1) Science Under Wraps: Bioterrorism Fears Spur Unprecedented Lockdown of Flu Research
Scientists studying an especially deadly bird flu strain inadvertently opened a can of worms with far-reaching implications for how scientists share data.
The research created a version of the H5N1 virus that was aerially transmissible between ferrets. The controversy was sparked in late December when the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended the results of that research not be published in their entirety. The board, which has no authority to enforce its recommendation, was concerned the full work might provide bioterrorists the instructions for creating a deadly pandemic.
“I don’t like to scare people,” microbiologist and board chair Paul Keim told Nature News on January 3. “But the worst-case scenarios here are just enormous.”
The two journals asked to censor the work, Nature and Science, have agreed to consider the request if the government works out a way for legitimate scientists to access the complete results. The United States, the World Health Organization, and other international actors are now discussing how to go about that, according to a Nature article published Wednesday.
And on Friday, researchers agreed to another rarity—a 60-day moratorium on their work. The freeze is a direct response to the public and scientific community's reactions to the proposed redactions.
“We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks,” lead scientists Ron Fouchier, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and 37 other researchers working with H5N1 wrote in a statement published jointly in Nature and Science. “We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues. We realize that organizations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from the work.”
The suspension in research will halt experiments with live H5N1 viruses and the newly created variety H5 HA, according to the statement.
While the censorship—anathema to the scientific community—has generated plenty of conversation, many have also said the usefulness of making viruses deadly doesn’t outweigh the risk. Others champion the surveillance benefits of such research in early pandemic response and say it should resume immediately.
Either way, it’s unclear why this particular research is the catalyst for this debate. Although H5N1 is considered especially deadly, killing about 50 percent of its victims, it’s not easily transmitted between humans. That was the point of the experiment—to see what it would take for the virus to mutate to a condition where it might be a serious threat, according to a December 26 New York Times article.
“There are highly respected virologists who thought until a few years ago that H5N1 could never become airborne between mammals,” Fouchier told the Times. “I wasn’t convinced. To prove these guys wrong, we needed to make a virus that is transmissible.”
The initial studies were carried out by two teams—one led by Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and one led by Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—with very different results. Fouchier’s results were alarming, with the virus quickly becoming airborne and transmissible between ferrets, who then died at the expected rates. (Ferrets weather the flu much like humans.)
Kawaoka’s ferrets caught the airborne flu and became sick, but their illnesses were successfully treated with existing vaccines and antiviral compounds, Kawaoka told the Times Wednesday. Both teams' results were shared with researchers and journal reviewers, and Fouchier presented his findings at a virology conference in September, according to a December 20 Times article.
Why put the kibosh on sharing the full details of these already public and conflicting results? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of consensus. The National Institutes of Health’s Amy Patterson indicated to the Times that the biosecurity advisory board was moved by the new virus’s ability to cross species. In the same article, Science editor Bruce Alberts said the virus's aerial transmissibility was reason for the journal to consider limiting access.
Regardless of whether this research is more worthy of redaction and postponement than any other, what happens next month when the WHO hosts a meeting in Geneva to discuss the matter is certain to reverberate.
“It’s a precedent-setting moment,” Alberts told the Times, “and we need to be careful about the precedent we set.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t claim to know, but it’s gone a long way towards making an educated guess. FEMA's recent report, Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030: Forging Strategic Action in an Age of Uncertainty is a thoughtful speculation about where emergency planning is headed in the next couple of decades.
Starting with FEMA’s Strategic Foresight Initiative and continuing through to exercises which considered possible future scenarios, the report is the result of an interactive process designed to get the widest range of stakeholders to give our future a good hard look.
The many activities of the SFI—workshops, webinars, and other outreach—helped FEMA identify nine “drivers” of change. The drivers range from seemingly upbeat items, such as universal access to information, the changing role of the individual, and technological innovation and dependency, to potential negatives, such as decreasing government budgets, terrorist threats, and climate change.
While the drivers helped the agency think about possible futures, the key to the SFI approach is realizing that any of those drivers could lead us to places not quite imagined. It’s what Director David Kaufman of FEMA's Office of Policy and Program Analysis calls a combination of foresight and prediction.
“While the two terms seem similar, a key difference between the two is that foresight acknowledges the fact that the future is uncertain, and tries to prepare decision makers for how the future may change,” he wrote in a July blog post. “Predictions are an attempt to remove uncertainty from the future. Emergency managers must attempt to foresee what possible futures they may face when they make decisions that will have implications for years down the road.”
In the big picture, the report finds that emergency managers are likely to face more and more complicated disasters, while being less certain of operational frameworks and available resources. But those constraints could give rise to new types of individual and private-sector emergency actors, and working together globally and locally might become new norms. Of course, these developments would require increased trust between public and government, according to the report.
“Since trust is so essential to successful outcomes in disasters and emergencies, we must look for opportunities to build and strengthen public trust,” the report states. “Frequently the best pathway for doing so lies in ever wider and deeper channels of public participation.”
