• Cape Town water crisis highlights a worldwide problem

    The water supply is running dry in Cape Town, South Africa. The city’s reservoirs are shrinking as a three-year drought wears on. If it doesn’t rain soon, the drought could bring South Africa’s second most populous city to its knees. Cape Town residents are adapting as best they can. They are skipping showers and finding new ways to conserve and reuse their meager allowance of 50 liters (13 gallons) per person per day. That allowance may soon be cut in half, too. As soon as April or May, Cape Town could reach “Day Zero,” when the city will shut off the taps in homes and businesses. Residents will need to line up at collection stations to gather their water rations. Only hospitals, schools, and other essential services would still receive piped water. If things continue on in this way, Cape Town is in danger of becoming the world’s first major city to run entirely out of water. How can this happen in a city of four million residents? And what other cities may be at risk?

  • Lessons from a false-alarm

    On 13 January, by contrast, residents and visitors in Hawaii were alerted to an impending missile attack for which they had perhaps twenty minutes to take action. After thirty-eight minutes, they were told the alert was a false alarm, triggered by an emergency worker’s mistake. “We know a lot about what people do in terms of a hurricane, how they make decisions on such things as whether to evacuate, but this incident in Hawaii was different,” said an expert who went to Hawaii to study how people reacted to the alert. While many residents and tourists reported being frightened during the incident, the most common reaction was confusion during the alert and frustration after learning that it had been issued in error.

  • Comparing pollution levels before and after Hurricane Harvey

    Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August 2017, brought more than 64 inches of rain to the Houston area, flooding 200,000 homes, 13 Superfund sites, and more than 800 wastewater treatment facilities. As disasters become more frequent and populations living in vulnerable areas increase, interest in the health effects of exposure to the combination of natural and technological disasters has grown. A new study examined concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) before and after Hurricane Harvey in the Houston neighborhood of Manchester. Manchester, which is located near refineries and other industrial sites along the Houston Ship Channel, is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where residents face disproportionate health risks due to pollution and other environmental hazards.

  • With glaciers disappearing, will water become scarce?

    There are around 200,000 glaciers worldwide. They play a central role in the water cycle, particularly in the middle and low latitudes, by offsetting runoff fluctuations. Rivers are lifelines on which billions of people depend worldwide, either directly or indirectly. The world’s largest rivers begin in glaciated mountain regions. Climate change may cause many glaciers to disappear. Will water become scarce? Will the Alps, the Himalayas, the Rocky Mountains and the Andes continue to act as water towers? Climate change is a global problem with local consequences. If the international community succeeds in restricting the temperature rise to an acceptable level via contributions from each individual member, the effects may be mitigated. Many glaciers would still shrink significantly even with major climate protection efforts, but the consequences for water resources would be more moderate.

  • Desalination: global examples show how Cape Town could up its game

    Day zero is looming for Cape Town and a dedicated and efficient long-term solution to South Africa’s water woes must be found. The weather can’t be controlled and drought patterns for the region are set to worsen. It’s time to stop relying solely on rainfall and dam levels for clean water as a critical resource. South Africa boasts a coastline of over 2500 kilometers so it should be considering the oceans as an abundant water supply. Converting seawater to clean drinking water can be achieved by desalination, a proven technology that’s been used around the world. Desalination plants have dramatically increased in number and sophistication around the world due to membrane technology breakthroughs and energy saving equipment. Three global examples in Saudi Arabia, Spain, and Israel show that South Africa could increase water output in a timely and cost effective way.

  • Chilean great quakes show efficacy of satellite-based earthquake early warning system

    Researchers testing a satellite-based earthquake early warning system developed for the U.S. West Coast found that the system performed well in a “replay” of three large earthquakes that occurred in Chile between 2010 and 2015. Their results suggest that such a system could provide early warnings of ground shaking and tsunamis for Chile’s coastal communities in the future.

  • Disaster decision-support tool helps emergency managers ahead of storms

    S&T’s Hurricane Evacuation (HURREVAC) extended (HV-X) platform integrates forecast and planning data to provide emergency managers with decision support tools for use in advance of and during tropical weather. S&T made the developmental version of HV-X available to select Texas emergency management users in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. Emergency managers, who needed every tool at their disposal to make critical decisions on evacuations, preparedness, and response, found HV-X helpful.

  • Mexico’s September 2017 tremor highlights successes of seismic early warning system

    Mexico’s earthquake early warning system gave Mexico City’s residents almost two minutes of warning prior to the arrival of strong seismic waves from the 7 September 2017 Tehuantepec earthquake centered off the southern coast of Mexico, according to a new study. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake is the largest earthquake detected by the alert system, known as SASMEX, since it began operations in 1993. SASMEX also sent an alert for the magnitude 7.1 Morelos earthquake that occurred on 19 September. The alerts highlighted how some recent improvements to the system may help decrease the time needed to receive, detect and broadcast the alerts, but they also point to places where the system can improve in the future.

