Tag Archives: Disaster Relief

Stuff in the news – 6/6/2013

Trying something a bit new here. It used to be that blogs were actual web logs – that is, logs of things that interested the blog owner. It think it’s also important to write but sometimes I like to share links (hence, my Twitter account) but I am not so vain as to think that anyone is watching just me and I’d like to make these things easily available at a later time. So, I’m going to try collecting some of the things I find in a digest.

I may or may not annotate with summaries or comments. Think of this as an experiment in culture and communication.


  • Western strike teams to help with NM #wildfires – The Denver Post http://bit.ly/11uwcwS #NMFire
  • #SantaFe Is Squished in a Sandwich of Fire – John Metcalfe-The Atlantic Cities http://bit.ly/16MAogj #NMFire
    • It’s not a lot of fun, believe you me – but I love the visual analogy.
  • Camp operator wants #policy to change (Saskatchewan) – http://bit.ly/14jcLrZ #wildfires #SKFire
    • Interesting that the same discussions take place in Canada, regarding what resources to use in fighting fires and when to deploy them
  • Protect your home from urban brush fires : The Issaquah Press – Issaquah, WA – http://bit.ly/13dnFNe #WAFire
    • Good advice, even if you’re not in Issaquah!


  • One Million Bones – Full Schedule – http://bit.ly/13dlJnR

    • If you don’t know about One Million Bones, you really ought to. It is an art installation, in the works for some years now. Artists (and citizens) have crafted one million human bones to place on the National Mall to create a symbolic mass grave to bring awareness to the horror of genocide. The installation will start on Saturday the 8th in DC. Short notice but they’re really good about media, so I’m sure there will be things to follow online.
  • 2013 Buckaroo Ball Saturday, June 15th, Buffalo Thunder Resort, Santa Fe, New Mexico – http://bit.ly/13dxJFU
    • “Since 1994, the Buckaroo Ball Foundation has been dedicated to its mission of raising and distributing funds to non-profit organizations that serve at-risk youth in Santa Fe County. Buckaroo Ball Foundation is now a fund within the Santa Fe Community Foundation.  The Ball is mostly run by a group of dedicated volunteers who donate their time and resources to produce what is one of the largest and liveliest fund-raising weekends in the Southwest.”
  • Samantha Power and the Weaponization of Human Rights » CounterPunch http://bit.ly/14jl07l
    • Commentary on Samantha Power’s views on human rights. I actually enjoyed her book, Problem from Hell. This is an interesting take on her policies.
    • More on her appointment to the ambassadorship: Samantha Power Picked To Take Over For Rice At U.N. : NPR – http://n.pr/14jlt9z

Amateur RADIO

  • Andrew Seybold: Communications During Major Disasters – http://bit.ly/13dCyir
  • Sometimes my aggregator shows a picture for a different story from the same source when suggesting an article. Haven’t found the story for the picture but I’m relatively certain this is a mugshot and totally unrelated to the headline. If not, boy am *I* gonna be embarrassed! Just found it amusing.


science, Tech, and Gadgets

  • Congressmen to visit brain science labs | Brown University News and Events – http://bit.ly/14jIFV6

    • I can see from the title there’s worth in this concept
  • Envisioning my friends and colleagues investing in flashights right now… Turning off OCD-like behaviors in the mouse brain with a flash of light – Science – Boston.com – http://bo.st/14jJcq7
  • Get everything done: Any.Do branches out from to-do lists to calendar, email, and notes | The Verge – http://bit.ly/14jJsp6 HT @svartling
    • It’s a good thing most apps for iOS are minimal fee because I cannot tell you how many apps I have in the cloud that I’ve given up on. Stefan comes up with cool stuff to try, though, so I’ll give it a go.
  • Cross-file under Humanitarian: “A way of thinking may enable battle but prevent war crimes. Researchers show brain operates differently by the way we dehumanize others” http://bit.ly/15P4QCz

To post or not to post? That is the question

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Some may think it just a tad early to publish an analysis like this one from Purple Car but for those helping those helping others deal with this tragedy, I think it’s a worthwhile read. If you are uncomfortable with thinking about this right now, I fully understand. Perhaps you can bookmark the link and come back to it later. It really is a good topic of discussion for social media and emergency management (SMEM) and the blog is well worth adding to one’s feed.

What is and is not appropriate to post during and directly after a tragedy like the #BostonMarathon explosions or #SandyHook is something that I think we all grapple with. Note that I make a distinction between posting as a bystander and posting as virtual operations support teams (VOST), in which case, one would have specific knowledge of the incident.

