Natural disasters

  • N.C. “rolling” 30-year sea level rise report gaining support from both sides

    In 2010, coastal developers and Republican legislators in North Carolina were alarmed when a state science panel warned that the Atlantic Ocean is expected to increase by thirty-nine inches along the state’s shores by the end of the century. The state legislature soon ordered a four-year moratorium on official sea-level predictions and gave the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) guidelines for developing a new official state forecast. In May, Frank Gorham III, chairman of the commission, announced that the next forecast will only predict sea-level rise for the next thirty years, a time span during which model-based predictions about sea level rise along the North Carolina coast – about eight inches — are largely accepted by both sides to the climate change debate. Gorham stresses, however, that he wants a “rolling” 30-year forecast to be updated every five years.

  • Experts urge deployment of earthquake warning system in California

    Scientists say that California has “99.7 percent chance of experiencing a severe earthquake — magnitude 6.7 or higher on the Richter scale — within the next 30 years.” These scientists are urging Congress to consider funding the full-scale deployment of an early-warning earthquake system on the western coast of the United States following successful testing of a prototype and positive results from similar international systems.

  • L.A. to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake

    After years of efforts to get officials to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake, Los Angeles City Council late last month instructed building officials to establish a database of such buildings. About 29,226 buildings built before 1978 are subject to survey, but city officials would use mapping programs to narrow down which structures need further field inspection. The city estimates roughly 5,800 buildings are at risk, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need inspection on site to determine whether they are soft-story buildings or not. Los Angeles has yet to decide what to do once it compiles the list, and whether to require retrofitting of vulnerable buildings, but seismic experts and policymakers insist that finding out which buildings are vulnerable is a necessary first step.

  • Innovative projects seek emergency housing alternative to FEMA’s trailers

    Brownsville, Texas may soon become a model for other hurricane-ravaged cities as community groups institute new emergency housing measures in the wake of inexcusable hold-ups on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in providing reconstruction support to the South Texas coast after $1.35 billion in damage from Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

  • NIST plans new Centers of Excellence for disaster resilience, forensics

    Officials at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have announced plans to establish two new research Centers of Excellence to work with academia and industry on issues in forensic science and disaster resilience. NIST plans to hold merit competitions to establish the centers, tentatively planned to be funded at up to $4 million a year for five years.

  • Addressing international disaster resilience for U.S., partner countries

    While national security efforts seek to prevent terrorist attacks, the United States an partner countries should also prepare to work together to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack, should such efforts fail. A new report from the National Research Council (NRC) discusses the challenges around the United States and partner countries responding cooperatively.

  • Inexpensive seismic alert device may help Mexico City residents

    Mexico City has been experiencing an unusually large number of tremors within the past few months, and though the country has one of the most advanced seismic alert systems in the world, many residents are unable to receive notifications before tremors occur. Mexican regulations limit the sale of government-issued earthquake alert receivers to one private company, but since the receivers cost an average of $310, most families are unable to afford them. Andres Meira, a 39-year-old architect, has designed an earthquake alert receiver, which costs only $54 at retail, which taps into the government’s earthquake alert frequency to notify its users of a pending earthquake.

  • Urban man-made drainage may increase risk of flooding

    Installing drainage systems in developing towns and cities can cause water to reach rivers more quickly, potentially raising the risk of flooding, say scientists. They suggest that, in some cases, storm drains may do more to increase the risk of flooding than changes in the land surface.

  • Towns in northeast U.S. develop adaptation strategies for climate change

    In many northeastern towns along the coast of the United States, local officials are attempting to identify and predict the effects of climate change which will occur over the next few decades. “You’re going to feel impacts. It’s a global issue with local effects…We don’t know exactly what’s coming, so let’s plan to be adaptable,” says a leader of a regional climate adaptation project.

  • Could devastating floods help Bosnians heal their war wounds?

    The violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the subsequent war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 took the lives of more than 100,000 Bosnians and left two million homeless. Two decades later those survivors have been forced once again to abandon their homes — this time by floodwaters rather than bullets. The heaviest rainfalls ever recorded in the Balkans have led to catastrophic flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Swelled by weeks of rain, the devastating floodwaters swamped more than 60 percent of the country last month, destroying more than 100,000 homes and displacing around 950,000 citizens. The floods also damaged vital infrastructure, destroyed industrial assets, and killed livestock. It is difficult to find a ray of light in this grim story of disaster, except this: Over the past weeks, media outlets have been flooded with stories and images of bravery, camaraderie, and community spirit where ethnicity suddenly became irrelevant. It remains to be seen how this feeling of camaraderie and community can be harvested to mobilize the people of Bosnia ahead of the general elections in October. Such a movement would have the potential to force corrupted political elites into the corner by draining them of their political capital.

  • New app helps kids in tornado-prone areas understand disasters

    Kids growing up in tornado alley are used to bright, splotchy radar patterns moving across a television screen, and most know the difference between a tornado watch and warning. Do they understand, however, how to read and predict the weather based on radar images and forecasts? Researchers hope to remove the mystery around weather forecasting by speaking to kids in a language they could better understand — gaming.

  • Connecticut preparing for sea level rise, adapting to climate change

    Earlier this year the University of Connecticut announced the creation of the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation. the Institute is designed to increase the resilience and sustainability of vulnerable communities and individuals along Connecticut’s coast and inland waterways as they are affected by the growing impact of climate change on the environment.

  • Nationwide effort launched to weather-harden Canadian cities

    The frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events in Canada — from the floods in Southern Alberta and Toronto to the December ice storm in Central and Eastern Canada — are increasing, causing billions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, businesses and homeowners. Intact Financial Corporation and the University of Waterloo announced a national initiative involving the implementation of twenty climate change adaptation projects designed to reduce the physical, financial, and social impacts of extreme weather events in Canada.

  • Santa Monica to require retrofit of earthquake-vulnerable buildings

    Last week, the Santa Monica City Councilauthorized city officials to hire engineering consultants to help identify buildings built before 1996 which could potentially be at risk in a major earthquake.. Owners of vulnerable buildings would be notified and provided recommendations on how to best retrofit their buildings to make them more resilient. Santa Monica will become the first city in California to require retrofitting for concrete, steel, and wood-frame. San Francisco last year required similar retrofitting, but only for wood apartment buildings.

  • Hurricanes with female names deadlier than male-named storms

    In the coming Atlantic hurricane season, watch out for hurricanes with benign-sounding names like Dolly, Fay, or Hanna. According to a new study, hurricanes with feminine names are likely to cause significantly more deaths than hurricanes with masculine names, apparently because storms with feminine names are perceived as less threatening.