Emergency Preparedness

  • Emergency alertsSmall Virginia town debates cost of emergency siren system

    Installing an emergency siren system in Danville, Virginia would be too expensive, Danville fire chief David Eagle said during a recent update to the Danville city council on emergency notification systems. The city’s last siren system was discontinued about twenty-five years ago. A new system would cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to install, and would incur annual maintenance cost.

  • PreparednessHHS proposes rules to govern health-care facilities’ disaster preparedness

    The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS), a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, has proposed new requirementsfor health-care facilities intended to ensure these facilities are prepared to care for patients during disasters. The regulations aim to prevent the service disruptions which occurred during Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, when an estimated 215 deaths occurred in hospitals and nursing homes in Louisiana.

  • ResilienceNIST launches effort to improve disaster resilience of communities

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will host the first of six workshops devoted to developing a comprehensive, community-based disaster resilience framework, a national initiative carried out under the President’s Climate Action Plan. The workshop will be held on Monday, 7 April 2014.

  • FloodsStudying the 2011 Mississippi and Ohio rivers flood for better flood preparedness

    In May 2011, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to breach a levee south of Cairo, Illinois, diverting the rising waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to prevent flooding in the town, about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland were inundated. It was the largest flood of the lower Mississippi ever recorded. Researchers took advantage of this “once-in-a-scientific-lifetime” occurrence to study the damage in order to demonstrate that landscape vulnerabilities can be mapped ahead of time to help communities prepare for extreme flooding.

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  • DisastersFashioning an effective disaster mitigation approach in an uncertain world

    The dramatic images of natural disasters show that nature, not the people preparing for hazards, often wins the high-stakes game of chance. Sometimes nature surprises us when an earthquake, hurricane, or flood is bigger or has greater effects than expected. In other cases, nature outsmarts us, doing great damage despite expensive mitigation measures or causing us to divert limited resources to mitigate hazards that are overestimated. Much of the problem comes from the fact that formulating effective natural hazard policy involves combining science, economics, and risk analysis to analyze a problem and explore costs and benefits of different options in situations where the future is very uncertain.

  • Infrastructure protectionCosts of extreme weather events multiply

    The United States sustained $1.15 trillion in economic loss in the past thirty years due to extreme weather, a trend that will continue if state and local governments do not prepare for future weather disasters, according to Munich Re, the world’s largest risk insurer.The GAO’s Mark Gaffigan told lawmakers that as a result of extreme weather, the federal government’s crop insurance program had increased four-fold since 2003, and the flood insurance program has a $24 billion debt.

  • Chemical spillsW.Va. spill leads lawmakers, industry to look at reforming toxic substances law

    The government was slow to respond to the 9 January 2014 massive chemical spill in West Virginia because the law governing such response, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), limits regulatory agencies’ authority to investigate such spills.Under TSCA, the EPA must first prove that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to health or the environment before it can require the needed testing that would show a potential risk. One observer called this a Catch-22, telling a congressional panel that “This is like requiring a doctor to prove that a patient has cancer before being able to order a biopsy.”

  • HazmatU.S. takes action against tank car loaders for mislabeling hazardous cargo

    One of the charges against Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMAR), the rail carrier operating the train which exploded in the small city of Lac- Mégantic, Quebec in July 2013, was that it mislabeled the cargo, claiming it to be less hazardous than it was. The mislabeling and downgrading of the contents of the cars allowed to company to take less rigorous security measures to secure the cars without appearing to break the law. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is moving against other carriers who mislabel the contents of their cargo to avoid the cost of required security measures.

  • FloodsU.K. facing flood crisis, as prime minister warns victims they are in for “long haul”

    David Cameron warns flooding victims that they are in for a “long haul,” as the weather service says the weather will get worse this week, leaving thousands more homes at risk. There is a growing anger at the government by residents who complain that in addition to lack of preparation and response – thus, there were many complaints that sandbags intended for the worst-hit areas being “hijacked” and unavailable to stem the rising water – government agencies have not provided enough security after resident were ordered to evacuate, leading to looting of vacant homes. Officials have predicted that thousands more homes will be flooded over the coming days and said restoring the country’s battered rail network could take months.

  • Coastal infrastructureCoastal areas must adapt to sea-level rise and storm surges or suffer massive damage

    A new study presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila, and Lagos.

  • BlackoutsThe world likely to face more frequent, and more severe, blackouts

    U.S. household electricity usage increased by 1,300 percent between 1940 and 2001. In the last few decades, air conditioning has been the greatest factor in increased electrical consumption, and one of the greatest sources of systematic strain, with considerably more blackouts occurring in the summer months than during winter. The electricity used to fuel America’s air conditioning is currently of a similar volume to the U.S. entire energy consumption in the 1950s. A new study reveals that today’s occasional blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future, when they will occur with greater frequency and increased severity. Power cuts will become more regular around the globe as electrical supply becomes increasingly vulnerable and demand for technology continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.

  • Earthquakes“Virtual earthquakes” used to forecast Los Angeles quake risk

    Stanford scientists have developed a new “virtual earthquake” technique and used it to confirm a prediction that Los Angeles would experience stronger-than-expected ground motion if a major quake occurred along the southern San Andreas Fault. The new technique capitalizes on the fact that earthquakes are not the only sources of seismic waves – rather, there is also an ambient seismic field consisting of much weaker seismic waves. The scientists devised a way to make these ambient seismic waves function as proxies for seismic waves generated by real earthquakes. By studying how the ambient waves moved underground, the researchers were able to predict the actions of much stronger waves from powerful earthquakes.

  • First respondersKnow when to go: a new way to keep firefighters safe from harm

    By Philip Dennison, Tom Cova, and Greg Fryer

    For a firefighter, knowing when it’s time to evacuate can be the difference between life and death. But that can be a difficult call to make when you’re trying to protect life, property and resources while battling wildfires in arduous weather and terrain. Whether working at the fire’s edge or creating a fire break far from the front, firefighters must maintain situational awareness and monitor impending threats to their safety. When firefighters are unable to properly recognize risks, or they underestimate conditions, the results can be tragic.

  • Infrastructure protectionMassachusetts takes steps to withstand climate change impacts

    Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts earlier this week unveiled a $50 million plan to help prepare Massachusetts for the challenges climate change poses to energy supplies, public health, transportation, and basic infrastructure in his state. A $40 million grant from the state’s Department of Energy Resources will help cities and towns develop protections around energy services, and $10 million will go toward shoring up critical coastal infrastructure and dam repair.

  • Nuclear sheltersSurviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.