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Number 552 • September 9, 2010 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) Blowout Prevention: BP Report Places Blame on the Other Guys

The first gauntlet in what promises to be a war of finger-pointing was thrown Wednesday, when BP released an internal report on the factors that led to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April. Perhaps not surprisingly, BP found very little culpability was attributable to their operation. 

The report, which was the result of a four-month investigation by BP and independent investigators, found a combination of factors were responsible for the explosion and eventual oil spill.

“The team did not identify any single action or inaction that caused this accident,” according to the report’s executive summary. “Rather, a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces came together to allow the initiation and escalation of the accident.”

The report cites eight main issues leading to the incident; among them are the quality of the cement job that sealed the well into place, the misinterpretation of a test that would have indicated gas in the well, and the much-publicized failure of the blowout preventer, which should have sealed the well after an explosion. (For an excellent discussion of the well history and graphic representation of several of the issues, see the New Orleans Time Picayune.)

According to the report, BP is only responsible for one of the eight items—the misinterpreted test—but that responsibility was offset by the failure of contracted employees to note other warning signs that gas had entered the well.

The report was met with skepticism and disbelief by many, including BP contractors Transocean and Halliburton, who will shoulder the blame BP fails to carry. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who is part of the congressional investigation of the spill, was incensed by the company’s lack of remorse.

"This report is not BP's mea culpa," he is quoted as saying in an Associated Press article. "Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up blame as long as they get the smallest piece."

Neither contractor seemed to prepared to take the portion of the blame BP allotted to them, with Transocean, which provided the rig, calling the report “self-serving” and pointing to what it called "BP's fatally flawed well design," according to the AP. Halliburton, which completed the cement work, also harpooned the report’s accuracy and said it completed work to standards set by BP.

"Contractors do not specify well design or make decisions regarding testing procedures as that responsibility lies with the well owner," the company stated in a press release.

BP’s report is far from the last word on the subject. According the Los Angeles Times, reports are still expected from the U.S. Coast Guard, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, the president's National Commission, and the Justice Department, which is looking into whether BP violated federal safety regulations.

BP, however, holds that the report isn’t meant to be a legal argument or an attempt to shift blame. It’s simply the findings of an internal inquiry, meant to stave off future incidents.

"We were not about apportioning fault or blame," BP’s lead investigator Mark Bly told the Wall Street Journal. "We've really tried to understand what happened and to the extent possible, why."

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2) Woe Is Pakistan: Good Aid Is Hard to Find

The flooding in Pakistan has affected 20 million people—more than the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Kashmir earthquake, and Haitian earthquake combined—in an area roughly the size of Italy.

For all that, it’s attracted only a fraction of the international relief that poured into Haiti following the devastating January quake there. As of early September, only about 60 percent of the $459.7 million requested by the United Nations was forthcoming from donor nations, according to an IRIN article. The United States has donated about $200 million of that.

"Donor fatigue is an issue, but I think it's not an issue for the United States," Eric Shwartz, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, is quoted as saying in the article.

The United States, though, might have better reasons than most nations, to aid Pakistanis. Among them are the fears that insurgents could take advantage of the chaos and win the hearts of those struggling to survive—giving the Taliban a hold that would affect the situation in nearby Afghanistan.

“We need to address that rapidly to avoid [the Pakistanis'] impatience boiling over, and people exploiting that impatience and I think it's important for all of us to understand that challenge,” Sen. John Kerry told Reuters recently while visiting the Pakistan. “We also share security concerns.”

Ironically, the same issues that draw the United States as a nation to aid the flood-stricken country could be keeping individual Americans from sending aid, speculated Charity Navigator President Ken Berger.

“There has been a tepid response, it is down significantly from other disasters of recent times,” Berger told the Christian Science Monitor. “There could be a host of different reasons—from donor fatigue to people not feeling comfortable because of their concerns about terrorism.”

