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Number 587 •May 3, 2012 | Past Issues

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

1) Semi-Sweet Justice? Mid-Level BP Engineer Arrest Not the Tastiest Morsel, But a Start

For those reeling from the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, justice of the criminal variety (and, some would argue, of any variety) has been a long time coming. But last week, there was evidence that some might eventually be delivered.

Hope came with the April 24 arrest of a former BP engineer accused of deleting more than 200 text messages that allegedly show BP knew oil flows were higher than publicly stated, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. Kurt Mix, who worked to gauge the flow from the damaged well after it exploded, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on two counts of obstruction of justice, according to the Associated Press.

Considering the rig blowout and resulting spill killed eleven people, spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and caused billions of dollars of damage to coastal communities and businesses, the charges—and the charged—seem less than satisfying. No worries though, experts say. Mix is but the first domino in a long line that have yet to fall.

“As a prosecutor, that’s the first thing you look for, a weak link,” University of Maryland law professor Jane Barrett, who prosecuted environmental cases for the Justice Department, told the Christian Science Monitor. “And somebody obstructing an investigation is pretty easy to prove … and the goal would be to use this as a way to negotiate a cooperator deal, where [Mix] would, in exchange for [a reduced sentence], agree to provide information to the government on other aspects of the case.”

If that tactic works, it could have cascading effects on both BP’s image and liability. The company has long painted itself as a team player that stepped up to the plate to right the wrong done by the spill. Mix’s deletions might give the impression it only intended to bunt.

“If people at BP knew and failed to disclose to the government what the flow rate was, that obstructed more than justice,” Harvard Law School professor Richard Lazarus told the New York Times. “It may have impeded the effort to contain the flow and allowed it to continue longer than it did, increasing the damage.”

That seems to be case. At the time, BP officials were attempting to stanch the flow of oil using an operation called top kill. Mix’s texts, one of which read “Too much flow rate—over 15,000 and too large an orifice,” warned against trying the maneuver, according to the Guardian. The company, however, continued with the plan (which ultimately failed) while telling the public there was a 70 percent chance of success.

In addition to what might be upcoming perjury charges based on BP officials' congressional testimony, the Justice Department is also considering manslaughter charges, according to another Associated Press report. The big question is, will those charges be shouldered by the corporations or by individual managers that called the shots?

Often what happens in technological disasters is that corporations plead guilty to criminal charges and pay a large fine, Barrett told AOL News. But this case, considered to be the largest spill in the history of the oil industry (and it isn’t over yet), might be ripe for making an example by charging individuals.

“The challenge is in figuring out if there is some criminal conduct that you can pin on an individual,” Barrett told AOL News. “Did a senior VP of BP tell them, 'I don't care what you do, this rig has got to be done by this date'? Did they know materials they were dumping to disperse the oil were more toxic than they let everybody else know? Somebody made those decisions. That's what the Justice Department is going to have to figure out.”

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2) September Blackout Caused by Electric Providers in the Dark about Grid Operations

An investigation meant to shine light on a September blackout found that electric providers' lack of planning, communication, and awareness of their grid neighbors' operations were to blame for leaving nearly three million customers in the dark.

“There is no limit to how much improvement in communication and coordination should be made,” said Dave Nevius, senior vice president of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The cascading blackout was started September 8, 2011, by an Arizona Public Service employee who made an error that took a down a single transmission line. After that, a series of missteps and equipment overloads converged to cause the widespread outage that affected customers in Arizona, California, and Mexico, according to the investigation report. Many customers didn’t have power restored until the following day. Notably, the overloads took down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which provides electricity to approximately 1.4 million customers in the San Diego area.

If agencies had been in communication regarding the real-time status of their systems, the spread of the outages could have been limited, the report stated. As it was, operators saw changes in the flow to their own systems, but didn’t realize their significance and take corrective action.

“This event underscores how complex and interdependent our North American electric systems are and the critical importance of information sharing, communications, system studies and coordinated operations among all interconnected systems,” NERC President Gerry Cauley said in a press release Monday. “Transmission operators, balancing authorities and reliability coordinators must work together to effectively manage this complex system.”

