Disasters

  • Virginia wetlands offer a “shelter from the storm”

    Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past thirty years. As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase. In Virginia, 2004’s Hurricane Gaston brought flooding which destroyed more than 5,000 homes and resulted in multiple fatalities. The storm cost an estimated $130 million in damage. Sufficient wetlands remain in Virginia to hold enough rain to cover the city of Hampton in more than thirty feet water, according to a new report by Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center. The analysis says the state’s wetlands are at risk from pollution and development, however, and so is the region’s natural shield against flood damage.

  • Few Oklahoma schools have safe room or shelters for weather emergencies

    Almost two years after a tornado destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, fewer than half of the state’s 1,773 schools have a safe room, shelter, or basement where students and school staff can take cover in a weather emergency.More than 681,000 students currently attend Oklahoma schools; as many as 500,000 teachers and students are without shelter or a safe room at schools.“I’m afraid more schools are going to be hit and more students are going to be at risk. I’m deeply troubled that two years later we don’t have a plan,” says one expert.

  • Wildfires release more greenhouse gases than assumed in California’s climate targets

    A new study quantifying the amount of carbon stored and released through California forests and wildlands finds that wildfires and deforestation are contributing more than expected to the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. The results could have implications for California’s efforts to meet goals mandated by the state Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The bill, which passed in 2006, assumed no net emissions for wildland ecosystems by 2020.

  • California not the only state to face water shortage

    Over the past two weeks, California’s long drought — and Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory water conservation rules — have captured the headlines. As the country keeps an eye on how Californians will adapt to the new reality of water conservation, other states must prepare to maintain the sustainability of their own water supplies. “As far as other states, if they haven’t seen it [water shortages] in the past, it’s something they will see in the future,” says a water policy analyst in Los Angeles.

  • Critics: PG&E downplays quake risk to Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

    Since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was opened by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1985, geologists have discovered three fault lines nearby, which could threaten the plant. The three faults are capable of quakes even stronger than the one which ravaged the Napa Valley last year, and critics of PG&E say the company has been minimizing the risks the three faults pose. The company rejects the criticism. The critics are now suing to company to force it to reapply for an operating license – with the information about the three faults included in the application.

  • San Diego to build largest ocean desalination plant in Western Hemisphere

    San Diego County, California will soon become home to a $1 billion desalination plant which would supply drinking water to residents currently having to cut their water consumption by as much as 25 percent in response to the state’s current drought. Small ocean desalination plants already operate throughout the state, but the facility being built in San Diego will be the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere, producing roughly fifty million gallons of drinking water a day.

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  • Extreme geohazards: Reducing disaster risk, increasing resilience

    Extreme hazards — rare, high-impact events — pose a serious and underestimated threat to humanity. The extremes of the broad ensemble of natural and anthropogenic hazards can lead to global disasters and catastrophes. Because they are rare and modern society lacks experience with them, they tend to be ignored in disaster risk management. While the probabilities of most natural hazards do not change much over time, the sensitivity of the built environment and the vulnerability of the embedded socio-economic fabric have increased rapidly.

  • Joplin, Missouri hospital re-built to withstand powerful tornadoes

    In 2011 St. John’s Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri was devastated by one of the most ferocious tornadoes in U.S history. Today, Mercy Hospital Joplinstands on the site of the former hospital, occupying a new structure designed to survive future tornadoes, with windows that can withstand 250-mile-per-hour winds. The buildingis covered in concrete and brick paneling, and houses an underground bunker where generators and boilers are kept.

  • Smartphones could be used for earthquake early warning

    Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large earthquakes according to newly reported research. This technology could serve regions of the world that cannot afford higher quality, but more expensive, conventional earthquake early warning systems, or could contribute to those systems. The researchers found that the sensors in smartphones and similar devices could be used to issue earthquake warnings for earthquakes of approximately magnitude 7 or larger, but not for smaller, yet potentially damaging earthquakes.

  • Californians mull life with less water

    Following Californian governor Jerry Brown’s decision to enforce mandatory water restrictions for the first time in history, Californians are planning for changes in their daily lives. Experts say, though, that California cannot resemble its drier neighbor, Arizona. “Without water, you can’t live in California,” Stanford University’s Bill Whalen. “It ties into the California psyche. They have plush lawns and nice gardens that require lots of water. They have the ocean and Lake Tahoe skiing. You have a nice car. You want it clean. You need water. You can’t have California agriculture without water. You lose the nation’s salad bowl.”

  • California exploring ways to fund ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system

    A 2008 ShakeOutreport predicts that a 7.8 magnetic quake could cause up to $200 billion in damages from buildings and infrastructure collapse, leaving households and most businesses without electricity and water for months. About 50,000 people would be injured, and more than 2,000 could die.The proposed ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system,is similar to systems in Mexico and Japan, which residents have relied on to receive notice about an incoming quake seconds before it arrives.California is exploring many options to fund the ShakeAlert system, with some officials favoring a federal-state partnership.

  • DHS S&T selects UNC as coastal resilience center of excellence

    The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) the other day announced the selection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the lead institution for a new DHS Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (COE). S&T will provide the Coastal Resilience COE with an initial $3 million grant for its first operating year. The DHS Coastal Resilience COE will bring together university students and professors, DHS and other federal agencies, private sector partners, the first responder community, and other COEs to collaboratively address the unique challenges facing communities across the United States that are vulnerable to coastal hazards, including hurricanes and flooding.

  • NASA putting satellite eyes on threat to U.S. fresh water

    Algal blooms are a worldwide environmental problem causing human and animal health risks, fish kills, and taste and odor in drinking water. In the United States, the cost of freshwater degraded by harmful algal blooms is estimated at $64 million annually. In August 2014, officials in Toledo, Ohio, banned the use of drinking water supplied to more than 400,000 residents after it was contaminated by an algal bloom in Lake Erie. NASA has joined forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Geological Survey to transform satellite data designed to probe ocean biology into information that will help protect the American public from harmful freshwater algal blooms.

  • Californians hoping the state would innovative itself out of a water crisis

    California’s water agencies have relied on innovation to cope with the worsening drought and depleting water resources. Irrigation systems have evolved overtime to help the agriculture sector maintain crop yields as temperatures rise and wells begin to dry up.Some are hoping the state would innovate itself out of a water crisis.

  • As the drought worsens, California’s conservation measures fall short

    As the drought worsens, California is doing a poor job of conserving water. Water use has declined by only 2.8 percent in February compared with the same time in 2013. Some Southern Californians are actually increasing their water use. “These are sobering statistics — disheartening statistics, considering how hard we have been working on this,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of California’s water control board, which reported the findings. “We are very concern about these numbers. They highlight the need for further action.”