Emergency Preparedness

  • Community resilienceTen universities join natural disaster preparedness initiative

    In March, Texas A&M urban planning researchers formed a new initiative with scientists from ten other universities to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The headquarters of the coalition, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, is based at Colorado State University. Colorado is centrally located in the United States, but the universities involved are spread across the country to maximize the reach of the research. Other universities — such as Rice University, the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M University-Kingsville — are contributing to the research to help create resilient communities through their own models of information.

  • ResilienceDisaster 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.

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

    By Keith Krumwiede

    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.

  • FirefightingInterconnected 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.

  • HurricanesShould I stay or should I go: timing affects hurricane evacuation decisions

    By Hugh Gladwin

    When a hurricane is gathering strength offshore, people in its possible line of fire still need to decide whether or not to evacuate to safer ground. Emergency managers are charged with ensuring the safety of the population. “Prepare for the worst” is probably a good philosophy in most circumstances, but not in the case of evacuation for a hurricane many days away, when the cost of mobilizing is high and the probability of it being needed is very low. The government and media also grapple with not wanting to be unnecessarily alarmist. The correct philosophy is “know what the worst case could be and be prepared to face it if it comes to pass.” When an evacuation order is issued, it’s usually in a very compressed time frame — but that’s ok as long as people are prepared. If people plan three to five days ahead, knowing that there is a small but real chance they will be asked to evacuate and a small but real chance of death if they do not, they can be ready when the definitive order comes in.

  • Coastal resilienceApp offers St. Petersburg residents information on flood levels, storm surges

    Pinellas County, Florida, will unveil a new Storm Surge Protector computer application which would provide residents of St. Petersburg with realistic views of potential flood levels as the 2015 hurricane season approaches. The app will allow people to enter any Pinellas County address and see the property’s evacuation zone and get an animated view of the structure and the water levels to expect in the area under a range of hurricane categories.

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  • EarthquakesEarthquake preparations in the Pacific Northwest need to start now: Experts

    Developing the resilience to withstand a massive earthquake along the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Subduction Zone is the responsibility of public agencies, private businesses, and individuals, and that work should be under way now, an OSU expert advised Congressional leaders last week in Washington, D.C.“It will take fifty years for us to prepare for this impending earthquake. The time to act is before you have the earthquake. Everybody needs to take some responsibility and start preparing now.” Earthquake preparation, or lack thereof, is not an issue unique to Oregon: Forty-two U.S. states have significant earthquake faults.

  • VolcanoesWashington State more prepared now for volcanic eruption

    Thirty-five years after the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption in Central Washington, which killed fifty-seven people and blanketed much of the state in ash, state officials say that they are far more ready for a future emergency than they were previous to that disaster.

  • VolcanoesWashington State more prepared now for volcanic eruption

    Thirty-five years after the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption in Central Washington, which killed fifty-seven people and blanketed much of the state in ash, state officials say that they are far more ready for a future emergency than they were previous to that disaster.

  • AvalancheNew measuring systems remotely assessing avalanche risk

    Accurate forecasting of avalanches, and the risk of flooding in Alpine catchment areas during the spring thaw, primarily requires time-resolved data on snow volumes and the levels of liquid water in the snow cover. Geographers have developed a novel measuring system relying on two different physical methods which promises to enhance forecasting of avalanches and spring floods. The method combines GPS and radar to measure snow properties also on the slopes.

  • EarthquakesDisaster and recovery: The unexpected shall come to be expected

    By Vincent T Gawronski

    In the days following the Nepal earthquake, the media has been focusing on the heart-wrenching human interest and hero-tragedy stories, but what must be emphasized is that this disaster was anticipated. More importantly, we now have the tools and building technologies to mitigate the impact of even major earthquakes. The frequency of earthquakes has not changed over the past few million years, but now millions of people live in vulnerable situations. The unexpected must come to be expected. Much-needed humanitarian assistance must transition into long-term development efforts. Simply put, instilling a culture of disaster risk reduction, investing in hazard mitigation, building as best as we can, and retrofitting what remains, will save lives.

  • ResilienceBuilding healthier communities essential for recovering from disasters

    U.S. communities and federal agencies should more intentionally seek to create healthier communities during disaster preparation and recovery efforts — something that rarely happens now, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. By adding a health “lens” to planning and recovery, a community can both mitigate the health damage caused by disasters and recover in ways that make the community healthier and more resilient than it was before.

  • Disaster sheltersFew Oklahoma schools have safe room or shelters for weather emergencies

    Almost two years after a tornado destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, fewer than half of the state’s 1,773 schools have a safe room, shelter, or basement where students and school staff can take cover in a weather emergency.More than 681,000 students currently attend Oklahoma schools; as many as 500,000 teachers and students are without shelter or a safe room at schools.“I’m afraid more schools are going to be hit and more students are going to be at risk. I’m deeply troubled that two years later we don’t have a plan,” says one expert.

  • GeohazardsExtreme geohazards: Reducing disaster risk, increasing resilience

    Extreme hazards — rare, high-impact events — pose a serious and underestimated threat to humanity. The extremes of the broad ensemble of natural and anthropogenic hazards can lead to global disasters and catastrophes. Because they are rare and modern society lacks experience with them, they tend to be ignored in disaster risk management. While the probabilities of most natural hazards do not change much over time, the sensitivity of the built environment and the vulnerability of the embedded socio-economic fabric have increased rapidly.

  • ResilienceMore resilient mass transit to improve Chicago emergency evacuation system

    A group of Argonne Lab researchers will be studying methods and creating tools for building more resilient mass transit systems to evacuate major cities under a $2.9 million grant announced today by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. The project will bring together researchers from the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory with Chicago’s Pace Suburban Bus and Metra Commuter Rail Service to investigate ways to improve the detection, analysis, and response to emergencies, and how best to evacuate the city in a major emergency.