• Energy engineers call for new, less restrictive regulatory framework for fracking

    Leading energy engineers are suggesting that U.K. regulations on the surface vibrations caused by shale gas fracking are unnecessarily restrictive. The engineers state in a new paper that widely applying restrictions similar to those currently in force on fracking would require a ban on heavy vehicles from passing houses or walking on wooden floors. They also state that the threat of serious earthquakes caused by fracking activity is considerably lower than commonly feared.

  • Is social media responsible for your safety during a disaster?

    Given the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, it is not surprising so many people use social media in crises such as floods, fires, and earthquakes. While social media can be a handy resource in crises, people must be careful not to take their access for granted during emergencies. Floods, fires, and earthquakes often disrupt the power and communications infrastructures that smartphones rely upon, as our access is constrained by the limitations of copper, fiber, hybrid, and cellular Internet technologies, and their vulnerability to the elements. Also, some questions about the features of tools such as Facebook’s Safety Check are yet to be answered persuasively. Still, such concerns notwithstanding, it is encouraging to see an organization such as Facebook taking responsibility for its users and entering the crisis communication space. A tool that helps family and friends during a crisis, and facilitates easy communication is a welcome development.

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  • Sea level rise threatens California coastal infrastructure

    Officials in Humboldt County, California are preparing for sea level rise, which experts say could threaten utilities and U.S. highway 101. The National Research Councilwarns that California, Oregon, and Washington could experience twelve inches of sea level rise by 2050 and thirty-six inches by 2100. Sea level on Humboldt Bay has increased by eighteen inches over the past century due to increasing tide elevation and subsidence. Gas, electrical, and water transmission lines are all buried in the farmlands behind dikes that fortify the shoreline.

  • New Jersey voting measures in the wake of Hurricane Sandy violated law: Report

    A new study found that key emergency measures that were meant to allow voters to participate digitally in the days after 2012 Hurricane Sandy may have violated state law. Some of those steps, such as allowing people to request their mail-in ballots by fax and e-mail, led to confusion in many county precincts on Election Day.

  • Cockroach cyborgs use microphones to detect, trace sounds in collapsed buildings

    Researchers have developed technology that allows cyborg cockroaches, or biobots, to pick up sounds with small microphones and seek out the source of the sound. The technology is designed to help emergency personnel find and rescue survivors in the aftermath of a disaster. The researchers have also developed technology that can be used as an “invisible fence” to keep the biobots in the disaster area. “In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,” says one of the researchers.

  • Wildfire experts: Fire must be managed on par with other naturally occurring hazards

    Many fire scientists have tried to get Smokey the Bear to hang up his “prevention” motto in favor of tools like thinning and prescribed burns, which can manage the severity of wildfires while allowing them to play their natural role in certain ecosystems. A new study says, however, that the debate over fuel-reduction techniques is only a small part of a much larger fire problem that will make society increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic losses unless it changes its fundamental approach from fighting fire to coexisting with fire as a natural process.

  • NASA facilities across U.S. vulnerable to climate change

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been at the forefront of climate science, launching satellites that take the pulse of Earth’s land, oceans, and atmospheric systems, gathering data on climate, weather, and natural hazards. The agency, however, is itself increasingly vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate. Hurricane Isabel partially flooded the Langley Research Center in Virginia in 2003; Hurricane Frances damaged the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2004; and Hurricane Katrina damaged buildings at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in 2005, among recent incidents. Other facilities have been damaged or threatened by tornadoes and wildfires.

  • Harnessing artificial intelligence to search for new Ebola treatments

    The University of Toronto, Chematria, and IBM are combining forces in a quest to find new treatments for the Ebola virus. Using a virtual research technology invented by Chematria, a startup housed at U of T’s Impact Center, the team will use software that learns and thinks like a human chemist to search for new medicines. Running on Canada’s most powerful supercomputer, the effort will simulate and analyze the effectiveness of millions of hypothetical drugs in just a matter of weeks.

  • Standardizing small, self-sustaining electric microgrids

    When Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers talk about “islanding,” or isolating, from the grid, they are discussing a fundamental benefit of microgrids — small systems powered by renewables and energy storage devices. The benefit is that microgrids can disconnect from larger utility grids and continue to provide power locally.

  • Coastal towns build resilience to prepare for future storms

    Sea Bright, New Jersey is one of several communities affected by Superstorm Sandy which is actively building resiliency against the next major storm. The town, set on a narrow strip of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River, frequently floods, and during Sandy, its entire downtown business district was damaged, as were 75 percent of the town’s homes.

  • Upgrading infrastructure could reduce future flood damage

    From 1980 to 2007, about 90 percent of all global disasters were caused by flooding either by rain, tsunami, hurricane, or some other natural event. At the same time, the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the country a dismal D+. The group said $3.6 trillion was needed by 2020 to address the most serious problems. In Colorado, the report card says, 70 percent of major roads are poor or mediocre and 566 bridges are structurally deficient. A new study argues that the severe flooding that devastated a wide swath of Colorado last year might have been less destructive if the bridges, roads, and other infrastructure had been upgraded or modernized.

  • Texas acts to reduce number of man-made earthquakes

    The number of disposal wells in Texas has surged along with the number of drilling projects. Texas has more than 3,600 active commercial disposal wells. In 2013, the Railroad Commission approved 668 disposal well permits, twice the number of approvals in 2009. The growing number of disposal wells corresponds with an increase in earthquakes in communities where such seismic activity rarely existed.Officials in Texas have now taken steps to reduce the number of earthquakes caused by wells drilled for the disposal of oilfield waste.

  • Many victims of Hurricane Sandy are still waiting for government aid

    It has been two years since Hurricane Sandy destroyed thousands of homes and businesses along the Jersey Shore yet many affected homeowners are still waiting for federal and state aid to rebuild. Of the $3.26 billion the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has provided to New Jersey, only $802 million has been paid out as of 30 September. The federal government’s first allocation of Sandy funds to New Jersey came seven months after the storm. The state has yet to issue any of the $1.46 billion approved by HUD in May, and New Jersey officials expect a final round of $880 million next spring.

  • State regulators discuss the connection between fracking and earthquake

    Regulators from states with significant petroleum and natural gas exploration activities met last week in Columbus, Ohio as part of the 2014 Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission conference.One key topic of discussion at the conference wasthe potential implications of a study which found that numerous, unnoticeable earthquakes in Harrison County, Ohio, likely were linked to oil and natural gas exploration. 190 of the quakes which ranged from magnitude 1.7 to 2.2, occurred in the thirty-nine hours after fracking activity occurred at one well in late September and early October 2013.

  • States invest in resilience in the face of mounting extreme-weather challenges

    Months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York coast line, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Storm Recovery launched a $17 billion strategy to transform the state’s infrastructure. Project Reimagining New York for a New Reality sought to make the state’s transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection efforts, weather warning systems, and emergency management more resilient. The strategy is just one example of a trend in investments toward resilience efforts post Hurricane Katrina, Irene, Lee, and Sandy.