Emergency Preparedness

  • HurricanesNew facility for hurricane research to study why some storms intensify so quickly

    It still astonishes meteorologists. In the span of just twenty-four hours, Hurricane Wilma, the twenty-second named storm of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, intensified from a tropical cyclone to a Category 5 hurricane — its wind speed soaring from 70 to 175 mph. As remarkable as Wilma’s rapid intensification was, however, it is not the only case of a storm muscling up at warp speed. As Hurricane Charley approached Florida’s west coast in 2004, its sustained winds jumped from 110 to 150 mph in only three hours. In 2007 Felix strengthened from a meager tropical depression to a Category 5 hurricane in fifty-one hours. This could all change soon now that the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has opened its Marine Technology and Life Sciences Seawater Complex, a $50 million facility that houses a 38,000-gallon, 75-foot-long tank into which researchers pump seawater to study how the ocean and atmosphere interact — the critical air-sea interface that could tell us why some storms intensify so quickly.

  • SimulationU.S., U.K. war-game failure of too-big-to-fail banks

    On Monday U.S. treasury secretary Jack Lew, his British counterpart Chancellor George Osborne, along with the heads of both countries’ central banks, participated in a simulation to test the actions that would follow should a major transatlantic bank went under. The scenario allows U.S. and British authorities to “make sure we can handle an institution that was previously regarded as too big to fail,” according to Osborne. War games have long been used to build trust and co-operation among allies and adversaries.

  • HazmatDebate continues over releasing Pennsylvania crude oil shipment information

    Shipment of crude oil by rail in the United States has increased from 800,000 barrels a day in 2012 to 1.4 million in 2014. In western Pennsylvania, over seventy-five million gallons of crude oil are passing through Allegheny and Westmoreland counties to refineries in Philadelphia. Release of the recently classified rail transport records by Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) was a result of a federal mandate ordering railway companies to share information on interstate shipments of crude oil with state emergency management officials.Railway companies claim that releasing the information threatens security and is commercially sensitive.

  • Preparation businessDisaster preparation business booms

    Concerns about future manmade and natural disasters are driving the U.S. market for survival kits. Across the country, families are developing disaster plans, and some are even loading up on food and supplies to help them live through a biological attack, a catastrophic earthquake, or a pandemic flu. More and more businesses are targeting preppers, — people who actively prepare for a doomsday scenario.

  • ResilienceSome states are better prepared than others for climate change challenges

    In recent years, a number of states have started taking action to prepare their communities for climate change. Many have even developed specific adaptation plans to guide their work. Until now, though, no one has been able to define how much progress states are actually making in implementing those plans. The Georgetown Climate Center’s (GCC) online tool, the State Adaptation Progress Tracker, changes that. A GCC release says that now, anyone will be able to quickly determine how much progress their state is making and decision-makers will be able to learn from innovative examples of actions other states are taking.

  • EarthquakesThe likelihood of a California Big One “uncomfortably high”: Experts

    Research on the San Andreas fault has shown that the average time between surface-rupturing earthquakes is about a century. Experts say that these findings are a call to action. The last two “big ones” on the San Andreas fault — in 1906 in Northern California and 1857 in Southern California — occurred more than a century ago. There are several ways to calculate the probability of a similar earthquake, but they all give uncomfortably high results. A large earthquake is likely in our lifetime. A magnitude 7.8 earthquake is realistic, one expert says. “Our data show that similar earthquakes happened here in the not-too-distant past. As Shakespeare said, past is prologue. However, past large earthquakes on the San Andreas fault affected very few people. Now millions are at risk.”

  • DisastersOpen data sources can help localities prepare for disasters

    States and local governments must improve their use of open-data sources to prepare for disasters, according to a trio of emergency management experts from academia, government, and the private sector. Experts agreed that public data reveals an increasing need for infrastructure upgrades in U.S. cities, but local governments tend to adopt short-term measures over long-term protections.

  • Seismic early warning California needs $54 million to deploy ShakeAlert earthquake warning system

    Officials in California need $54 million fully to implement the ShakeAlert earthquake warning system, according to a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).ShakeAlert detects earthquakes using the California Integrated Seismic Network of roughly 400 ground motion sensors which identify primary waves (P-waves) as they move through the Earth at almost twice the speed of the earthquakes’ destructive S-waves, which shake the ground.When an earthquake is detected, ShakeAlert informs emergency management officials of the quake’s epicenter, and a computer-generated voice counts the remaining time before shaking occurs.

  • DisastersStorm-surge app improves public and administration responses to flooding

    An environmental group called Wetlands Watch in Virginia has integrated crowd-sourcing into the Sea Level Rise app, allowing users to issue and receive alerts in real-time regarding waterlogged streets and improve public safety.The newest evolution of the app is expected to be launched within the next few weeks and the information provided and distributed to users will also be tracked by scientists and emergency planners to better grasp the flood patterns in the region and how to prepare for them.

  • DisastersNew report identifies populations most vulnerable to extreme weather events

    Extreme weather events leave populations with not enough food both in the short- and the long-term. A new report has looked at which sections of the population are left most exposed to food shortages after extreme weather events, and concluded that better governance could have lessened the impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, and that affected populations have been let down by the authorities in the past.

  • PreparednessThe State of New York launches disaster preparedness initiatives

    The state of New York is implementing a proactive strategy to deal with the threat of terrorism and natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy. Local municipalities have been granted state support for emergency preparedness projects, and the state’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services(DHSES), led by commissioner Jerome Hauer, has expanded its regional footprint from five planning/response regions to ten. “Mother Nature has become much more aggressive, so we too must adopt a similar posture to ensure we are ready to respond effectively when the next disaster strikes, Hauer says.

  • Emergency preparednessMedical registry systems are becoming part of emergency preparedness plans

    Communities across the country are exploring medical registry systems as part of their emergency preparedness plans. Using medical registries for emergency planning has been critical for New Orleans city officials, especially after Hurricane Katrina.St. Louis deployed its Functional Needs Registry after a power outage occurred in 2006. Experts note, though, that just because residents are listed in the city’s registry does not mean that help and services will always be delivered during emergencies.

  • PreparednessFlorida better prepared to deal with disasters than it was in 2004 -- the Year of Four Hurricanes

    Much has improved for residents and emergency managers in South Florida since the state’s 2004 Hurricane season, known as the Year of Four Hurricanes. That season, Hurricane Charley released 150-mph winds, followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Officials in South Florida are implementing new technology and improved protocols to battle the next round of extreme weather events.

  • 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.