• Oil spillsInsights on Deepwater Horizon disaster

    The soon-to-be-released thriller “Deepwater Horizon,” which opens in theaters 30 September, promises moviegoers a chilling reenactment of one of history’s worst oil rig disasters. One scholar of societal collapse will enter the theater with a big-picture view of the perfect storm of factors that led to the explosion and oil spill that killed eleven people and sent more than 200 million gallons of crude oil spewing toward the nation’s southern coastline for eighty-seven days.

  • 9/11: 15 years onCommand under attack: What we’ve learned since 9/11 about managing crises

    By Herman B. "Dutch" Leonard, Arnold M. Howitt, Christine Cole, and Joseph W. Pfeifer

    Major disasters pose difficult challenges for responders on the ground and for higher-level officials trying to direct operations. Some events are novel because of their scale, while others involve challenges that no one may ever have envisioned. Communities need to bring their response agencies together regularly to plan and practice. This can develop and maintain knowledge and relationships that will enable them to work together effectively under the high stress of a future attack or disaster. Any community can do this, but many have not. Where training and practice have taken place, these tools have worked. They can be improved, but the most important priority is getting more communities to practice using them more regularly, before the next disaster. One important way this nation can honor the victims of 9/11 is by using these lessons to create the conditions for even better coordination in future events.

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  • Resilience1.4 billion people face severe natural disaster risks in South Asia

    New data has revealed that 1.4 billion people in South Asia, or 81 percent of the region’s population, are acutely exposed to at least one type of natural hazard and live in areas considered to have insufficient resources to cope with and rebound from an extreme event. Poor governance, weak infrastructure, and high levels of poverty and corruption amplify the economic and humanitarian losses associated with significant natural hazards events – and these factors will exacerbate the consequences of natural disasters especially in Africa, a continent which hosts eight out of the nine countries most vulnerable to natural hazards.

  • EmergenciesIn emergencies, don’t trust a robot too much

    In emergencies, people may trust robots too much for their own safety, a new study suggests. In a mock building fire, test subjects followed instructions from an “Emergency Guide Robot” even after the machine had proven itself unreliable — and after some participants were told that robot had broken down.

  • Extreme eventsWhat we need to know about living in an era of extreme events

    The recent flooding in South Carolina is yet another reminder of just how much destruction natural disasters can cause and how ill prepared communities throughout the United States continue to be. Extreme events such as flooding, drought, and storms are leading to not only short-term economic and health impacts but are setting the stage for significant struggles for future generations. A multi-disciplinary seminar explored what we have learned from past events and what the latest science tells us about the future of disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

  • PreparednessMissouri schools underprepared for pandemics, bioterrorism, natural disasters

    Pandemic preparedness is not only critical because of the threat of a future pandemic or an outbreak of an emerging infectious disease, but also because school preparedness for all types of disasters, including biological events, is mandated by the U.S. Department of Education. Missouri schools are no more prepared to respond to pandemics, natural disasters, and bioterrorism attacks than they were in 2011, according to a new study. Particular gaps were found in bioterrorism readiness — less than 10 percent of schools have a foodservice biosecurity plan and only 1.5 percent address the psychological needs that accompany a bioterrorism attack.

  • PreparednessHurricane lessons: Lamar U has developed contingency plans for its contingency plans

    The idea of a contingency plan for a contingency plan would strike most people as somewhat silly, and most others as wasting time in a situation where time is a critical. For some time, the military has taught that when disaster strikes, the most effective means of calming one’s self is to perform a routine act, such as tying one’s shoe lacing, grading papers, or, in the case of the military, cleaning a weapon. The objective is to settle down in order to make a rational evaluation of the situation, and plan accordingly. The leaders of Lamar University, in Beaumont, Texas, reached the same conclusions after Hurricane Rita came roaring through the campus, and the university was sent reeling from $50 million in damage from the storm, which exposed the shortcomings of the school’s preparedness plans.

  • Planetary securityProject develops techniques for tackling asteroids, space debris

    Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets; at the same time asteroids also represent an opportunity. In recent years it has become clear that the increasing population of space debris could lead to catastrophic consequences in the near term. The STARDUST project — the first and only network to provide training on space debris and asteroids — was established to address this growing problem.

  • ResilienceIn the Pacific Northwest, fear of the Big One should be channeled into pragmatic action

    Scientists believe that a magnitude 9.0-plus Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake — which they call “the largest of the large” — would likely trigger a tsunami that could devastate coastal communities, while the earthquake could destroy infrastructure throughout western Oregon and Washington, including roads, bridges, water and sewer lines, and the power grid. Scientists say, however, that the more probable scenario is an earthquake on “the average side of large,” where the damage is less. Rather than focus on the most extreme scenario – which can lead to fatalism or to people fleeing the region – scientists urge residents of the Pacific Northwest to become pro-active in preparing for a disaster which, if preparations are made, can be survived.

  • ResiliencePeople living in wildfire-prone areas underestimate their risk

    The vast majority of people living in areas prone to wildfires know they face risk, but they tend to underestimate that risk compared with wildfire professionals. At the same time, they tend to over-estimate the importance of specific risk factors beyond their control — such as the composition of vegetation on their property — while giving less heed to those they can mitigate, such as replacing combustible siding with more fire-resistant materials.

  • PreparednessWorries about megaquake benefit preparedness, retrofitting businesses in Pacific Northwest

    The sale of emergency preparedness kits has been booming in the Northwest of the United States, as more press stories have highlighted the growing confidence of scientists that the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a megaquake. Stores that sell a few preparedness kits a month, and which typically cater to survivalists, see a dramatic increase in business, as do businesses which retrofit houses to make them more quake-resilient.

  • 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.