• PreparednessU.S. health security preparedness improved, but some regions lagging

    A national snapshot used to gauge the health of the nation’s health security and emergency preparedness found that readiness has improved significantly over the past five years, but earlier identified gaps remain, with some parts of the country lagging.

  • HurricanesPlanning for hurricanes as weather patterns change

    We’re all aware of the impact of intense weather systems that make headlines, like 2017’s hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But even slight adjustments to weather patterns—like historic changes in precipitation levels and the increasing frequency of heat waves—can drastically change living conditions.

  • HurricanesPreventing hurricanes using air bubbles

    In recent years we have witnessed intense tropical storms that have taken many thousands of lives and caused massive destruction. For example, in 2005, hurricane Katrina killed more than 2,000 people and caused damage estimated to be in the billions of dollars. In 2016, hurricane Matthew swept across Haiti, taking 852 lives and destroying many towns on the island. Many people have tried to find ways of preventing hurricanes before they make landfall. Norwegian researchers believe that the answer lies in cold bubbles.

  • Medical countermeasuresBudgeting for medical countermeasures is essential for preparedness

    Preparedness against a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) threat requires a sustained and multi-pronged approach by both the public and private sectors. An essential component of this strategy is the development, procurement, and stockpiling of diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines in response to a potential event, as well as the ability to distribute these products where needed.

     

  • Disaster preparationsHouston-area officials approved a plan for handling a natural disaster — then ignored it

    By Jessica Huseman and Decca Muldowney

    Seven months before Hurricane Harvey inundated the Houston area with a trillion gallons of water and led to widespread criticism of the Red Cross, Harris County adopted a disaster-preparation plan whose key assumption was that the Red Cross would be slow to act. “In a major disaster where there is widespread damage, the local resources of the Red Cross may be overwhelmed and not available immediately,” stated the plan. “It may be upwards of seven days before the Red Cross can assume a primary care and shelter role.” But in the seven months between the plan’s passage and the landfall of Harvey, the county took few steps to implement its strategy. Indeed, when dire flooding forced thousands of people from their homes, 3,036 emails obtained in a public records request suggest, officials didn’t even seem aware that a plan existed.

  • Alarms & alertsLessons from a false-alarm

    On 13 January, by contrast, residents and visitors in Hawaii were alerted to an impending missile attack for which they had perhaps twenty minutes to take action. After thirty-eight minutes, they were told the alert was a false alarm, triggered by an emergency worker’s mistake. “We know a lot about what people do in terms of a hurricane, how they make decisions on such things as whether to evacuate, but this incident in Hawaii was different,” said an expert who went to Hawaii to study how people reacted to the alert. While many residents and tourists reported being frightened during the incident, the most common reaction was confusion during the alert and frustration after learning that it had been issued in error.

  • Storm decision-makingDisaster decision-support tool helps emergency managers ahead of storms

    S&T’s Hurricane Evacuation (HURREVAC) extended (HV-X) platform integrates forecast and planning data to provide emergency managers with decision support tools for use in advance of and during tropical weather. S&T made the developmental version of HV-X available to select Texas emergency management users in preparation for Hurricane Harvey. Emergency managers, who needed every tool at their disposal to make critical decisions on evacuations, preparedness, and response, found HV-X helpful.

  • Disaster preparationBe prepared: Society saves $6 for every $1 spent preparing for natural disasters

    A new report from the National Institute of Building Sciences, a public-private partnership Congress established in 1974, examines the cost savings of preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires, many of which are worsened by climate change. The report builds on, and updates, the Institute’s groundbreaking 2005 analysis of the same name. The original analysis found that for every dollar invested in pre-disaster mitigation there is a $4 savings to society. The new report makes an even stronger case for advanced planning, finding that for every $1 invested in federally funded pre-disaster mitigation grants society saves $6, and for every $1 spent on building codes society saves $4.

  • Disaster evacuationExplaining personal hurricane evacuation decisions

    Why do some people living in the path of a major hurricane decide to evacuate while others stay put? That’s what researchers want to know so that they can improve how emergency evacuations are handled. The researchers are gathering information about residents in areas hit by hurricanes Irma and Harvey to learn more about how people make decisions in risky situations. This will ultimately help officials and emergency personnel better manage evacuations in the future.

  • DisastersDisaster zones could soon be salvaged by teams of smart devices – here’s how

    By Emma Hart and Jeremy Pitt

    We will remember 2017 as an appalling year for natural disasters. It comes months after the UN’s head of disaster planning warned that the world is not adequately preparing for disasters. This, he said, risks “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change makes disasters more frequent and severe. In such circumstances, modern technologies like smartphones, sensors and drones could help enormously, particularly if we can get them to act like an intelligent network. We recently outlined how these three strands from political theory, social science, and biology could be brought together to develop a new paradigm for complex device networks. We see encouraging signs that such thinking is starting to catch on among researchers. These ideas should enable us to develop new approaches that will underpin and enhance a wide variety of human activities – not least when the next disaster strikes. It might even mitigate the effects of climate change, making us better at foreseeing catastrophes and taking steps to avert them.

  • Nuclear disasters & evacuationsEvacuating a nuclear disaster area is often a waste of time and money, says study

    By Philip Thomas

    Over 110,000 people were moved from their homes following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March 2011. Another 50,000 left of their own will, and 85,000 had still not returned four-and-a-half years later. While this might seem like an obvious way of keeping people safe, my colleagues and I have just completed research that shows this kind of mass evacuation is unnecessary, and can even do more harm than good. We calculated that the Fukushima evacuation extended the population’s average life expectancy by less than three months. The reality is that, in most cases, the risk from radiation exposure if tpeople stay in their homes is minimal. It is important that the precedents of Chernobyl and Fukushima do not establish mass relocation as the prime policy choice in the future, because this will benefit nobody.

  • Mass casualty eventMass casualty training to prepare students for the worst

    Screams were heard as a runaway car plowed through a crowd before the vehicle crashed and the wreckage was engulfed in flames. The chaos was heightened by the sirens from fire trucks and ambulances rushing to the scene. After firefighter cadets from the Houston Fire Department (HFD) subdued the flames, more than 300 students and volunteers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) rushed onto the smoky field, ready to triage and respond to those injured in the accident. Fortunately, the casualties that played out were all part of a well-scripted scenario, staged at the Houston Fire Department’s Val Jahnke Training Facility, and orchestrated weeks in advance.

  • 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.