• Disaster warningWorst-case scenarios: Why we should welcome warnings

    By Peter Dizikes

    Nuclear accidents. Sea level rise. Terror threats. The world is full of potential catastrophes, but most of the time, most of us are oblivious to them. Still, at times, experts warn the rest of us about these potential crises. Sometimes those warnings work, but many times they go unheeded. Why do we ignore information we could use to stave off a disaster? Richard Clarke, the former chief counter-terrorism advisor on the National Security Council, says that we should be more receptive to the possibility of dire news, as well as more systematic about analyzing it. In his new book, Warnings, Clarke asserts that specialists in a range of fields can “see the thing buried in the data that other people don’t see. They see it first.”

  • EarthquakesThe “Really Big One”: How a 9.0 Cascadia earthquake could play out

    One of the worst nightmares for many Pacific Northwest residents is a huge earthquake along the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone, which would unleash damaging and likely deadly shaking in coastal Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and northern California. The last time this happened was in 1700, before seismic instruments were around to record the event. So what will happen when it ruptures next is largely unknown.

  • Mass casualty incidentsMass casualty incidents and the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness

    A single patient with a gunshot wound (GSW) to a vital body part (e.g., head, chest, abdomen, or major artery) will stress a typical community hospital. The more than 500 people who were injured in Las Vegas on 1 October have been transported to a number of hospitals around Las Vegas and have overwhelmed some of the hospitals closest to the scene. A number of the injured are in critical condition and hence the death toll is likely to rise. Among other issues, this tragedy illustrates the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness.

  • HurricanesImproving forecasts of hurricane strength

    As Hurricane Irma approached U.S. shores, researchers sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) were using air-dropped autonomous sensors to compile real-time ocean observations to help forecasters predict the strength of future tropical storms. This marked the first time a new, specialized version of the sensors—called ALAMO (Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer) sensors—was being used in hurricane-prediction research.

  • PreparednessConsiderable progress since 9/11 in U.S. public health emergency preparedness

    Sixteen years after terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City, the American Journal of Public Health is releasing a special supplement focused on public health emergency preparedness. A new study in this special supplement, completed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, found that in the sixteen years since 9/11, the United States has made considerable progress in its public health preparedness capability.

  • Storm surgesStorm surge prediction tool helps emergency managers

    When severe, life threatening weather systems bear down on residents and communities, emergency managers needed every tool available to make informed decisions regarding evacuations, emergency services, and resource staging. Back in June, as Tropical Storm Cindy was nearing the Texas and Louisiana coastlines, Texas state agencies – including the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), which operates the ferries along the Texas Gulf Coast — were using a combination of online tools and observations to closely monitor water heights since ferries, a key aspect of the state evacuation plan, can’t operate if the water rises more than four and a half feet. Unfortunately, based on their observations, it looked like they were going to have to close the ferry down.

  • Disaster evacuationEscaping an unwelcome visit from mother nature

    Hurricane Irma forced mandatory evacuations throughout the Florida Keys. But with only two main north-south roads in and out of Florida - interstates 95 and 75 - Irma quickly became an exercise in preparedness for a storm described at times as “the size of the state of Ohio.” “Evacuation may not be the best goal in all cases. An alternative strategy to evacuating people to a far away destinations is to build more hurricane shelters near population centers,” says one expert.

  • Emergency communicationEmergency communications in developing countries

    When major emergencies strike, effective communication is critical. Hundreds, if not thousands, of lives can be saved by rapid, clear and well-coordinated communication regarding impending risks, their mitigation, and how to respond when damage is done. Researchers have created a best-practice toolkit to help developing countries rapidly generate and implement life-saving communication plans in the event of local emergencies.

  • Nuclear attackHawaii launches a campaign to prepare islanders for North Korean nuclear attack

    Officials in Hawaii are preparing for a North Korean nuclear attack. State officials said they would not want to create a panic among the islanders, but that the right thing to do under the circumstances was to have the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency unveil a public education and information campaign aiming to inform people what to do in the event Pyongyang launched a nuclear-tipped missile targeting Hawaii.

  • Tunnel plugsInflatable plug for subway tunnels demonstrated

    A giant, inflatable structure designed to prevent flooding in subways was rolled out, literally, for media observers inside a full-scale, mock subway tunnel. In a demonstration, the plug, in under five minutes, nearly filled with pressurized air, created a flexible but extremely strong barrier. Full inflation is complete in less than twelve minutes.

  • Nuclear warWhy there’s no modern guide to surviving a nuclear war

    By John Preston

    The risk of thermonuclear war has rarely been greater. But despite the growing threat, the general public are less prepared than they ever have been to cope with an attack. Time is short – but the United Kingdom is not ready. In May 1980, the government created a series of public information films, radio broadcasts, and the booklet Protect and Survive. But the effort was mocked, and the government abandoned to effort. The failure of Protect and Survive is the reason the United Kingdom doesn’t have public information on how to prepare for a nuclear war today. There are good reasons for keeping us unaware. Releasing guidance may cause anxiety and even make other countries suspicious that our preparations are a sign that we intend to strike first. On the other hand, if the government does intend to issue information at the last minute then it is taking a huge risk as to whether it can get the advice out in time. If an accidental launch, or an unexpected first strike, occurs then there may be no time. Maybe now is the right time to buy that reprinted copy of Protect and Survive – just in case.

  • DisastersRadar simulator helps characterize scattering of debris in tornadoes

    Researchers have developed the first numerical polarimetric radar simulator to study and characterize the scattering of debris particles in tornadoes. “An improved understanding of what weather radars tell us about tornado debris can help provide more accurate tornado warnings and quickly direct emergency personnel to affected areas,” says one researcher.

  • Disaster responseS&T and New Orleans conduct flood-relief planning exercise

    Flood-related disasters present significant risks to life and property across our nation. During 8-14 August 2016, 6.9 trillion gallons of rain water flooded Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In cases like the 2016 Baton Rouge flood, response agencies need assistance from surrounding communities and citizens—whether it is manpower, technology, status reports, or basic relief supplies. However, jurisdictions often have different communications systems, which can make it difficult to request help. This means that when a city is paralyzed by water, emergency responders have a difficult time maintaining situational awareness and gathering necessary resources.

  • Disaster predictionPredicting floods, hurricanes with social media

    Social media can warn us about hurricanes, storms, and floods before they happen – according to new research. Key words and photos on social media can signal developing risks – like water levels rising before a flood. Researchers, who analyzed posts on Flickr between 2004 and 2014, found certain words – such as river, water, and landscape - take on distinct meaning of forecast and warning during time periods leading to extreme weather events. Words can be used as ‘social sensors’, to create accurate early warning system for extreme weather, alongside physical sensors.

  • Disaster responseHow disaster relief efforts could be improved with game theory

    By Anna Nagurney

    The number of disasters has doubled globally since the 1980s, with the damage and losses estimated at an average $100 billion a year since the new millennium, and the number of people affected also growing. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the costliest natural disaster in the U.S., with estimates between $100 billion and $125 billion. The death toll of Katrina is still being debated, but we know that at least 2,000 were killed, and thousands were left homeless. Worldwide, the toll is staggering. The challenges to disaster relief organizations, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), are immense, and the competition among them is intense. My team and I have been looking at a novel way to improve how we respond to natural disasters. One solution might be game theory.