The investigation, conducted by NERC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, also suggested that utilities may have set safety systems that automatically take facilities offline in response to overload to be too sensitive. While the systems are meant to regulate problems and protect equipment, in this case they worked to facilitate the spread of the blackout.

For an examination of the impacts of the blackout on lifeline infrastructure in the San Diego area, see Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Research Report #228 by Scott Miles, Hannah Gallagher, and Charles Huxford, currently in prepress at this link: QR228: Quick Response Research on the September 8, 2011, San Diego Blackout.

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3) First National Preparedness Report Gives the Nation Mostly Thumbs Up

When it comes to meeting national preparedness goals, the Unites States is making good progress overall, according to the National Preparedness Report, which was released earlier today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cybersecurity and long-term recovery from disaster remained areas of concern, however. Measuring progress was also a challenge.

The report, which was mandated as part of Presidential Policy Directive 8, will serve as a baseline on where the nation stands in meeting its National Preparedness Goal, which outlines “core capabilities” needed to prevent, respond to, and recover from disaster. The report is based on self-reporting by all levels of government, private- and nonprofit-sector organizations, and community groups in 56 U.S. states and territories.

“This report illustrates areas of national strength to include planning, operational coordination, intelligence and information sharing, and other response related capabilities,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a statement. “We must continue to build on the significant progress to date and address identified opportunities for improvement.”

Public health and medical services were rated a huge success in most states, with about 78 percent reporting they were solid on their capabilities. Operational coordination and communication during disaster and public information and warning were also ranked similarly.

Providing housing, economic recovery, and cultural resources after disaster were at the bottom of the capability spectrum, underranked only by preparedness for cyberattack.

“Cybersecurity was the single core capability where states had made the least amount of overall progress, with an average capability level of 42 percent,” the report stated, but added that improvements were already on the way.

“To counter these and related threats, federal and private sector partners have accelerated initiatives to enhance data collection, detect events, raise awareness, and respond to cyber incidents. In fact, most infrastructure protection stakeholders now identify cybersecurity as a priority issue for their programs.”

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4) Workshop Trumps DR … At Least For a Little While

It’s fast approaching that time of year when the Natural Hazards Center begins to gear up for its Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop. Unfortunately, that means DR—Disaster Research News You Can Use will need to take a hiatus while our editorial staff gets the Workshop program ready for the printer.

Look for DR 588 to return June 14 with all the same great news items, resources, conferences and job postings. And don’t forget, you can always get the latest disaster news if you follow us on Twitter.

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

Call for Nominations
Rick Rescorla National Award for Resilience
Department of Homeland Security
Deadline: May 15, 2012
The Department of Homeland Security is accepting nominations for its first Rick Rescorla Award for Resilience, which recognizes leadership in preparedness, response and recovery. Nongovernmental employees or organizations that have shown outstanding response to a natural disaster or achievements in developing resilience in the past year are eligible. Applicants must be based in the United States. For full eligibility criteria, submission forms, and frequently asked questions, visit the award Web site.

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Call for Comments
National Water Program 2012 Strategy
Environmental Protection Agency
Deadline: May 17, 2012
The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking comments on the draft National Water Program 2012 Strategy: Response to Climate Change, which addresses the effects of water cycle changes on EPA water programs. Visit the Climate Change and Water Web page for full text of the draft document, supporting documents, and instructions on how to submit comments.

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Call for Abstracts
FMA Annual Conference
Floodplain Management Association
Deadline: May 18, 2012
The Floodplain Management Association is accepting abstracts for posters, presentations, and workshops at its annual conference to be held September 4-7 in Sacramento, California. Abstracts on a wide variety of topics related to flooding, levees, coastal issues, mapping, and forecasting will be accepted. For a list of topics and submission guidelines, visit the conference Web site.

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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/.]

Fragile Earth
If seeing is believing, then this app showing the effects of climate change on the landscape should win over a few skeptics. The app, built by Harper Collins from the Fragile Earth book series, let users visualize how Earth is changing by overlaying before and after photos of disaster sites, dying lakes, melting glaciers, and other phenomena. From the effects of Hurricane Katrina to the astounding shrinkage of the Aral Sea, these pictures are truly worth a thousand words.

