• Private security firms eyeing Haiti contracts

    Private security firms eager to gain lucrative security contracts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti; a mid-march conference in Miami would bring together security companies and Haitian officials to examine the market; critics, including some current and former Haitian officials, worry about the trend toward privatizing essential reconstruction services

  • Obama offers strategic redefinition, expansion of DHS mission

    In July 2002, nearly a year before DHS was created under former president George W. Bush, a handful of advisers hastily drafted in private a 90-page national homeland security strategy; that document was later criticized for being partially responsible — by overemphasizing terrorism at the expense of natural disasters — for the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina; in October 2007 the Bush administration updated its homeland security strategy; the Obama administration has now revised and expanded Bush’s 2007 changes; the new strategy states that preventing terrorism remains the cornerstone of homeland security, but it expands the definition of homeland security to include other hazards, among them mass cyberattacks, pandemics, natural disasters, illegal trafficking, and transnational crime

  • Cold war offered odd benefit: it limited species invasions

    During the cold war, when an Iron Curtain divided the European continent, there were few introduced bird species in Western Europe; following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of the Iron Curtain, trade and the movement of people between east and west increased – and with it the introduction of non-native bird species; these non-native species do not have natural enemies in the local habitat, so they do damage to agriculture and domestic birds, and carry disease

  • Climate change experts argue for international geoengineering effort

    Solar-radiation management (SRM) would involve releasing megatons of light-scattering aerosol particles in the upper atmosphere to reduce Earth’s absorption of solar energy, thereby cooling the planet; another technique would be to release particles of sea salt to make low-altitude clouds reflect more solar energy back into space; long-established estimates show that SRM could offset this century’s predicted global average temperature rise more than 100 times more cheaply than achieving the same cooling by cutting emissions

  • Haiti earthquake a reminder that disasters are preventable

    While earthquakes are inevitable in earthquake zones, and hurricanes and tornadoes are inevitable under certain weather conditions — “there are no inevitable disasters,” a University of Colorado expert says; “There is no such thing as a natural disaster”; the scope of death and injury, the magnitude of damage to buildings and infrastructure, are the result not of nature – but of man-made decisions; what we see in Haiti is the result of decades of corrupt and ineffective Haitian governments, indifferent to the welfare of the Haitian people

  • Need seen for single U.S. disaster recovery agency

    The Obama administration has launched a series of meetings around the country which bring together government officials and representatives of non-profit, volunteer, and faith-based organizations to identify and share best practices and innovations in the area of disaster recovery; insights gathered at these meetings and at other similar meetings will go into recommendations for improving disaster recover policy to be presented to the Obama administration in April

  • Experts: U.K. must act now to prepare for rising sea level

    A joint study by the leading U.K. civil engineering and architectural associations says that steps must be taken now to protect coastal towns from rising sea levels; the reports says policy makes should consider three options for tackling rising sea level: “retreat” — moving critical infrastructure and housing to safer ground; “defend” — building town or city-wide sea defenses; and “attack” — extending the existing coastline and building out on to the water

  • Maximum height of extreme waves up dramatically in Pacific Northwest

    A new assessment concludes that the highest waves in a “100-year event” along the Pacific Northwest’s coast may be as much as 46 feet, up from estimates of only 33 feet that were made as recently as 1996, and a 40 percent increase; the new findings raise special concerns for flooding, coastal erosion, and structural damage; “The Pacific Northwest has one of the strongest wave climates in the world, and the data clearly show that it’s getting even bigger,” says one of scientists involved

  • Haitian architects, urban planners say the need is to build a better Haiti

    A group of Haitian architects, engineers, and urban planners has met every day since the devastating quake, discussing not how to rebuild the country, but how to start anew; they should start with the country’s building code; one high government official participating in the meetings says dismissively: “There is a two-page building code [in Haiti]… that nobody used”

  • Cities say new FEMA flood maps contain many errors

    In 2004 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) started the $200 million-per-year project as a way to utilize advances in mapping technology better to identify areas susceptible to flooding; FEMA officials say the new maps will allow for better zoning and help prevent future catastrophes like the June 2008 flood in Iowa, which caused an estimated $10 billion in damage; cities, developers, and residents say new FEMA flood plain maps are full of mistakes that could prove costly

  • Engineers urge overhaul of Haiti's archaic, anarchic building practices

    In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, building codes, if they even exist, exist on paper only; all governments in Haiti, including the present one, have been corrupt, predatory, and utterly indifferent to the welfare of the people; a recent OAS report detailed a litany of flaws in Haiti’s attitude to buildings: weak or missing reinforcement, structures on steep slopes with unstable foundations, inadequate or nonexistant inspections, poor designs, materials, and techniques; Kit Miyamoto, a California structural engineer who went to Haiti last week: “No code, no engineering, means death”

  • Army engineers: Haiti's bad roads not damaged by quake

    Engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say that many of Haiti’s roads are not any worse than they were before because they have always been in poor condition; 80 percent of the major destruction is around the city’s capital; 200 million cubic yards of debris will need to be removed from Port-au-Prince

  • Scientists: Only nukes can stop planet-threatening asteroids

    A new report by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) says that the United States is not doing enough to protect itself – and the world – from Near Earth Objects (NEOs); the panel says that the only hope humanity has to against the larger asteroids – those bigger than 1 km; if they hit Earth, they would release energies in the hundred-thousand-megaton range – is to use nuclear weapons to try and push them off course

  • Panel calls for global asteroid defense agency

    Existing surveys are incapable of finding 90 percent of near-Earth asteroids that are 140 meters across or larger by 2020 — a goal set by the U.S. Congress in 2005; a panel of scientists recommends setting up an international body that would be prepared to spring into action and defend the planet if an asteroid is discovered on a likely impact course

  • More money needed to boost England's flood defenses

    The U.K. floods of 2007 caused £3.2 billion in damage and recovery costs; U.K. Environment Agency (EA) says that there is a need to double the country’s investment in flood defenses to £1 billion a year by 2035 – or damages from future floods further - disruption, damage to infrastructure, and loss of business — could rise by 60 percent