My personal [bystander] rules tend to be:

  1. Does the post help people (donation links, missing persons, etc)?
  2. Does it inform without conjecture (need to know – road closures; evacuation info, e.g., rather than simply breaking news)?
  3. Does it comfort (think Mr. Rogers)?

If it does none of the above, I would question its usefulness. What do you think? Do you have different rules? More rules?

Whom did you serve?


Image courtesy of Prozac1 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

This piece was the reflection in our church’s Sunday bulletin. They are the words of Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew in Warsaw during the Holocaust – a physician who ran an orphanage. When the children were sent to Treblinka, rather than abandoning them, he accompanied them to their death.

Why do you do what you do? What’s important to you and to whom do you give your effort in this world?

You lived – how many fields did you plow,

How many loaves of bread did you bake,

How much seed did you sow,

How many trees did you plant,

How many bricks did you lay,

How many buttons did you sow,

How many patches, how many seams did you make,

To whom did you give your warmth,

Who would have stumbled but for your support,

Who did you show the way without demanding gratitude or prize,

What was your offering,

Whom did you serve?

Formidable Footprint – Wildfire / Tornado / Earthquake Exercises

 Received via e-mail today:

Please Share This Important Disaster Exercise Opportunity With Others


National Community / Neighborhood Exercise Series


The series of Formidable Footprint exercises for neighborhood, community and faith based organizations continues.

January 26 – Wildfire / February 23 – Tornado / March 30 – Earthquake 


Exercises have also been scheduled for the following scenarios:

Flood – Hurricane – Influenza Pandemic – Solar Storm


The Formidable Footprint exercise series has been developed in accordance with Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) protocols. The objective of the exercise series is for CERTs, Neighborhood Watch Programs, Neighborhood Associations, Community / Faith Based Organizations, Citizen Corps, Fire Corps and others to work as a team to become better prepared for the next disaster their community may face.

To-date 2,327 teams from across the United States have participated in one of several of the previous Formidable Footprint exercises. Here are several testimonials from participants in previous exercises:

Benicia Emergency Response Team – Benicia California

The drill Saturday was a wonderful learning experience and quit valuable. Looking forward to future opportunities.

Rowlett CERT – Rowlett Texas

Superb End-To-End exercise. Our organization really enjoyed this exercise.

American Red Cross – California

This was our first experience with this series of exercises. It appears to be very valuable. We will recruit the rest of the team to participate in a future exercise. Thank you

There is NO CHARGE for participation in any of the Formidable Footprint exercises.

For additional information or to register for up-coming exercises please access the following web site today:


Stay informed regarding future exercises by joining the Formidable Footprint LinkedIn Group.

Please Share This Important Disaster Exercise Opportunity With Others

Taking a step back, perhaps?

Friend and colleague, Scott Reuter, has written a guest blog post for FirstResponder.gov about the use of SMEM (social media and emergency management) in the recovery phase of incidents – long-term recovery, in particular.

While there are many shining examples of social media use and crowdsourcing by some EM agencies, they are not yet the norm. Many have been slow to embrace social media and the open concept, and slower still to use collaborative docs and other new crowdsourcing tools.  Both the VTCs and the public expect their government agencies to be accessible and expect to see active social media accounts.

Some of the frustrations from both sides have merit, and some of the frustrations from both sides about the other are based on misunderstandings and a lack of trust.  Most of these issues will resolve themselves soon, so I look forward to the day when we can all work together.

One example of this struggle for which I’ve had a front-row seat is in the world of disaster recovery and VOAD. My social media colleague Marlita Reddy-Hjelmfelt and I are assisting National VOAD with social media during the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort. National VOAD was so busy with recovery coordination that their social media presence was briefly unattended, which resulted in some undeserved negative posts. This was easily and quickly remedied by regularly answering questions and comments, and posting.

The last paragraph in the excerpt above gave me pause. The notion of being too busy to address comments and posts on social media channels makes me think we’re not as far ahead of the curve as we like to think in the SMEM world. Yes, we’ve had some amazing successes over the past couple of years but even with groups we’ve gotten online, there is often a great gap between what agencies are willing or, to be fair, able to do and what the public feels they should provide Interestingly, I have found myself advocating for both sides of this issue in the past few months. We need to find the right cultural balance between satisfying the public need and preserving the privacy of clients, in the case of VOAD, or unwittingly endorsing policies or activities that we are not involved in, just to show we can provide information.

While I look forward to collaboration between the different SMEM disciplines, the basic notion of networking  is lesson that is still to be learned. With regard to Sandy, even some of our colleagues were not aware of the work VOAD was doing on the ground. I think this is a fine opportunity to step back and look at social media and collaboration with a different and fresh perspective. I, for one, look forward to the challenge and to seeing what lessons we can bring back to the existing SMEM world.