Donor fatigue appears to be at least equally paralleled by media fatigue, at least in the United States. The Project for Excellence in Journalism found Pakistan flooding took up only four percent of the available news hole for the week of August 16-22. The Haiti earthquake, by contrast, took up 41 percent of the news space available for the week of January 11-17.

“Despite the grim statistics, the disaster has received relatively modest coverage in the U.S. press—at its peak, the flooding story filled four percent of the news hole the week of August 16-22,” wrote Mahvish Shahid Khan for the Project. “That made it the No. 8 story that week, behind such topics as the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and coverage of the 2010 election season.”

Adding to the problem of lagging aid, is the staggering scale of the floods, which make relief efforts very difficult. The floods have affected more than 11,000 villages, damaged nearly 700,000 houses, killed 220,000 cattle, and washed out 1.79 million hectares of cropland, according to Pakistan’s Federal Flood Commission. In the midst of all that destruction, the logistics of getting fresh water and food to individuals can be overwhelming. "Procuring, handling and delivering relief supplies is enormously challenging," United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq told Xinhua.

Perhaps surprisingly, there's been little in the media to suggest that covering the floods has been more difficult than other disasters.  But even with that said, the Icelandic volcano eruption in April—which annoyed air travelers but didn’t kill anyone—was covered more extensively.

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3) Anger Beats Out Sadness and Fear as 9/11 Emotion of Choice

In the past nine years, many Americans have struggled to define the singular emotions that overwhelmed them as they helplessly watched the World Trade Center fall to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Now, a less-than-sentimental examination of text messages on that day has pinned it down—they were mad. 

According to a recently released study, The Emotional Timeline of September 11, 2001 (subscription required), anger was the chief emotion of Americans on September 11, 2001, with levels of sadness and anxiety fluctuating throughout the day. Anger, however, increased over time as more information about the disaster became available.

The study, conducted by researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz “analyzed the use of emotional words in the messages sent to text pagers within the United States on September 11.”  They assessed more than 6.4 million words for emotional content in an attempt to track the roller coaster of feelings on that emotional day. The text messages were made public on the WikiLeaks Web site last year.

“Anger was present as soon as the first airplane crashed into the WTC and it continued,” the authors wrote. “The expression of anger steadily and strongly increased with ongoing information regarding the terrorist attacks. Both of President Bush’s speeches (at 1:04 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.), which can be interpreted as a vicarious acting out of people’s anger, led only to a temporary pause in the increase of anger. In contrast to anxiety, anger never returned to its baseline level. Instead, anger accumulated over the course of the day and reached a level that was almost 10 times as high as at the start of September 11.”

In contrast, there was only a slight rise in sadness-related communication. Anxiety—after a brief spike in the morning—was virtually flat for the rest of the day. The authors speculate that anger might have helped people feel they had some control over the event. According to an analysis in Time, that could be a double-edged sword.

"On the one hand," the magazine quotes the authors as stating, "anger might have been helpful for regaining a sense of control over the tide of events … On the other hand, anger is known to predict moral outrage and a desire for vengeance, which—once aroused—seem to require an outlet."

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4) Katrina Lessons Unlearned? Most Americans Say We’re Not Better Prepared

Five years older and none the wiser. That’s the state of disaster preparedness in the United States, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The looming hurricane season and filmy residue of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill hanging over the Gulf Coast would have made it difficult to put an upbeat spin on the anniversary of Katrina in any case, but the Pew survey highlighted the bleak attitude many hold regarding the progress—or lack thereof—that’s been made since 2005.

The survey, conducted in August, tried to gauge impressions of overall preparedness and progress in rebuilding New Orleans. Of the 1,003 people surveyed nationwide, 57 percent said the nation was no better prepared for a hurricane or other natural disaster than it was when Katrina struck. Opinions on rebuilding were slightly more optimistic with 69 percent saying a lot or some progress had been made.

However, those attitudes on progress rebuilding were sharply divided across demographics, according to the survey overview. For instance, 75 percent of Republicans said a lot or some progress had been made, compared to 63 percent of Democrats. Those living in the South were about twice as likely as those living elsewhere to say a lot of progress had been made, according to the survey.