The bottom line? There are lots of possible changes ahead. Fortunately, the report goes on to offer 15 capabilities the emergency community can begin building. Today.
Of Note: An online discussion with Kaufman regarding the report’s findings was slated to be held on EMForum Thursday afternoon after DR581 had gone to press. Transcripts of EMForum webinars are usually available on the archive page soon after the discussion airs.
The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship Committee is now accepting applications. Recipients will receive financial support allowing them to attend the 2012 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, July 14-17. Recipients may also stay through July 18 to attend either the International Research Committee on Disasters or the Natural Hazard Mitigation Association add-on events for researchers and practitioners, respectively. Scholarships can cover part or all of transportation, meals, and registration costs.
The Mary Fran Myers Scholarship is awarded annually to at least one potential Workshop participant. Recipients are recognized at the Workshop and may be asked to serve as panelists, where they can highlight their research or practical experiences with hazards and disasters.
As the longtime co-director of the Natural Hazards Center, Myers recognized that many of the people and organizations that could benefit from and contribute to the Workshop—including local practitioners, students, and international professionals—were among those least likely to afford it. The scholarship was established in 2003 to fulfill Myers’ request that qualified and talented individuals receive support to attend.
Hazards practitioners, students, and researchers with a strong commitment to disaster management and mitigation and who reside in North America or the Caribbean are eligible to enter. Eligibility is based on current place of residence, not citizenship.
Applicants from outside North America and the Caribbean will be eligible for the scholarship in 2013. Previous attendees of the Natural Hazards Workshop are not eligible for the 2012 Mary Fran Myers Scholarship. Preference is given to those who can demonstrate financial need.
For more information on past scholarship winners and how to apply, visit the Mary Fran Myers Scholarship page at the Natural Hazards Center Web site. Applications must be received by March 26.
The latest edition of the Natural Hazards Observer is now available online. Featured articles from the January 2012 Observer include:
—The Christchurch Earthquake's Hidden Secrets
—Take it to the (Carbon) Limit
—Ecosystem Evaluation: Invisible Losses
—Testing the Tyranny of Names
Visit the Natural Hazards Center Web site to read the January and past editions of the Observer.
Call for Applications
William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship
American Geosciences Institute
Deadline: February 1, 2012
The American Geosciences Institute is accepting applications for its annual fellowship, which allows PhD students or recent postgraduates to spend a year in the office of a congressional staff member working on environmental, resource, or natural hazards policy. A stipend of $65,000 plus relocation and travel allowances will be awarded to the winning candidate. Full details and application instructions can be found online.
Call for Papers
Fourth International Conference on Climate Change
Common Ground Publishing
Deadline: February 14, 2012
Common Ground Publishing is accepting papers for presentation at the Fourth International Conference on Climate Change, to be held July 12-13 in Seattle. Selected papers will also be published in the International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses. For full details on topics and presentation options, visit the conference Web site.
Call for Submissions
Dam Student Safety Paper Competition
Association of State Dam Safety Officials
Deadline: February 15, 2012
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials is accepting submissions for its annual student paper competition. Graduate and undergraduate students in any field are welcome to submit papers on dam and levee safety, engineering, regulations, or related topics. Three winners will be awarded a cash prize, travel stipend, and entry to the 2012 Dam Safety Conference, to be held September 16-20 in Denver.
[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/.]
QuakeSmart Business Earthquake Mitigation Toolkit
Businesses never need an earthquake plan until they need one very badly. That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency has put together a package of resources that business owners and their employees can use to build a plan before they need one. The QuakeSmart kit provides simple steps to assess risk, create a plan, and implement it.
Disaster Preparedness Champions of Change
You’d be hard pressed to find a loser among people preparing their communities for disaster, but last week the White House singled out 17 individuals as disaster preparedness champions. Using innovative approaches that involve the entire community, these disaster heroes span the spectrum from high-level officials to municipal managers to community activists. Check out their bios and accomplishments on the Champions of Change page linked above.
National Hurricane Center Storm Surge Forum
Storm surge and how it relates to storm categories can be a tricky topic for the public to understand. That’s why the National Hurricane Center has created a forum to collect ideas on ways to better measure, monitor, communicate, and weather storm surges. Conversations are trending on everything from color scales to mobile apps, so stop by and add your two cents. All you need is an opinion.
Disaster Information Management Research Center Disaster Apps
Who doesn’t have to access information on the fly these days—especially during a disaster? For all those folks, the National Library of Medicine’s Disaster Information Management Research Center has compiled a list of disaster applications and Web information that can be easily used on a mobile device. From disaster medicine to hazards information to disaster resources, there’s a handy list of offerings complete with download links for a variety of platforms and devices. And if you don’t have time to explore now, no problem—connect to the page from your smartphone and keep it with you wherever you go.
Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply through Reuse of Municipal Wastewater
The National Academies could have good news for swaths of the nation facing serious and extended drought. A recent report has found that reusing wastewater for irrigation and industrial use could significantly increase available water. In some cases, treated wastewater might even be made safely available for drinking, according to the report. Federal regulation changes would be needed to ensure public health and confidence in treated wastewater though. Visit the report Web page for a list of findings or to download the entire document.
[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.]
February 7-9, 2012
National Evacuation Conference
Gulf Coast Research Center for Evacuation and Transportation Resiliency, the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, and others
New Orleans, Louisiana
Cost and Registration: $425 before January 31, open until filled
This conference will discuss evacuation planning strategies for major disasters. Topics include public transportation, evacuation modeling tools, hospital planning for evacuation and patient relocation, nuclear power plant evacuations, and factors influencing human behavior during evacuations.
February 19-22, 2012
Remote Sensing of the Terrestrial Water Cycle
American Geophysical Union
Cost and Registration: $450, closes January 31
This conference will present research on the terrestrial water cycle, including precipitation, soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and groundwater and surface water storage. Topics include current challenges in terrestrial hydrology, the future of terrestrial water remote sensing, and breakout sessions on snowmelt, flood, drought, and weather and climate modeling.
February 29 through March 1, 2012
Climate Leadership Conference
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Cost and Registration: $595, open until filled
This conference will look at climate change mitigation strategies that benefit the competitiveness of organizations. Topics include setting and achieving greenhouse gas reduction goals, managing climate risk and building resiliency, educating and engaging stakeholders, creating sustainable supply chains, and leveraging clean energy opportunities.
March 5-7, 2012
Logistics of Natural Disaster Recovery
Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in New Zealand
Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand
Cost and Registration: $1,413, open until filled
Using the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and Queensland floods as case studies, this conference will present recommendations for preparedness and response. Topics include civil defense training, early warning systems, rescue coordination, infrastructure challenges, and economic recovery planning.
March 18-21, 2012
Sustainable Water Management
American Water Works Association
Cost and Registration: $770, closes January 17
This conference will discuss potential changes to water utility regulations. Topics include water conflict management, residential water sustainability, aquifer storage and recovery, low-impact development, sustainable commercial and industrial use, and opportunities for water reuse.
May 30 through June 22, 2012
Natural Disaster Management
University of Iceland Earthquake Engineering Research Centre
Cost and Registration: $2,037, open until filled
This course provides an introductory overview of the disaster cycle, and examines local, national, and international roles in disaster management. Topics include multidisciplinary disaster cycle management, risk analysis, cost-benefit analyses of mitigation projects, and contingency planning for rescue, relief, and recovery. Following completion of the course, students will be able to lead or participate in multidisciplinary disaster management projects.
[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.]
Assistant Federal Security Director, GS-13
Transportation Security Administration
Rapid City, South Dakota
Salary: $66,778 to $103,563
Closing Date: February 3, 2012
This position will provide direction for airport security operations at the Rapid City Regional Airport. Responsibilities include advising the federal security director, evaluating security operations, and managing customer service training programs. One year of experience at the GS-12 level and experience administering security programs are required.
Assistant Professor of Emergency Management
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: March 5, 2012
This position will teach online graduate courses in emergency management and undergraduate courses in environmental hazards and emergency management. Responsibilities include mentoring students and assisting in curriculum development. A PhD and emergency management experience are required. Knowledge of public policy, continuity of operations, risk management, and public administration is preferred.
Emergency Management Specialist
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will provide continuity of operations and emergency preparedness planning services to federal government clients. Responsibilities include analyzing client continuity of operations capability, recommending strategies to improve operations, and delivering presentations, training, and briefings. A bachelor’s degree, four years of emergency planning experience, and a working knowledge of the National Response Framework are required. A master’s degree and professional certifications in emergency management are preferred.
Professor of Coastal Geological Oceanography
University of Southern Mississippi
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop oceanography courses in an interdisciplinary academic program for graduate and undergraduate students. Responsibilities include conducting collaborative research on complex coastal problems. A PhD in a geology-related field and demonstrated research experience in shelf and coastal environments are required. Post-doctoral experience is preferred.
Senior Disaster Recovery Analyst
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will coordinate the development and maintenance of disaster recovery plans. Responsibilities include assisting in response and recovery activities during emergencies, performing business impact analyses on proposed projects, managing recovery projects, and working with IT to ensure that recovery solutions are technologically supported. A high school diploma and at least eight years of experience in business continuity are required. Certification by the Disaster Recovery Institute International or Business Continuity Institute is preferred.
Manager of Disaster Response Strategic Support
Habitat for Humanity
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will assist in Habitat for Humanity disaster risk reduction and response efforts. Responsibilities include serving as a grant subject matter expert, developing relationships with donors, and contributing to the development of organizational training materials. A bachelor’s degree, disaster risk management experience, and knowledge of grant development are required. A master’s degree is preferred.
Contributions of jobs, conferences, and other content to this newsletter can be sent to email@example.com. Please include “for Disaster Research” in the subject line.To subscribe, visit http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/dr/ or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.