Natural disaster? Smartphones to the rescue #SMEM

Software developed by computer scientists could help to quickly and accurately locate missing people, rapidly identify those suffering from malnutrition and effectively point people towards safe zones simply by checking their phones.

It is hoped the smartphone technology could potentially not only help save lives but could also ease the financial and emotional burden on aid organisations.

The largest system developed by Dr Gavin Brown and his team Peter Sutton and Lloyd Henning in the Machine Learning and Optimisation group at The University of Manchester is the REUNITE mobile and web platform.

In the aftermath of a major disaster, aid workers typically interview people who have become separated from their families. These records are normally stored in paper form, which can be lost, damaged or illegible.

Although there are systems set up to solve this issue – such as the public search facilities set up by charities such as the Red Cross – there is no universal system to provide this vital task.

REUNITE records the initial interview using the smartphone, and uploads these onto a central server. These can then be accessed by trusted aid workers via computer away from the scene, who gather as much information as they can by liaising with other users in a similar manner to a social network, before passing details onto aid workers on the ground.

vContinue reading here: scienceblog.com

Designing Houses and Communities To Be Smarter and More Resilient

As we look to create homes and communities that will keep us comfortable and safe in a world of climate change, terrorism, and other vulnerabilities, there are a handful of strategies that I group loosely under the heading of “smarter design.” Some of these strategies come into play more at the land-use planning scale, or are relevant only in certain locations that are at risk of flooding, but all are worth thinking about when planning a new home.

Where we build
Following Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans in 2005, I got involved in an effort to guide the reconstruction that would occur — shifting it towards more sustainable practices. But the very idea of spending billions of dollars to rebuild in a place that is already below sea level at a time when sea levels are projected to rise seemed a mistake. I wrote at the time:

“In many respects, New Orleans should not be rebuilt in its present location — a lowland bowl situated between a lake and a river channel where this largest of America’s rivers forms its delta. … Serious consideration should be given to the idea of relocating the city to stable land, either somewhat inland from the coast or farther from the delta where it can be better protected. But there’s almost no chance of that happening. New Orleans will be rebuilt where it is. Our nation has learned a lot in its 200-plus years, but we’re neither that smart nor that bold.”

We need to keep this discussion active. Whether it’s about low-lying coastal areas prone to hurricanes, river floodplains in the Midwest that seem to flood every few years, or valley towns in Vermont prone to flash floods, we should be asking ourselves why we continue to rebuild in places that will again be damaged by flooding.

And it’s not just flooding that should concern us. Each summer, when we read about wildfires in the fire-adapted chaparral country of southern California, we should ask ourselves why we keep building in places that keep burning. The frequency of those wildfires is expected to increase as climate change dries out that part of the country.

While we may not be able to change land-use laws to fully restrict building in places prone to flooding, fires, and other disasters, we can certainly make those decisions on our own — and not build in vulnerable places. While suitability for development is still often gauged by the 100-year flood elevations, we should be even more conservative and avoid places that are in the 500-year flood elevation. While Vermont’s valley towns are attractive, we should build our houses and roads well above the valley floors. We should try to shift people from the Midwestern river floodplains to higher-elevation areas, increasing density in those safer areas through infill housing.

Elevating living spaces and equipment
In any area remotely vulnerable to flooding, elevating the living space above the potential flood elevation will dramatically reduce damage in the event of flooding. As is commonly done in coastal construction, ground-level spaces can be designed to be inundated with water and dry out. Break-away panels can also reduce damage in the event of flowing water — as in a flooded steam or river.

Basements should be avoided where there is risk of flooding, but even when flooding isn’t a concern, it makes sense to elevate all mechanical equipment above a concrete-slab basement floor. A burst water pipe or the failure of a dishwasher or clothes washer can dump thousands of gallons of water that will find its way down to the basement. Elevating boilers, furnaces, water heaters, electrical panels, and any other equipment can dramatically reduce damage. It just makes sense.

Wettable materials
Just as we should elevate equipment so it doesn’t get wet in the event of a flood, in locations where flooding could conceivably occur we should use materials that can survive wetting without significant damage. Paper-faced drywall, any kind of wood flooring or subflooring, and wall-to-wall carpeting, for example, should be avoided in finished basements.

Instead, consider polished concrete slabs as finished floors, metal studs for interior frame walls in basements, insulation materials that can get wet and dry out (such as rigid mineral wool and polyisocyanurate), and fiberglass-faced or non-paper-faced drywall.

