• New slippery slopes detection system developed

    One result of climate changes has been that the number of avalanche threats has been increasing in the Alps and other alpine regions, with fatal consequences for people and infrastructures; continuous monitoring of every endangered area has been lacking until now because of high costs and manpower requirements; German scientists have now developed an inexpensive system, which, with the help of several technologies, can continuously monitor slopes, assess changes, and provide early warnings to communities potentially affected by landslides

  • Turkey plans two earthquake resistant cities to move residents from vulnerable Istanbul

    To encourage residents to move away from seismically unsafe neighborhoods, Turkey’s government recently announced that it will begin building two earthquake-resistant developments near Istanbul; the city of more than twelve million people currently sits near a major fault-line that could potentially kill thousands in the event of a major earthquake; engineers and seismic experts warn that Istanbul’s poor construction, shoddy city planning, and overcrowding would result in many fatalities in the event of an earthquake; officials plan for the new urban centers to be home to roughly 1 million residents each; any move to the new settlements would be entirely voluntary

  • Lompoc, CA prepares for the big quake

    Following the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, Lompoc, California is evaluating its own earthquake preparation should a similar 9.0 magnitude strike; while Lompoc may be safe from a tsunami, the town is woefully unprepared for a major earthquake; Bruce Taylor, Lompoc’s former building safety inspector, bluntly stated that many buildings would not stand up to a major earthquake; to ensure that its buildings are seismically safe, the city of Lompoc is offering incentives and funding to help property owners evaluate their buildings and conduct seismic retrofits

  • Missouri Governor pledges $25 million for flood relief

    On Tuesday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon pledged $25 million in state aid to help cities and counties rebuild following crippling floods throughout the southern half of the state; it is unclear whether the state will be forced to make budget cuts in order to afford the disaster spending; on Monday President Obama issued a major disaster declaration for five Missouri counties; under the declaration residents of the five counties are eligible to apply for federal assistance for the costs of temporary housing, home repairs, and loans to cover uninsured losses

  • Australian floods and cyclone cost economy $6.6 billion

    The devastating floods and cyclone that ravaged Australia last summer has cost the country’s economy more than $6.6 billion dollars; as the country begins to rebuild, the economy must deal with the loss of nearly $9 billion dollars, half a percentage point of real GDP, in production revenues, primarily from the coal and agriculture industry; the government plans to spend nearly $7 billion over the next six years to help communities rebuild, despite an expected loss in tax revenues of $1.75 billion

  • Tiltable-head robots adept at navigating disaster debris

    Search and rescue missions have made the headlines in the last eighteen months, following the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the floods in Pakistan and New Zealand, and the tsunami in Japan; machines able to navigate through complex dirt and rubble environments could have helped rescuers after these natural disasters, but building such machines is challenging; Georgia Tech researchers have now built a robot that can penetrate and “swim” through granular material

  • World's largest reinsurer posts lower losses than expected

    The world’s largest reinsurer, Munich Re, posted smaller than expected losses for the first quarter of this fiscal year; the insurance giant warned investors for a “clearly negative” quarter as a result of insurance claims following the devastating earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand this year; but, its net losses were mitigated in large part by smaller tax bills as a result of the natural disasters; industry analysts expected the reinsurance giant to post a loss of roughly 1.6 billion Euros ($2.28 billion), however the firm defied expectations posting a net loss of 947 million Euros thanks to a favorable tax gain of 612 million Euros due to its quarterly losses

  • Difficult decisions for Japanese living near Fukushima

    Japanese residents living just outside the twelve mile evacuation zone of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant have struggled with their daily lives as the plant has continued to spew radiation; while Japanese officials have said that the radiation levels outside the evacuation zone are not high enough to cause observable health risks, many residents and scientists are still worried as radiation is still several times above the normal level; experts acknowledge their limited understanding of the health risks for long term exposure to low doses of radiation has made it difficult for scientists and policy makers to come to an agreement on what levels of radiation are safe and what areas need to be evacuated

  • Japan attempts "cold shutdown" at reactor no. 1

    Officials at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) hope to bring reactor no. 1 at the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to a “cold shutdown” by the end of the week; plant operators will attempt to bring the temperature inside the reactor below the boiling point of water so that it will no longer produce radioactive steam; the building housing reactor no. 1 must be vented so that all the radioactive air that has accumulated is released allowing workers to approach the reactor; once inside workers will inject cold water into the reactor’s primary containment structure; injecting tons of water into a damaged containment unit that houses uranium makes some scientists uneasy

  • Missouri levee blast floods 130,000 acres, but saves Illinois city

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasted a section of a levee along the Mississippi River to create a controlled breach that would relieve pressure and prevent the town of Cairo, Illinois from becoming engulfed in record flood levels; the blast created a gap more than 10,000 feet wide at Birds Point, Missouri levees and inundated more than 130,000 acres of farmland; heavy rains have left the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers swollen, putting Cairo and its 3,000 residents at great risk as it sits on a narrow stretch of land between the two surging rivers; on Monday, the Corps received permission from the federal government to go ahead with its plan, despite Missouri’s protests

  • Government moves quickly to help storm victims in South

    So far residents have been fairly pleased with the government’s response to the worst natural disaster to hit the United States since Hurricane Katrina; after tornadoes touched down in seven states on Wednesday, Secretary Napolitano and other top federal officials immediately began contacting governors in the affected states; just hours after the storms had ravaged Alabama, Obama signed the declaration of disaster in Alabama and by Thursday he had done the same for Georgia and Mississippi; by Friday afternoon FEMA liaison officers had been deployed to Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee; the storms have killed at least 350 people, injured more than 2,200, and left tens of thousands homeless in seven states

  • California school building regulators had ties with anti-regulation lobby group

    A California watchdog group recently revealed that state officials in charge of enforcing earthquake standards for school buildings have had a long and questionable relationship with a lobbying group that actively works to oppose building safety regulations in public schools; senior officials with the Division of the State Architect had been dues paying members of the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, which actively lobbies for less regulation on school construction; in 1997, state regulators were told that taxpayers would reimburse their membership dues to be a part of the lobbying group; officials maintain that there has been no corruption; in 2010 a major regulatory provision in place since 1933 was removed

  • DHS IG criticizes FEMA's IT systems

    DHS Inspector General says that FEMA’s IT systems “do not support disaster response activities effectively”; the IG recommends that FEMA develop a comprehensive IT strategic plan with clearly defines goals and objectives to support program IT initiatives, and that FEMA establish an agency-wide IT budget planning process to include all FEMA program technology initiatives and requirements

  • Busy hurricane season ahead for U.S.

    Forecasting organizations predicts that the coming hurricane season in the United States will see 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 intense hurricanes (category 3 or greater); these 2011 forecast numbers are above the long-term (1950-2010) averages of 12 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 intense hurricanes

  • Missouri pounded by rains and tornadoes, thousands evacuate

    This week heavy rain storms are raging across the mid-west and south forcing thousands of residents in Missouri to flee as swollen rivers threaten to flood their homes; in some areas emergency responders do not have many options and can do nothing but hope that the levees hold; the mid-west will not see any respite from the storms until Thursday as another major storm system is about to hit; officials are bracing for substantial flooding; the region is still struggling to recover from major storms that spawned tornadoes in six states killing forty-five people and damaging structures; Missouri has requested aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency