Emergency Preparedness

  • Massachusetts 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.

  • Surviving 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.

  • Sandia to show Mine Rescue Robot at 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge

    Engineers from Sandia National Laboratories will demonstrate real-world robotics successes at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials 2013 Expo this week (20-21 December) in Florida. The challenge is focused on human-scaled robots that assist in humanitarian aid and disaster response. Sandia engineers will demonstrate the Gemini Scout Mine Rescue Robot, which was designed to overcome dangers lurking in a mining accident: poisonous gases, flooded tunnels, explosive vapors, and unstable walls and roofs. Such potentially deadly conditions and unknown obstacles can slow rescue efforts to a frustrating pace.

  • Scrapping sea level protection puts Australian homes at risk

    As the science on the coastal impacts of climate change gets stronger, the protections for Australia’s coastal communities are getting weaker. Along the eastern seaboard of Australia, where most Australians live, state governments are relaxing their policies and largely leaving it to local councils to decide if homes can be built in low-lying areas.Over the past fifty years, there have been twenty-five national inquiries and reports into coastal management. Those inquiries have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that rather than leaving it to local councils, Australia needs one set of clear, national guidelines on coastal development and infrastructure. That is the opposite of what we are now seeing around Australia, with a mish-mash of different rules in different states. If that continues, everyone will pay.

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  • New Jersey shore to face unprecedented flooding by mid-century

    Geoscientists estimate that the New Jersey shore will likely experience a sea-level rise of about 1.5 feet by 2050 and of about 3.5 feet by 2100 — 11 to 15 inches higher than the average for sea-level rise globally over the century. That would mean, the scientists say, that by the middle of the century, the one-in-ten year flood level at Atlantic City would exceed any flood known there from the observational record, including Superstorm Sandy.

  • No need to worry about getting fried by gamma ray burst

    If recent news that University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) researchers observed the largest gamma ray burst ever has you nervous about getting blasted into extinction by a massive burst from space, the UAH researchers have good news. The chances of Earth being fried by a burst are exceedingly rare.

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  • Early warning system to detect abrupt climate change impacts

    Climate change has increased concern over possible large and rapid changes in the physical climate system, which includes the Earth’s atmosphere, land surfaces, and oceans. Some of these changes could occur within a few decades or even years, leaving little time for society and ecosystems to adapt. A new report from the National Research Council states that even steady, gradual change in the physical climate system can have abrupt impacts elsewhere — in human infrastructure and ecosystems for example — if critical thresholds are crossed. The report calls for the development of an early warning system that could help society better anticipate sudden changes and emerging impacts.

  • Defending against electromagnetic-pulse attacks

    We are all familiar with the power of electromagnetic attacks from the movies: in “Ocean’s Eleven,” George Clooney’s gang disables Las Vegas’ power grid, and Keanu Reeves’ henchmen hold off the enemy robot fighters from their spaceship in the “Matrix Trilogy.” The heroes in the films succeed by sending out a very strong electromagnetic pulse, which changes the voltage in the vicinity so that regulators, switches, and circuit boards in electronic equipment go crazy. Researchers are now trying to figure out how such attacks can be detected. They have developed a measurement instrument for this purpose that is capable of determining the strength, frequency, and direction of electromagnetic attacks.

  • List of most-at-risk L.A. buildings to be released

    Scientists have compiled a list of concrete buildings in Los Angeles which could be at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake. The list identifies about 1,500 concrete structures built before 1980 which need further study to determine their risk level. Structural engineers insist that hundreds could die if any of the buildings collapsed.

  • Study finds more spending on fire suppression may lead to bigger fires

    Researchers found that fire management can fall into the firefighting trap: Energy and resources are spent mostly on fire suppression — putting out fires in the moment — while less attention is devoted to fire prevention, such as clearing brush and building fire lanes during the off-season. After severe fires, policymakers funnel even more funds into fire suppression for the next season, but this attention to fire suppression may undermine prevention efforts. The result, counterintuitively, is even worse fires the following season, due to the buildup of fire-prone materials such as dried tinder and dead trees. The researchers emphasize balancing fire suppression with prevention measures.

  • Evacuation modeling: finding the best time (and way) to get going

    Reports from the Philippines reveal a lack of typhoon preparation and evacuation efforts. When to evacuate — and how – could spell the difference between life and death. Typhoons can cause widespread flooding of surrounding areas, and do not just affect what lies in the path of the storm. Planning an evacuation is a game against nature. Few plans are safe, and the number and complexity of decisions quickly becomes overwhelming — especially as rising water or traffic accidents block roads — but computers can dramatically help emergency services design evacuation plans which people can actually follow.

  • Past as prologue: Insights from past natural disasters relevant today

    The increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters constitute a daunting challenge to modern society, which is characterized by a heavy infrastructure and increasing population density. Until now, coping with natural disasters has involved expensive state intervention and technology-aided approaches, but researchers believes that the past contains a wealth of unexploited resources which could also provide solutions to the problems communities face when dealing with need to cope with, and recover from, natural disasters.

  • Philippines prepares for worse disasters to come

    On average, the Philippines experiences about twenty typhoons a year, including three super-typhoons and many incidents of flooding, drought, earthquakes, tremors, and occasional volcanic eruptions, making the country one of the most naturally disaster-prone areas in the world. Filipino government agencies, with the help of international disaster and relief agencies, have created new strategies for disaster preparedness, response, and mitigation which may well have potential applications in other parts of the world. As the impact of climate change grows more pronounced, the Philippines is becoming a hothouse for developing new methods and systems in the growing business of disaster relief.

  • Resources on disaster preparedness, resilience

    One year after Superstorm Sandy hit the eastern United States, local, state, and federal agencies as well as community groups and businesses are working to strengthen the U.S.s resilience to future disasters. A National Research Council (NRC) has issues a series of studies and reports, and has put together workshops and study groups, which should advance the national conversation on preparedness and resilience.

  • Helping first responders identify chemical, biological, and radiological agents

    The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has expanded the reach and capabilities of its rapid urban plume modeling and hazard assessment system, CT-Analyst, by providing a commercial license to Valencia, California-based Safe Environment Engineering (SEE) for the fields of use of public safety, industrial safety and monitoring, and environmental monitoring. CT Analyst is a tool designed to provide first responders with fast and accurate predictions of chemical, biological, and radiological agent airborne transport in urban environments. CT Analyst will be integrated into the existing product line of SEE’s Lifeline MultiMeterViewer software suite.