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International Journal of Emergency Services
From the Coast Guard to mountain rescue, to all the police, fire, and EMS agencies in between, the International Journal of Emergency Services aims to collect a body of scholarship that will reach across all areas of emergency management. The journal, which emphasizes providing efficient and effective services with limited resources, will accept contributions from a number of social science fields. The first issue, to be published in July, is available for no cost until June 22.

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Climate Change at the National Academies
This site from the National Academies isn’t exactly new—it used to be America’s Climate Choices—but more has changed than just the name. The site and its e-newsletter will now serve as a clearinghouse for National Academies climate change news, videos, webinars, and books. Go there to keep updated on sustainability and energy information, as well as activities such as the Climate Education Roundtable.

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Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 201: Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment
This guide, released last month by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a five-step path to helping communities better manage risk and their ability to cope with it. The steps offered in the guide were designed to help local decision makers recognize threats in the context of their community and think about how they would respond based on changes in their local resources and population makeup. The guide is one of a collection of resources created by FEMA to help local governments incorporate the core capabilities outlined in the National Preparedness Goal.

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Identifying Vulnerable Older Adults and Legal Options for Increasing Their Protection During All-Hazards Emergencies
If disasters are difficult to weather when you’re young and able-bodied, just imagine what they’re like when you're not. Unfortunately, not enough response organizations have imagined that scenario, according to this recently released report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC created the guide after determining that there were huge gaps in the way vulnerable adults were identified, considered in emergency plans, and legally protected. The report offers strategies and options to make sure older adults' needs are met at every level of planning.

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Before the Storm
What do you do when you’re a mad scientist (or one of his beastly minions) bracing for a coming storm? This new game from Australian Emergency Management will let you find out. The game, which is aimed at fifth- through ninth-graders, lets kids take over a gothic mansion during four stages of a storm—preparedness, immediately before, during, and the cleanup afterwards. It’s a dark and stormy night, so download it on your iPad or iPod Touch now or check out some of the other great games in the Emergency Management for Schools collection.

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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.]

May 21-25, 2012
Integrated Training Summit
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Chesapeake Health Education Program
Nashville, Tennessee
Cost and Registration: $500, open until filled
This conference offers courses, workshops, and training sessions in a variety of public health and medical resource areas. Topics include palliative care in disaster situations, all-hazard emergency preparedness instruction, evacuation of special needs populations, the link between likability and effective leadership, and succession planning.

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May 28 to June 2, 2012
International Conference on Water, Climate and Environment
Balkan Institute for Water and Environment
Ohrid, Macedonia
Cost and Registration: $396, open until filled
This conference will discuss solutions to water scarcity, floods, droughts, and environmental degradation. Topics include climate-related decreases in North Eurasian water, the impact of water area on microclimates, dust storm forecasts in Saudi Arabia, solar influences on river flows, and the influence of natural and anthropogenic factors on Caspian Sea level.

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May 29-31, 2012
Adaptation Futures: International Conference on Climate Adaptation
University of Arizona and the UN Environment Program
Tucson, Arizona
Cost and Registration: $600, open until filled
This conference will discuss climate change adaptation from financial, methodological, capacity building, and ecosystem perspectives. Topics include regional climate studies, recent climate change research, climate change communication strategies, adaptation case studies and best practices, and tools for measuring and evaluating adaptation.

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June 4-7, 2012
15th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Conference
Emergency Management Institute
Emmitsburg, Maryland
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This conference is for representatives of colleges and universities that currently have, or are developing, a campus hazard, disaster, or emergency management program. Discussion topics include challenges faced in setting up a new program; program and course development; growing established programs; student recruitment, retention and placement; standards, certification, and accreditation; international disaster management; and ideas for making hazard, disaster, and emergency management courses interesting and relevant.

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June 6-7, 2012
Aid and International Development Forum
Aid and International Development Forum
Washington, D.C.
Cost and Registration: Free, open until filled
This forum will discuss global humanitarian and development issues in food security, health, emergency telecommunications, water sanitation, and disaster mitigation, preparedness, and response. Session topics include emergency telecommunications, the effects of climate change on emerging economies, recovery partnerships between the military and nongovernmental organizations, and health, sanitation, and construction standards for emergency shelters.

