year of experience at GS-11 or above is required.
Community Development Specialist
North Carolina Division of Emergency Management
Raleigh, North Carolina
Salary: $38,174 to $61,632
Closing Date: October 2, 2009
This position assists counties with risk, vulnerability, and capability assessments. It also coordinates preparedness planning efforts, assists in regional capability activities, and is point of contact for homeland security grants. A bachelor’s degree and three years related experience are required.
Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology (CHART)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salary: Commensurate with experience
Closing Date: November 1, 2009
This position will be filled by a sociologist specializing in applied research in community, social justice, and hazards. A successful record of research funding, established scholarship, and management of multidisciplinary projects is required. CHART’s New Orleans location offers a prime setting to research resiliency and vulnerability issues related to storm response and climate change applications.
Emergency Manager/Environmental Professional
Ecology and Environment, Inc.
San Francisco, California
Salary: Not Posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position supports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START) in emergency planning and preparedness. Responsibilities include environmental and hazardous materials investigations training, and planning public health, medical, and terrorism response. A bachelor’s degree in biology, geology, environmental science, or a related field and three years experience in emergency management and planning is required.
Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail email@example.com.