  • Can Israel help solve Cape Town’s water crisis?

    Within three months, South Africa’s capital city and biggest tourist destination may become the first major city in the world to run out of water. The four million residents of Cape Town will have their water supplies cut off unless the city manages to reduce daily consumption by 20 percent. The “Day Zero” shutdown is expected for mid-May 2018 and is recalculated every week based on current reservoir capacity and daily consumption. The crisis is mostly attributed to three years of unprecedented drought that has dried up the city’s six-dam reservoir system. If the dams fall below 13.5 percent capacity before the start of the rainy season in June, taps will be turned off and residents will have to line up at municipal points to collect their allotted 25 liters per day. As ‘Day Zero’ approaches, experts weigh in on how Israel may be able to help Cape Town and other water-scarce locations avoid future disasters.

  • Cape Town water crisis should serve as a “wakeup call to all major U.S. cities”: Expert

    Cape Town, South Africa is hurtling towards a water apocalypse with “Day Zero” — when authorities will turn off the taps — pegged for the first half of April. The crisis, which has placed the city in peril, was caused by years of draught, insufficient and aging infrastructure, and population growth. To find out what this means for Cape Town residents and if a similar disaster could strike Phoenix, ASU Now turned to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions and director of Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • Algorithm helps first responders identify vulnerable people during natural disasters

    By 2036, seniors aged 65 years and older could represent a quarter of the total Canadian population, and one sixth of the global population. According to the World Health Organization, older adults who live at home face disproportionately high fatality rates during natural disasters as evidenced by Hurricane Katrina where 71 per cent of the deaths resulting from that disaster involved people over 60 years of age. Researchers have developed a new algorithm to help first responders and home care providers better help the elderly during natural disasters.

  • Sea level rise will make Oregon’s existing flooding problems worse

    The hot spots of sea level rise in the United States tend to be located on the East and Gulf Coasts, where sinking land and changes in ocean circulation are amplifying the global sea level rise rate. But when we take a deeper dive into our interactive maps of chronic flooding due to sea level rise, it’s clear that small but significant areas within many of Oregon’s idyllic coastal towns–Coos Bay and Tillamook, for example–are also at risk of chronic inundation in the coming decades. Because it will take decades for the benefits of emissions reductions to be felt, today’s business owners may not benefit from such reductions themselves. But for the towns of coastal Oregon to continue to be dynamic, thriving places for the next generation of entrepreneurs and residents, the case for building resilience to flooding and reducing carbon emissions is clear.

  • Hazard mitigation, recovery plans for coastal cities

    The field of urban planning is gaining interest as cities around the world are facing increased exposure to weather-related risks and hazards ranging from sea level rise and flooding to temperature build-up and urban heat island effect. A recently completed five-year research project examined 175 hazard mitigation plans adopted by counties and municipalities along the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Northwest coastlines. These local governments are required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to adopt such plans to be eligible for pre-disaster and post-disaster mitigation funds. The National Research Council concluded that land use strategies that guide growth away from hazard areas are the most promising long-term solution to reducing risk; yet, land use strategies are rarely used. Instead, mitigation plans emphasize other mitigation approaches like levees, elevation of buildings and emergency management.

  • Israeli trauma experts teach resilience in Houston

    As Hurricane Harvey ripped through Houston last August, the trauma didn’t even spare those whose job is to help others cope. One social worker, barricaded on the second floor of her house, watched in horror as water and mud flooded her first floor. Another was stuck in a closet with her dog for twenty-four hours. Many mental-health professionals felt helpless or guilty for their inability to respond to people in need as they usually would. And other professionals, such as educators, did not feel adequately prepared to tend psychological wounds among those they work with. Mental-health professionals from the Israel Trauma Coalition kick off a series of train-the-trainer sessions for about 65 professionals.

  • Humans need to learn to co-exist with wildfires. Here’s how we can do it.

    As housing developments creep into wild and natural areas, proactive planning can reduce the risk of harm in the face of fire. Urban planning for wildland-urban interface (WUI) areas now centers on creating and maintaining development and building codes that incorporate the home ignition zone (HIZ) principles. These codes promote practices such as using fire-resistant building materials for siding and rooftops; maintaining “defensible space” by clearing dead leaves from rooftops, gutters and decks; trimming trees and removing vegetation that can fuel fires during the dry season; and governing subdivision design to include multiple routes by which residents can flee and fire-fighting equipment can enter. Collectively, these types of policies are loosely referred to as WUI codes.