Emergency Preparedness

  • Chemical plant safetyTexas chemical plant disaster highlights dangers at similar sites

    Following a deadly 17 April 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas which took fifteen lives, officials from the managing company moved to shutter similar sites, including an urban one in Pennsylvania. Among the plants to be closed was an El Dorado Chemical Company plant in Pittsburgh, located right next to residential area and a school – on the site of which the company stored around thirty tons of ammonium nitrate. The city emergency management department was aware that the plant was to be closed, but they were not informed of the date – or the fact that the company chose to move the volatile and toxic material. City leaders say that using thirty-three trains to carry the toxic materials through the city was even more dangerous than leaving it in storage on site.

  • WildfiresFlagstaff, Ariz. uses municipal bonds to fund wildfire mitigation measures

    Wildfires are costing more to control and put down. In 2006, 2007, and 2012, more than nine million acres burned, roughly the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. For years 2011, 2012, and 2013, fire departments nationwide spent $1.7 billion to suppress wildfires. Flagstaff, a northern Arizona city set in the middle of a national forest, has created a $10 million fund, supported by municipal bonds, to make the city less vulnerable to damage from large forest fires, floods, violent storms, and temperature extremes.

  • EarthquakesComplicating the task of quantifying earthquake hazards in the Pacific Northwest

    Nearly forgotten research from decades ago complicates the task of quantifying earthquake hazards in the Pacific Northwest, according to a new report from scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Washington, and other universities. The report focuses on the Cascadia subduction zone — a giant active fault that slants eastward beneath the Pacific coast of southern British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

  • Disaster managementTech firm creates software pairing response systems with open data

    A new application, called Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard (DAAD), harnesses emergency response data in real-time and across multiple departments and agencies. DAAD will function as a central hub for information in the event of a disaster — using more than 100 different interfaces that upload data. Additionally, the hub will work in accordance with all manner of local government organizations such as fire stations, police stations and hospitals to further create a larger picture during the actual moments of an emergency.

  • Lab safetyResearch institutions must support strong, positive safety culture in chemical labs

    Everyone involved in the academic chemical research enterprise — from researchers and principal investigators to university leadership — has an important role to play in establishing and promoting a strong, positive safety culture, says a new report from the National Research Council. This requires a constant commitment to safety organization-wide and emphasis on identifying and solving problems, rather than merely adhering to a set of rules and assigning blame when those rules are not followed.

  • Disaster preparationCalifornia builds a sophisticated Emergency Response Training Center

    Citing the need for further emergency training, some Sacramento County officials have proposed a plan to construct a $56 million training facility for Californian emergency responders which would handle all types of training and scenarios.

  • InfrastructureMapping Florida sinkholes

    Sinkholes are common in Florida because of porous rock underground, such as limestone, which holds water. Over time, acid in the water dissolves the rock, creating a void. The Florida Geological Surveyand Florida Department of Emergency Managementare making progress on creating a statewide map showing where sinkholes are most likely to form. Florida received more than $1 million in federal funding last year to conduct a three-year study which would eventually help emergency planners predict where sinkholes are likely to develop, especially after large rainstorms.

  • PreparednessEmergency readiness of health-care providers

    In 2013 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS) proposed new preparedness requirements for hospitals and sixteen other types of health care providers, including home health agencies, nursing homes, hospices, transplant centers, and community mental health facilities, to mitigate natural and man-made disasters. Health-care providers say these requirements are too costly.

  • Flood protectionU Iowa to spend $4 million on flood protection

    Facing an Iowa River which breaches its banks and advances on nearby buildings and roadsin Iowa City, the University of Iowa(UI) plans to spend as much as $4 million to secure its property. The figure covers the cost of setting up and taking down HESCO barriers near vulnerable buildings. “It’s worth it to spend $4 million to prevent tens of millions of dollars in damage and all the disruption that could be caused for students,” said UI spokesman.

  • ResilienceSeattle builds resiliency in the face of changing climate

    The federal government’s National Climate Assessment, released in May, detailed the region-by-region effects which includes water shortages, sea-level rise, and more frequent wildfires. Most American cities fall short on climate change preparation when compared to several major cities around the world. A survey conducted by MIT reported that globally, “the U.S. has the lowest percentage of cities engaged in (climate change) assessments and planning.” Seattle has decided it needs to act, and act now, to make itself more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

  • HazmatIowa to allow public release of information about trains carrying crude

    Iowa officials have announced that they will alert the public about trains carrying one million gallons or more of “extra-flammable” crude oil throughout the state — despite the argument of railroad companies that the information could pose a security threat. Iowa’s decision places the state in the spotlight as a possible model for how the rulings will proceed in the rest of the country.

  • ResilienceU.S. Northwest prepares for the Big One

    Seismologists believe the Pacific Northwest is overdue for an earthquake that could register at over 8.0 on the Richter scale, leading many emergency management professionals in the region to anticipate and prepare for the devastating impact such an event would have on the local economy. Experts talk about Triple 3 Resilience Target as a the goal for managing the aftermath of an earthquake: have emergency services running within three days; level of services to sustain the economy within three weeks; and a target of three years to stabilize the economy and prepare for future disasters.

  • DisastersExperts 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.

  • DisastersNew 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.

  • HazmatFeds, rail operators, Washington State embroiled in crude oil shipment disclosure dispute

    Last month the U.S. Department of Transportation(DOT) ordered rail carriers with trains carrying crude oil to notify state officials in the states through which the trains pass about the volume, schedule, and routes of these trains. The amount of crude oil transported by trains has grown dramatically – from 6,000 carloads in 2005 to more than 400,000 carloads in 2013. The increase in the volume of crude oil shipping has been accompanied by a sharp rise in the number of accidents and derailments. DOT’s order was meant to allow states’ first responders to be prepared, but the railways treat shipping information as “security sensitive” and refuse to share it with states’ officials unless the information is distributed to emergency response groups for planning purposes only. Washington State says that state laws require that such information be made public.