Emergency Preparedness

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • Arkansas deploys first statewide SmartPrepare system

    Arkansas uses citizen-supplied data for more efficient emergency planning and response. The service allows citizens to create secure profiles online which contain vital details about their household. Public safety officials can use the data to gain greater insight into their communities and identify potential challenges in order to prepare more effectively for disasters, allocate resources, and expedite emergency response and recovery efforts during events.

  • $32 million NSF grants for improving prediction of, response to natural disasters

    With Sandy’s one-year anniversary – 29 October – next week, how do scientists better predict and respond to natural hazards such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires? To find answers, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded twelve new research grants totaling $32 million. The awards will advance understanding of natural hazards and of technological hazards linked with natural phenomena, as scientists study ways of predicting and responding to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires.

  • Canadian city developed mathematical formula to evaluate risk

    The City of Hamilton, Ontario has ranked Terrorism fourth on its list of top ten emergency risks, below Hazardous Materials and Explosions, Energy Supply Emergencies, and Epidemics/Pandemics.The city’s ranking of top 10 emergencies for which it plans is not a mere judgment call: The city’s emergency management office uses a mathematical equation to rate the risks to the city and its population.

  • Budget impasse halts enforcement of chemical plants safety standards

    Security experts say that short of a direct nuclear attack on a U.S. city, the most dangerous, mass-casualty catastrophe the United States faces is a terrorist attack on, or an accident in, a chemical facility which would release toxic clouds over neighboring cities and towns. The federal government partial shutdown is making it impossible to enforce safety and security standards formulated to strengthen the ability of thousands of U.S. chemical facilities to withstand terrorist attacks.

  • Halt of CFATS work disrupts debate over program’s merit

    The budget impasse-related halting of monitoring and enforcing compliance with the 2007 Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) comes at a time of growing criticism of the measure by GOP – but not only GOP – lawmakers, who complain that there are too many problems with CFATS and the way it has so far been implemented.

  • Quebec deadly accident revives pipeline vs. rail debate

    The sharp increase in U.S. domestic oil production in the last four years, and the opening by the Obama administration of new areas for drilling, have greatly benefitted U.S. rail companies, which now enjoy the added business of transporting oil from places where pipelines do not exist.U.S. domestic shipments of oil have increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to more than 230,000 carloads last year. The deadly Lac-Megantic, Quebec crude-oil train accident revives the debate about the relative safety merits of two modes of transporting oil over long distances – rail vs. pipeline. Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline project say the Quebec accident will boost support for their cause.