Complete survey data and the survey instrument are available online.

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

Call for Nominations
Disaster Mitigation and Hazard Planning Excellence Award
American Planning Association
Deadline: September 14, 2010
The American Planning Association is accepting nominations for APA Excellence Awards in Disaster Mitigation and Hazard Planning. Efforts that protect communities from the impacts of disaster, help minimize losses, or aid in quick recover are eligible for nomination. Nominations will describe the project and how it meets the award criteria and must be accompanied by at least one letter of support. Full details can be found at the award Web site.

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Call for Papers/Abstracts
The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster
University Press of America
Deadline: September 15, 2010, (abstracts) and October 29, 2010 (papers)
Lisa A. Eargle of Francis Marion University and Ashraf M. Esmail of Southern University of New Orleans are accepting abstracts of papers to be published in a collection of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill research. Abstracts or full papers on the topic should be formatted in APA style with one-inch margins and 12-point Times New Roman type and sent by e-mail to Lisa Eargle.

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Call for Applications
Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) Grants
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Deadline: September 17, 2010
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is accepting applications for SAFER Grants to support firefighter staffing and volunteer recruitment. Career fire departments, combination agencies, and volunteer fire departments are eligible to receive grant funds. FEMA recommends potential applicants review the application tutorial before submitting.

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6) Some New Web Resources

[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/.]

Great Central U.S. Shakeout
You don’t have to live in California to get a fair shake at escaping an earthquake alive any more—the Great Shakeout is now taking its show on the road.  The mammoth quake preparedness drill that put 6.9 million Californians at the ready last fall is expanding to the Central United States. The corresponding Web site has many of the same games and preparedness techniques, but with information and resources aimed at getting residents in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama in shape for their own drill on April 28, 2011.

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The Flood Observatory
The Dartmouth Flood Observatory now has a shorter name and a new home at the University of Colorado, but the site still has its finger on the pulse of flooding worldwide. Get maps of current and historical floods, find information on drought, and learn more about the space-based imaging and remote sensing that supports the site.

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All Hazards Blog
From fires to earthquakes to how to pick the right weather radio, the All Hazards Blog has a wide range of entries that will come in handy to anyone interested to keeping up with hazards—or out of their way. Created by Indiana University Informatics Professor and EMT David Wild, the blog taps his interest in how to best use technology and information in disasters, while pointing to preparedness tactics useful for everyday folks.

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National Weather Service: A Weather Ready Nation
The National Weather Service is among the latest agencies to give the public a voice in strategic planning using the new federal IdeaScale format. The format allows users to submit thoughts and suggestions, comment on and discuss ideas, and—hopefully, in the long run—give NWS a wealth of fodder to craft its 2020 strategic goals.  

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Blowout prevention: Analysis of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill
Those following the National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council study of the Deepwater Horizon disaster will find a wealth of information at this Web site. Visitors can examine the scope of the study and schedule for completion, track meetings, view study documents, and submit their own comments for committee consideration.

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Public Health Emergency
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has aggregated a vast array resources that apply to public health emergencies and preparedness—chances are if you’re an emergency responder, medical worker, government official, nonprofit organizer, emergency manager, or anyone else who might be working for the public during a health emergency, you’ll find a treasure trove of information for your particular niche.

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7) Conferences, Training, 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 www.colorado.edu/hazards/resources/conferences.html.]

September 16, 2010
Denver Emergency Management Summit 2010
Emergency Management Magazine
Denver, Colorado
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This summit will address Denver’s natural and man-made hazards and discuss best practices in preparedness and mitigation. Topics include solutions and technology to improve community preparedness, collaborative emergency management planning, challenges in integrating planning and preparedness, and recent FEMA initiatives.

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September 29 to October 1, 2010
Deltas in Times of Climate Change
Climate Changes Spatial Planning, Knowledge for Climate, and the City of Rotterdam
Rotterdam, Netherlands
Cost and Registration: $504 before September 29, open until filled
This conference will promote scientific research on climate change and delta planning, strengthen international cooperation among delta cities, and explore the links between science and policy. Conference themes include managing extreme weather risks, decision support for climate adaptation, and flood risk management.

