Disasters

  • Coastal infrastructureHelping coastal communities to visualize sea-level rise

    As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) initiative to encourage communities to become more aware of the effects of climate change, the agency has awarded Marin County, California a $150,000 grant to engage residents in climate change issues by allowing them to visualize the effects of sea level rise. The grant will pay for two sophisticated viewfinders programed to envision how the landscape will appear in projected sea level rise scenarios, as well as how the landscape appeared in the past.

  • California waterL.A. water supply vulnerable to disruption by earthquakes

    Eighty-eight percent of Los Angeles’s water comes from the Colorado River, Owens Valley, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, passing through three major aqueducts and into the region. The aqueducts cross the San Andreas Fault a total of thirty-two times, making them vulnerable to the much anticipated Big One.A large temblor on the fault could destroy sections of the aqueducts, cutting off the water supply for more than twenty-two million people in Southern California.

  • Disaster recoveryComplaints grow about New Mexico’s handling of emergencies, disaster relief

    New Mexico’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM)wasformed in 2007 by consolidating the state’s Office of Homeland Security and the Emergency Management Division. It is responsible for coordinating emergency and disaster relief efforts with all levels of government, providing training to emergency managers, and analyzing security threats. DHSEM, however, has a history of failing to respond swiftly to disaster related requests, according to internal reports, e-mails, audits, and interviews with current and former employees.

  • Disaster recoveryPlacing people in affordable homes within days, not years, after major storms

    On Monday, Housing and Urban Developmentsecretary Julian Castro toured the core of a house in Brownsville, Texas, as part of the RAPIDO project, which local officials hope will one day become the model for housing recovery after a major storm. The house is part of a $2 million pilot project which relies on low construction expenses and affordable labor to get people in affordable homes within days of a major disaster instead of years. While hundreds of affordable homes have been built since Hurricane Dolly and Ike destroyed a vast portion of the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, many residents are still waiting for houses already funded with federal disaster money.

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  • FloodsBetter forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

    Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach river banks, wash out roads and flood buildings. These events are unpredictable and difficult to forecast. Yet they will become more common as the planet warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Mountain hydrology experts are using the physics behind these events to better predict the risks.

  • Planetary securityBe prepared: What to do if an asteroid is heading our way

    Last month, experts from European Space Agency’s (ESA) Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program and Europe’s national disaster response organizations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way. The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from twelve meters to thirty-eight meters — spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event — and travelling at 12.5 km/s. Teams were challenged to decide what should happen at five critical points in time, focused on 30, 26, 5, and 3 days before and one hour after impact.

  • Flood protectionBetter defense barriers and technologies for better protection against floods

    Hurricanes are devastating. Aside from the high, sustained wind speeds, they usually bring with them heavy rain, which can quickly lead to the breaching of flood defenses in susceptible areas. Now, U.S. and U.K. researchers have reviewed hurricane flood defense barriers and technologies with a view to helping engineers find improved designs.

  • Flood protectionCoastal defenses could contribute to flooding with sea-level rise

    A combination of coastal defenses and rising sea levels could change typical U.K. tidal ranges, potentially leading to a higher risk of flooding, say scientists. The researchers wanted to find out how tides around the United Kingdom might respond to changes in sea level over the next century depending on the level of coastal defenses in place. Their study shows for the first time that local coastal defenses, such as sea walls, could cause tides to change dramatically. It suggests flood defenses need to be reassessed on an international scale as they may lead to an increased risk of flooding.

  • Terrorism insuranceSenate expects to extend terrorism insurance after House passes bill

    After the House passed the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2014 (TRIPRA) last week, supporters of the bill expect the Senate to approve it, although they are unsure when that will occur. The current version of the program is expected to expire by 31 December unless Congress renews the legislation or places a temporary extension.The House version would extend TRIPRA for six years, increase the threshold for government reimbursement from $100 million to $200 million, and increase companies’ co-payments to 20 percent from 15 percent.

  • Earthquake early warningCongressional funding allows partial roll-out of Calif. seismic early warning system

    California officials applauded the U.S. Senate approval of the $1.1-trillion spending package, which allocated $5 million to fund expansion of the state’s earthquake early-warning system dubbed ShakeAlert.In 2015, a select number of schools will receive earthquake alerts to warn students and teachers to drop and cover before shaking begins, fire stations will be alerted to open their garage doors before electricity goes out and prevents doors from opening, and some hospitals will receive notice to suspend surgeries.

  • Coastal infrastructurePower grids in coastal U.S. cities increasingly vulnerable as a result of climate change

    Cities such as Miami are all too familiar with hurricane-related power outages. A new analysis finds, however, that climate change will give other major metropolitan areas a lot to worry about in the future. Johns Hopkins University engineers created a computer model to predict the increasing vulnerability of power grids in major coastal cities during hurricanes. By factoring historic hurricane information with plausible scenarios for future storm behavior, the team determined which of twenty-seven cities, from Texas to Maine, will become more susceptible to blackouts from future hurricanes. The team’s analysis could help metropolitan areas better plan for climate change.

  • Infrastructure protectionImpact of solar storm on U.S. infrastructure cannot be predicted with certainty

    Of the many threats to the U.S. electric grid, from cyberattacks to terrorism, industry experts agree that the most catastrophic, yet least likely to occur, threat is a magnetic space storm which could shut down the grid and cause other infrastructure to fail. Previous large scale solar storms include the 1859 Carrington Event — the strongest storm on record — and a March 1989 coronal mass ejection which caused a 9-hour blackout in Quebec.

  • Coastal infrastructureN.C. panel to issue sea-level rise forecast to guide coastal, infrastructure development

    Scientists with the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) will have their last public meeting today (Monday) before the group issues its projections on sea level rise around the state’s coastal areas. In a 2010 forecast, the science panel concluded that North Carolina’s sea levels would increase by thirty-nine inches by 2100. Climate-change skeptics and coastal developers opposed the report, and in 2012 persuaded the state legislature to bar any state agency from adopting a policy based on any sea level forecast. The legislature modified the CRC’s mandate by limiting its projections to 30-year periods and instructing it to focus on four separate zones and not the entire state projections. The CRC will submit it report to the legislature on 1 March 2016.

  • Water warsISIS uses control of water as a tool of war

    Global security analysts have warned for some time now that water scarcity due to climate change will be used as a tool of war in regions with poor government.The on-going wars in Iraq and Syria provide the first examples of the strategic and tactical use of water as a tool of war, as militant groups operating in both countries have been using water against residents of areas they control. “ISIS has established a blueprint that can be used by other entities to take advantage of drought and water scarcity,” writes on researcher. “For all the conversation about ISIS taking control of oil refineries, one could argue that their control of water is even more significant, as it deprives the population of a resource necessary for daily sustenance and gives the militant group significant leverage over local governments and populations.”

  • Coastal infrastructureFlorida's First Coast region trying to cope with rising seas

    City planners in Florida’s First Coast region are taking steps to avoid massive destruction to property and human life as sea level rise is expected to cause mass flooding and super storms during the next few decades. Some groups are lobbying for coastal property-insurance reforms, while others are researching ways to help historic properties manage flooding.