Natural disasters

  • UNC-Chapel Hill launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officially launched its new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the challenges facing communities across the United States which are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

  • Protecting coastal communities, critical infrastructure

    University of South Alabama (USA) researchers are joining a nationwide effort to help communities recover from disasters. The effort is the centerpiece of the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, which will be based at Colorado State University, and USA is one of ten universities offering their expertise. USA’s department of civil engineering will provide their unique coastal engineering knowledge related to hurricane storm surge and waves. “With well over 50 percent of the U.S. population living within fifty miles of a coastline, much of our nation’s critical infrastructure is vulnerable to coastal hazards and the expected impacts of long-term sea level rise,” said Prof. Bret Webb, an associate professor of civil engineering at USA.

  • Disaster resilience competition generates innovative ideas

    The National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC), an innovative partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Rockefeller Foundation, is already bearing fruit — even before the selection of any finalists or winners. The Foundation offers six examples of innovative, substantial steps that communities around the country are taking to create, and maintain, a culture of resilience.

  • Improving flood risk management in Europe

    From 2000 to 2013, floods resulted in 5.5 billion euros in annual losses in Europe, and this figure is set to increase fivefold by 2050, according to a study published last year in Nature. European governments have been hard at work trying to ensure sustained protection from floods by developing dykes, dams, or floodgates, but are such defense strategies alone sufficient?

  • Earthquakes in Oklahoma linked to oil, gas drilling

    A new study finds that the recent spike in triggered earthquakes in Oklahoma is primarily due to the injection of wastewater produced during oil production. Geophysicists have identified the triggering mechanism responsible for the recent spike of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma — a crucial first step in eventually stopping them. The study shows that the state’s rising number of earthquakes coincided with dramatic increases in the disposal of salty wastewater into the Arbuckle formation, a 7,000-foot-deep, sedimentary formation under Oklahoma.

  • We need to change how and where we build to be ready for a future of more extreme weather

    The human and economic losses resulting from extreme weather events during the last several years vividly demonstrate the U.S. historically shortsighted approach to development. The ill-advised, fast-paced construction of human settlements in low-lying, coastal and riverine environments prone to flooding has long been the American way. From Galveston to Hoboken, we have laid out our grids and thrown up our houses with little regard for the consequences. Storms like Sandy are a harbinger of extreme weather events to come as a result of climate change. Without concerted action, the costs, in lives and property, of future weather events will only multiply. Rather than spending $25 million on PR campaigns to convince ourselves we’re “stronger than the storm,” we should start making choices that prove we’re smarter. For while we can’t say when the next hurricane with the force of Sandy (or even greater force) will batter the Atlantic Coast or when extreme flooding will hit Texas, we do know that there will be a next time. And we’re still fundamentally unprepared for it. We can’t continue to bet against climate change; we’ll lose in the end.

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  • Tying insurance rates to flood risk for low-lying structures

    Current methods used by the National Flood Insurance Program for setting risk-based insurance rates do not fully capture the flood risk for low-lying structures, which are more likely to incur losses because they are subject to longer duration and greater depth of flooding and are flooded more frequently and by smaller flood events, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report offers alternative approaches for calculating risk-based premiums for these structures, ranging from incremental changes to current methods to a complete overhaul of the system, although it does not recommend which approach the NFIP should adopt or what the new rates should be.

  • Interconnected technologies to make firefighters safer

    When responding to the more than 1.2 million blazes reported annually, the nation’s firefighters usually start with a dangerous disadvantage: They often lack critical information — even something as basic as a floor plan — that could be vitally important in mounting the most effective and safest attack. That information gap could be erased with today’s communication, computing, sensor and networking technologies.

  • Rebuilding a safer and stronger Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

    Three months ago Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu, leaving 75,000 people in need of emergency shelter and damaging or destroying about 15,000 buildings, including homes, schools, and medical facilities. Since then, one of the most hotly debated questions within communities and on social media has been about how Vanuatu can rebuild so that it’s safer, stronger, and more resilient to future cyclones. Achieving this is not as simple as you might think. The strength and safety of buildings is critical — especially when you are rebuilding in a cyclone-prone region. But housing in particular is about more than walls and roofs; it’s also about community, traditions, culture, and supporting the way people want to live. While the strength of buildings and their ability to withstand cyclones are very important, so too are the strength and resilience of the people of Vanuatu, who have been living with the annual cyclone season for generations. The reconstruction of Vanuatu needs a diverse approach that is not solely reliant on quickly prefabricated or engineered solutions, and which keeps people at the heart of the rebuilding process.

  • U.S. mid-continent seismic activity linked to high-rate injection wells

    A dramatic increase in the rate of earthquakes in the central and eastern U.S. since 2009 is associated with fluid injection wells used in oil and gas development, says a new study. The number of earthquakes associated with injection wells has skyrocketed from a handful per year in the 1970s to more than 650 in 2014. The increase included several damaging quakes in 2011 and 2012 ranging between magnitudes 4.7 and 5.6 in Prague, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Timpson, Texas; and Guy, Arkansas. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity,” says one of the study’s authors.

  • Risk of major sea level rise in Northern Europe

    Global warming leads to the ice sheets on land melting and flowing into the sea, which consequently rises. Sea level rise is a significant threat to the world’s coastal areas, but the threat is not the same everywhere on Earth — it depends on many regional factors. New calculations by researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute show that the sea level in Northern Europe may rise more than previously thought. There is a significant risk that the seas around Scandinavia, England, the Netherlands, and northern Germany will rise by up to about 1.5 meters in this century.

  • Studying Louisiana's wetlands -- a natural barrier between land and sea

    NASA recently completed an intensive study of Louisiana Gulf Coast levees and wetlands, making measurements with three advanced imaging instruments on two research aircraft. NASA instruments fly over the Gulf Coast one to three times per year to keep consistent records of ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of an area of land — which can compromise the integrity of roads, buildings and levee systems. Scientists also closely monitor vegetation changes in the coastal wetlands to better understand how to preserve them. The marshlands not only are home to a delicate ecosystem, but also serve as a natural barrier between land and sea.

  • Overstretched global food system vulnerable to disruptive shocks: Lloyd's report

    The vulnerability of the overstretched global food system to sudden shocks, and the wide repercussions for communities, businesses, and governments was highlighted yesterday by a report published by Lloyd’s. The reports highlights the far-reaching economic and humanitarian consequences that disruptions such as weather catastrophes or plant pandemics – many of which are exacerbated by climate change — could have on the global economy. This series of shocks has the potential to trigger food riots in urban areas across the Middle East, North Africa, and Latin America, leading to wider political instability and knock-on effects for a wide range of businesses.

  • National Flood Insurance Program to focus more on victims’ needs

    Roy Wright, the newly appointed director of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), said that he will push it to better focus on the welfare and individual needs of disaster victims, following years of scandal within the organization. Wright, who will preside over the federal program beginning this week, criticized the insurance loopholes and complicated rules of private insurance companies that were perpetuated by the NFIP to “nickel-and-dime” policyholders and undermine their abilities to rebuild following a flood.

  • Drone center provided drones to survey flood damage, assist search and rescue efforts

    The town of Wimberley, about thirty miles southwest of Austin, was struck on 25 May by heavy flooding along the Blanco River. More than 400 homes were destroyed. Four deaths were reported in Hays County and at least eight persons were reported missing. Nineteen storm-related deaths were reported in Texas and Oklahoma and fourteen in Mexico. A test-site research team from the Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence & Innovation (LSUASC) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) was dispatched to Wimberley, Texas, on 26 May to conduct low-altitude research flights in the wake of devastating flooding.