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October 5-6, 2010
Asia-Oceania Resilience Conference
International Association of Emergency Managers
Singapore
Cost and Registration: $600, open until filled
This conference will explore public and personal resilience to disasters, with an emphasis on the exchange of experiences and best practices. Conference topics include 21st Century water emergencies, disaster resilient communities, crisis management and emergency response in Antarctica, and the journey from response to resilience.

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October 9, 2010
Third Tri-State Weather Conference
Western Connecticut State University
Danbury, Connecticut
Cost and Registration: $30 before October 3, open until filled
This conference will examine weather education and communication to improve professional and amateur understanding of severe weather. Topics include cause and effect of out-of-season snowstorms, hurricanes and climate change, and the media’s role in communicating about severe weather.

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October 27-29, 2010
Seventh Canadian Risk and Hazards Network Symposium
Canadian Risk and Hazards Network
Fredericton, New Brunswick
Cost and Registration: Not posted
This symposium will discuss public engagement in disaster risk reduction, identify smart practices that emerged from recent disasters, and discuss technological solutions for risk assessment. Conference themes include risk management methodologies, warning systems, psychosocial dimensions of emergency management, and land-use planning strategies.

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November 15-19, 2010
International Conference on Climate Change and People
Small Earth Nepal, University of Colorado Consortium for Capacity Building, Nepal, and others
Kathmandu, Nepal
Cost and Registration: $150, open until September 15
This conference aims to increase the scientific capacity of young students from multiple disciplines by improving networking about and understanding of sustainable development and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Topics include changing regional hazards, disaster management and early warning systems, and the regional impacts of climate variability and extremes.

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8) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

[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.]

Technical Director for Disaster Risk Reduction and Response
ACDI/VOCA
Washington, D.C.
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position oversees community-based disaster risk reduction strategies and helps transition communities from emergency assistance to development. The technical director is the headquarters contact during emergencies and supports emergency efforts in the field. A master’s degree, seven years disaster risk reduction or response experience, and experience leading complex emergency or disaster response are required.

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Emergency Management Specialist
Orange County Office of Emergency Management
Orange County, Florida
Salary: $37,774 to $57,138
Closing Date: September 11, 2010
This position manages public information and outreach programs for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery and administers all emergency management training and disaster preparedness exercises. A bachelor’s degree in communications, public administration, or a related field and four years experience in emergency management, public information, education, or training are required.

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International Program Coordinator
Practical Action
Warwickshire, United Kingdom
Salary: $52,304 to $56,191
Closing Date: September 12, 2010
This position coordinates a vulnerability reduction program that strengthens the ability of communities to cope with environmental degradation and disaster risk. A previous position in sustainability, farming, natural resource management, or vulnerability and risk assessment; as well as experience in international development, project management, and communication; are required.

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Haiti Emergency Director
Save the Children
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: September 30, 2010
This position manages Save the Children’s Haitian emergency planning, preparedness, and response; develops early warning and contingency plans; and oversees emergency staff deployment. A master’s degree, seven years of emergency humanitarian experience, and experience in project, grant, and security management are required.

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Disaster Team System Manager
Plan International
Woking, United Kingdom
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: September 30, 2010
This position manages budgets, fundraising, training programs, and information on disaster risk management activities. Experience with humanitarian programs, international NGOs, or the United Nations and financial reporting and budget experience are required.

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Disaster Response Project Manager
Habitat for Humanity International
San Jose, Costa Rica
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: October 11, 2010
This position implements Habitat for Humanity disaster response, manages field projects, develops response policies, and pursues funding opportunities. English and Spanish fluency, experience developing disaster preparedness programs, and five years work experience facilitating prevention, mitigation, and response are required.

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Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to jolie.breeden@colorado.edu. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.

To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail jolie.breeden@colorado.edu.
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