Is Zika Here to Stay?

August 22nd, 2016

Author: Rashid Chotani, Senior Scientist, IEM

With Zika virus making its presence known in the United States and local transmission occurring in Florida, there is a growing concern about the risk of Zika. But we have to ask the question: WHY is it spreading so rapidly, and why now? Once Zika virus was identified in Brazil, with knowledge from previous outbreaks, it was obvious that the disease would spread across the Americas and was here to stay. The BIG question was when it would emerge as a locally-transmitted disease in the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »

How the Olympics Will Affect the Risks of Zika

August 19th, 2016

Author: Dr. Rashid Chotani, Senior Scientist, IEM

IEM’s Dr. Rashid Chotani discusses the Zika virus outbreak and the risks the Olympics in Rio pose to the spread of the disease. Dr. Chotani predicted that the disease would surface in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Local mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission has been reported in Wynwood, a neighborhood in Miami, FL. A Texas resident who recently traveled to an area of Miami known as a “hot spot” for local Zika transmission tested positive for the virus, the Texas.

video-thumbnail-valuesHow the Olympics Will Effect Zika Outbreak (7:10)

This was filmed at the International Center for Terrorism Studies at The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Seminar, June 23, 2016.

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part Three: Understanding the Impact (or the “What’s Next?”)

June 21st, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

This is Part 3 of a three-part series on hurricane analysis. Part 1, “Determining the What,” dealt with anticipating the impact of a tropical system and Part 2, “Consequences (Or the ‘So What?’)” focused on consequence management. 

Hurricane Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City on October 29, 2012, at approximately 8 p.m. The 933-kilometer-wide storm produced 158 kph winds as it moved northwest toward the New Jersey coast as a Category 1 hurricane. A new state record was set for the lowest recorded barometric pressure (an indicator of storm strength), which was measured at 27.94 inches at landfall.

Hurricane Sandy’s impacts on New Jersey included high winds with hurricane-force gusts, storm surge, and significant rainfall. Surge heights were considered major to record-level—i.e., in the 6- to 9-foot range—along the coast, resulting in major inundation of coastal areas and flooding of barrier islands. Rainfall levels totaled up to 7 inches for most locations in New Jersey. Read the rest of this entry »

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part Two: Consequences (Or the “So What?”)

June 13th, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

This is Part 2 of a three-part series on hurricane analysis. Part 1, “Determining the What,” dealt with anticipating the impact of a tropical system. We discussed various tools and projections used by the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to predict the potential impact of a tropical system. This post focuses on consequence management.

Historical data on the impact of past storms was useful in projecting potential consequences in New Jersey from Hurricane Sandy. In addition, FEMA, through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), provided maps of flood-prone areas and historical data on property flooding insurance claims as part of its mission to reduce the impact of flooding on private and public structures. GIS mapping helped emergency managers define facilities most at risk, including key residences and businesses; hospitals and schools; and critical infrastructure, such as power plants, water/wastewater treatment facilities, and police, fire, and emergency medical service (EMS) stations. Read the rest of this entry »

The Challenge of Developing Situational Awareness During Hurricane Disasters—Part One: Determining the What

June 1st, 2016

Author: Jim Weldin, Senior Emergency Planner, IEM

These series of articles will discuss the aspect of gaining situational awareness during hurricane disasters. The overall theme is to determine the potential storm impact, the consequence of that impact, and finally utilization of this information to provide recommendations for consequence management.


Emergency management and civil defense agencies are responsible for coordinating response to a disaster. This coordination occurs in a centralized location—the emergency operations center—where information is gathered and analyzed to determine the impact or potential impact of an incident, ascertain resource needs, and establish priorities for assigning resources where they are needed most.

I was engaged in this process while supporting the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States in October 2012. My experience in the State Emergency Operations Center and 2 weeks later in the Joint Field Office working with 2,600 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff was consistent with the challenges that every emergency operations center around the world faces when confronted with a dangerous natural disaster: determining the what, the so what, and the what’s next.

Part One: Determining the What!

The State of New Jersey is the most densely populated in the United States, with a population of approximately 9 million people. Much of that population is centered in the urban areas in the northeast part of the state near New York City and coast of the Atlantic Ocean coast. The unmet needs of this large urban area can quickly overwhelm the capability to deliver services.

To coordinate the assistance needed during disasters, a critical function of the emergency operations center is to determine what is occurring, the impact or the consequence of what is occurring (the so what), and the consequence management or the plan to respond (the what’s next). Significant challenges, however, impede the ability to determine these three elements. Read the rest of this entry »

Planning to Provide Continuity

May 23rd, 2016
Disaster Recovery for Businesses

An open sign is one of the few items left after a tornado struck this convenient store in Oklahoma in 2013. (Photo: State Farm/Flickr)

Author: Gary Scronce, Director of Preparedness Programs, IEM

Where I live in Louisiana, we have been hearing a little more about emergency preparedness than normal lately with the start of hurricane season on June 1 fast approaching. Then this morning, I noticed that the week of May 16-20, 2016 has been designated as Business Continuity Awareness Week. A lot of the focus of the emergency management community prior to hurricane season is on trying to get the public to prepare itself and rightly so. During the first 48-72 hours after a hurricane, people should be prepared to take care of themselves. So how does this tie to Business Continuity? In two important ways at least.

First, the public sector version of Business Continuity Planning (BCP) is Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP). Governments develop COOP plans to help reduce or prevent the risk of critical government services and functions going offline in a disaster. For those risks that can’t be prevented, COOP planning prioritizes those services and functions and seeks to minimize the time it takes to recover them if they go offline. The faster governments can recover, the faster they can resume providing day to day services to their citizens/customers, respond to their emergency needs and support their recovery from disaster.  Being able to do those things helps a community get back to “normal” faster. Read the rest of this entry »

Crude Oil Derailments Continue – Are You Prepared?

May 1st, 2014

trainderailmentAuthor: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

Another train transporting crude oil derailed yesterday, this time in downtown Lynchburg, VA, resulting in a large fire and oil spill on the James River. CSX reported 15 tank cars derailed on a train traveling from Chicago to Virginia, four of which breached and caught fire. While there were no injuries reported, a half-mile evacuation was ordered by local officials.

Crude oil train derailments are occurring with alarming regularity in North America, and this trend is likely to continue. Advances in methods of extracting oil from shale formations in North Dakota and Canada have led to a dramatic surge in North American oil production. With gaps in the pipeline network connecting production facilities to U.S. oil refineries, producers are relying on rail carriers to transport significant amounts of crude oil to meet this new demand. U.S. freight railroads have carried more than 400,000 carloads of crude oil in 2013 compared to 9,500 carloads in 2008. With this level of crude oil transport continuing for the foreseeable future, it is critical that local officials prepare to respond to these types of incidents.

hazardsignHigher Flammability of Bakken Shale Oil
Bakken Shale Oil is more volatile than other crude oil, increasing the probability of incidents we have seen in Quebec, Alabama, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania, and now Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting Our Armed Forces Critical Infrastructure: Prioritize Patriot

March 14th, 2014

Author:  Maj. Gen. Richard Rowe, US Army (Ret.), IEM Vice President of Response and Defense

Reprinted from The Hill

patriotJust 50 years ago, theater missile defenses arrayed our nation’s capital.  Since then, we were able to close down the homeland Nike Hercules sites. And for the past 13 years, we have dealt with specific 9-11 type threats by way of air and ground based alert interceptor aircraft and selected deployment of limited short-range air defense capabilities based upon specific threat assessments.

But as the Department of Defense designs our Armed Forces for the future, the joint force capabilities must continue to be responsive to our Combatant Commanders’ requirements.  That being said, today – and in the foreseeable future – combatant commanders must consider the threat from aircraft and ballistic missiles. This includes the imperative of protection that can only be provided by Patriot, THAAD, and the SM-3. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Alerting Protocol Used in Response to October 2013 Fires in Australia

December 10th, 2013

Author: Dr. Patti Aymond, Senior Scientist, IEMemergency022

Research shows that in an emergency situation, the most effective warnings are those that are delivered consistently over multiple channels. When people hear the same message from different sources, they are convinced it is real and are motivated to take action.

However, with so many diverse warning technologies available, it has been a challenge to develop a standard format that can be used to distribute a consistent message successfully by all systems.

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has addressed this challenge by developing the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP—a message standard to support the automatic exchange of consistent alert and warning messages among different types of communication systems. CAP increases warning effectiveness and minimizes the complexity of notification since the CAP format is used by a variety of different systems.

As a software developer and a partner in OASIS standards development, I am proud to see the benefits of CAP coming to life through actual use in emergency management situations. This year, we saw it used during the unfortunate series of wildfires in New South Wales, Australia. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Oil Train Disaster: Are You Prepared if it Happens in Your Town?

November 12th, 2013

Last week a 60-car crude oil train derailed and caught fire in Western Alabama. To many, the derailment and subsequent conflagration of a 60-car crude oil unit train in rural Alabama may be somewhat of a surprise. After all, Alabama is a long way from North Dakota, the origin of the crude oil transported by rail. However, this is a reminder that this type of incident can occur almost anywhere in the United States and Canada that is connected by North America’s extensive rail network.

Smoke rises from a number of cars that derailed and exploded from a train carrying crude oil in Aliceville

Photo credit: Reuters/WBMA

The rapid expansion of crude oil shipments by rail in North America is the direct result of more domestic sources of crude oil. U.S. Class I railroads originated 93,312 carloads of crude oil in the third quarter of 2013, up 44.3 percent over the 64,658 carloads originated in the third quarter of 2012. Since U.S. pipeline projects are currently stalled, this trend of transporting crude by rail is expected to continue. Read the rest of this entry »