More compact homes
Building smaller houses makes sense for a lot of reasons: less resources to build them, smaller footprint on the land, and less energy to operate. From a resilience standpoint, if power is lost for an extended period of time or heating fuel becomes scarce or supplies cut off, smaller houses are easier to keep safely warm in the winter months using a wood stove or gas-fired space heater (some don’t require electricity to operate, because they have pilot lights and pezioelectric-powered thermostats).

I’ll get into more on minimizing heating and cooling loads next week — and why that’s such a critical resilient design strategy.

– – – – – –

In this resilient design series, I’m covering how to improve the resilience of our homes and communities, including strategies that help our homes survive natural disasters and function well in the aftermath of such events or other circumstances that result in power outages, interruptions in heating fuel, or shortages of water. We’ll see that resilient design is a life-safety issue that is critical for the security and wellbeing of families in a future of climate uncertainty and the ever-present risk of terrorism.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.

The Comfort of Home In Emergency Housing – Science and Technology – Utne Reader


Molo, a design firm based in Vancouver, BC, Canada has come up with a way to give privacy to individuals and families forced to live in temporary shelters—like community centers or the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina—after disasters strike their communities. The product, softshelter, “is a system for creating personal space within a larger shelter area in order to provide…a sense of privacy and encourage community-building in the days following a disaster.” The honeycomb walls are collapsible, easily expandable, can be molded into a variety of shapes, and connect to more pieces by concealed magnets. But they’re not just walls for dividing people; Molo is also attempting to bring some comforts of home into these stressful situations.

Read about it here: utne.com

Toyota Employees In Japan Donate to Alabama and Mississippi Tornado Disaster Relief Efforts

July 28, 2011 – Erlanger, KY – In the aftermath following the tornados that
struck parts of the southern United States earlier this spring, Toyota’s Japan
employees asked how they could reciprocate the gesture of giving to those in

Today, Toyota and its Japan employees announced a $330,000 donation to the
tornado relief efforts to be evenly distributed between the disaster relief
programs in Alabama and Mississippi.

Commenting on the new donation, Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president
of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc., said, “We
are grateful to our colleagues in Japan for their generosity to the tornado
relief efforts particularly during their own difficult time following the March
11 earthquake and tsunami. Many of our Japanese colleagues and their families
have worked and lived in parts of the U.S. where the tornados struck and many
more regularly work with affected manufacturing plants, suppliers and
dealerships in the region.  They wanted to help and their donation demonstrates
the true human spirit of reaching out to those in need. We deeply appreciate
their thoughtfulness.”

Toyota and its North American employees in May donated $1 million dollars
to the American Red Cross for tornado relief efforts in all affected states and
regions across the country.
Please visit our website:

Turning Disaster Response On Its Head : Continuity Insights (by @jorlando_2001)

Disaster response has always been dominated by the “command and control” paradigm of a highly centralized response with a few select experts issuing orders down the line to responders, employees or the public. The very first step in any response plan is to set up a tight system that focuses control in a central node and strictly limits communication that originates outside of the node.

The model assumes that response needs to be placed in the hands of trained experts who will direct and care for the untrained masses to keep them out of harm’s way. The public must also be prevented from interfering with the work of the real professionals.

Perhaps this model was adopted because many emergency managers have military backgrounds. That said, successful military operations have never been strictly top-down managed. For instance, the U.S. war effort in Iraq stalled after the top commanders insisted that units follow a prescribed method of daily patrols. Eventually, lower-level officers tried a new tactic: Stationing snipers at strategic locations around a city for continuous control of the area from a safe location. They shared the results with others using blogs, with one top general proclaiming “The only thing that worked was blogging, everyone ignored doctrine.” (Snowdon: 2010).

More importantly, the strict top-down model does not match reality. Nearly a million people needed to be moved off of Manhattan after 9/11. With the subways and tunnels closed, how did they do it? Many were assisted by hundreds of boaters who arrived in lower Manhattan and organized the evacuation themselves. No central planning, just ordinary people organizing the response spontaneously.

As one researcher noted, “Studies of evacuation at times of crises have now been undertaken for the last 50 years. They have consistently shown that at times of great crises, much of the organized behavior is emergent rather than traditional. In addition, it is of a very decentralized nature, with the dominance of pluralistic decision making, and the appearance of imaginative and innovative new attempts to cope with the contingencies that typically appear in major disasters.” (Quarantelli: 2002).

The public is becoming much more involved in disaster response. As Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, put it: “We all have to understand that there will never again be a major event in this country that won’t involve public participation. And the public participation will happen whether it’s managed or not.” (Allen: 2010).

The top-down paradigm is being replaced by a distributed “structured network” approach that is revolutionizing disaster response. Emergency managers need to understand this new model and how to harness its power in disaster response.