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June 25-27, 2012
World Conference on Disaster Management
World Conference on Disaster Management
Toronto, Canada
Cost and Registration: $949, open until filled
This conference will discuss emergency management and business continuity strategies with a focus on accommodating reduced budgets and resources. Topics include cost-effective risk reduction programs, disaster resilience as a counterterrorism measure, cyberattack preparation strategies, public alerts on mobile devices, and business continuity planning in a sluggish economy.

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July 12-13, 2012
Fourth International Conference on Climate Change
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington
Cost and Registration: $450, open until filled
This conference will examine scientific and political perspectives on climate change. Topics include climate change and disaster management, the impact of climate change on water resources, climate change education for children, climate change vulnerability related to racial and income disparities, and national mitigation strategies.

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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.]

Recovery Planning Coordinator, GS-12
Federal Emergency Management Agency
All Regional Offices
Salary: $60,274 to $93,175
Closing Date: May 9, 2012
This position manages regional recovery planning and related field operations before and after presidentially declared disasters. Responsibilities include serving as the regional expert on community recovery planning and capacity building, collaborating with the mitigation division to incorporate mitigation and sustainability measures into recovery plans, and advising the Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator during disaster events. At least one year of experience at or above the GS-11 level and one year of experience providing local or state community planning guidance are required.

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Emergency Response Program Manager
Multnomah County Health Department
Portland, Oregon
Salary: $58,661 to $90,554
Closing Date: May 11, 2012
This position will advance county emergency preparedness capacity by emphasizing preparedness for bioterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and other emergencies with potential public health impacts. Responsibilities include coordinating emergency preparedness activities, training health department managers and staff, conducting tabletop exercises, ensuring redundant emergency communication, and monitoring program expenditures. A master’s degree in public health, public administration, or biostatistics and two years of related experience at a public health agency are required. Certification in emergency management is preferred.

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Director and State Geologist
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology
Butte, Montana
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position oversees and develops Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology programs. Responsibilities include working with the Montana University System and the state legislature to secure MBMG funding, finding external funding, publicizing geoscience research developments, and communicating information on natural hazards and geologic, groundwater, energy, and mineral resources. A PhD in geosciences, ten or more years of experience, and administrative and program development abilities are required.

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Technical Specialists, Climate Adaptation Program for Coastal Communities
Tetra Tech ARD
Pacific Islands
Salary: Not posted
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will help coastal communities in the Pacific build resilience to increasingly intense and frequent weather events, ecosystem degradation, and sea level rise. Responsibilities include building local capacity, providing technical leadership for economic development, and producing reports and publications. A graduate degree in coastal resource management, seven years of related technical experience, and experience in the Pacific Islands are required. Experience working on U.S. Agency for International Development or large donor-funded projects is preferred.

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Transportation and Infrastructure Project Manager
New York City Office of Emergency Management
Brooklyn, New York
Salary: $55,000 to $65,000
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will develop the transportation and infrastructure components of emergency plans. Responsibilities include providing technical advice to city agencies on emergency planning efforts; identifying methods to protect the public against hazards; and planning for hazard mitigation, post-event recovery and restoration, coastal storm evacuation, and transportation and utilities disruption. A master’s degree and one year of professional experience in emergency management, public administration, urban planning, or engineering are required. Experience with transportation and infrastructure planning is preferred.

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Hazard Mitigation Grants Coordinator
Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency
Framingham, Massachusetts
Salary: $41,286 to $59,652
Closing Date: Open until filled
This position will work with the State Hazard Mitigation Team to implement a federally funded state hazard mitigation program. Responsibilities include assisting eligible applicants with grant applications, reviewing mitigation plans, documenting environmental and historic preservation review of proposed mitigation projects, conducting benefit-cost analyses, and presenting information about the state hazard mitigation grant program to communities. At least two years of management experience in public administration is required. Experience working with local emergency management programs is preferred.

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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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