Archive for the ‘Disaster’ Category

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Raises Questions About Planning and Zoning

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Author: David Willauer, Transportation Manager, IEM

The explosion at the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas, this week serves as a sobering reminder of the role of planning and zoning for facilities near chemical plants. Why were a middle school and a nursing home located so close to a fertilizer plant that stores and uses dangerous chemicals, such as anhydrous ammonia?

West Texas Fertilizer plant - buildings near explosion

Source: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/17/17800341-texas-town-a-disaster-blast-may-have-killed-15-injured-160?lite

Planning and zoning officials often do not have critical information such as downwind hazard zones or isolation protective action distances during the planning board process. As a result, schools, nursing homes, residential subdivisions, and child care facilities are often built too close to chemical facilities with downwind hazard zones or too close to highways and railroads transporting chemicals with known recommended isolation protective action distances.

IEM is working with local officials and industries in several states to gather real data about hazardous materials storage and transport and to translate that into actionable intelligence that helps planning officials make more informed zoning and facility siting decisions. This process is also building stronger bonds between industry, communities, and local officials as they collaborate more closely to improve public protection.

For details about the explosion, see Explosion hits fertilizer plant north of Waco, Texas.

 

 

Economic Losses From New Zealand’s Recent Earthquake Could Reach $5–6 Billion US

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Author: Dr. Lloyd Blanchard, IEM Consultant

In the early morning of September 4, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck the South Island of New Zealand. Widespread damage resulted, primarily centered on Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island with a population of approximately 372,000. This earthquake is the worst in the country’s history.

IEM estimates total damage costs (insured losses and uninsured damages) of $5 to $6 billion US (NZ$6.8 billion to NZ$8.2 billion). (more…)

The Perfect Storm: 2010 Hurricane Season, the worst yet?

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President of IEM

Hurricane Katrina was thought to be the perfect storm. It punched Louisiana and Mississippi, causing horrific loss of life, tremendous damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure for miles, and a bruised national psyche.

But, Katrina may not be the perfect storm. The perfect storm may be coming to the Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season.

There are a number of currents that are steering this perfect storm:

The most active hurricane season in recent memory – scientists have predicted that the 2010 hurricane season, stretching from June 1 to November 30, will be very active –more active than the average for the last 50 years of the previous century. The hurricane spawning waters of the Atlantic Ocean are warm, the El Niño (the “good cholesterol” of hurricanes) is weak, and La Niña (the “bad cholesterol” of hurricanes) is expected to get strong during the peak of the hurricane season. (more…)

A Lesson Learned from Katrina? The New Orleans City Assisted Evacuation Plan

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Author: Eston Spain, Emergency Planner, IEM

A few years ago, I witnessed and lived through the before and after of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.  I saw the problems in evacuating from New Orleans. I was greatly relieved when the City of New Orleans released the City Assisted Evacuation Plan. These are my observations and recommendations about their plan.

As frightful and nerve wracking as it is waiting for a hurricane to make landfall, it can be even more dreadful if you don’t have the means to evacuate.  Maybe it’s because you thought how chic it would be to give up your car and commute everyday to your job via one of the lovely streetcars that New Orleans is famous for. Unfortunately, though, there are others who simply lack the financial means, or for other reasons cannot evacuate on their own. 

In 2008, the City of New Orleans created the City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP) to make sure that the city’s most vulnerable citizens have a way to evacuate. The purpose of the CAEP is to help citizens who want to leave during an emergency, but lack the capability to self-evacuate.[1] The general concept of the plan is that the city utilizes its facilities, manpower, and other resources to provide assistance to citizens who cannot self-evacuate during the declaration of an emergency. The CAEP is available online from the City of New Orleans’ website (http://www.cityofno.com/). The CAEP comes with an evacuation map as part of the evacuation plan and a flow chart to explain how the process works. The map depicted in the CAEP lists 17 evacuation centers; all serviced by the New Orleans Regional Transportation Authority (NORTA or RTA) buses. (more…)

BP Oil Spill, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11—Will We Learn From History?

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A Message from IEM President and CEO, Madhu Beriwal

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am reminded again of the lessons that Katrina taught. These lessons are especially important now, as a new monster lurks in the Gulf. This time it is not a hurricane—it’s oil gushing from BP’s exploded Deepwater Horizon rig. And waters are warmer this year than in the past few years, foretelling a bad hurricane season.

I remember these words:

“There is terrible potential for fatal harm to the region and its inhabitants from a storm of this severity … The northerly track of the storms depicted here seems to place a majestic volume of surge, driven inland from the Gulf, against the levee systems south of New Orleans … Levees seem to be overtopped for the first time in major sections … Populated areas could have most residential and some commercial structures destroyed totally … All human efforts feasible should be made to secure the largest evacuation response rate possible.”

I, Madhu Beriwal, was the author of those words in 1985—20 years before Hurricane Katrina struck. This scenario and 49 others were included in the Southeast Louisiana Storm Surge Atlas. The atlas was a single document detailing the varieties of hurricanes that could affect New Orleans. The consequences of such storms were not new to me then or now.

In 2004, IEM created a catastrophic hurricane scenario for an All-Government exercise focused on response planning for New Orleans. That hypothetical scenario was called Hurricane Pam. One year later, the hypothetical Pam became reality in Hurricane Katrina. (more…)

Nurses as Emergency Managers Prepping for Any Disaster

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Note: This article is the third in a periodic series of online articles focusing on emergency management and how its principles can be incorporated into nursing practice. Full articles appear on http://nursing.advanceweb.com

There are a lot of views on how to begin the preparedness process. There are even more on how to do a “proper” risk assessment. People go through multiple years of post graduate training and can receive a PhD in risk management and assessment. So, how can a nurse in the field possibly use risk assessment without an advance degree on the topic? That’s what this article is designed to tell them. So, if you want a down and dirty review on risk assessment and how it applies to the medical field, this is the article for you!

See Full Prepping for Any Disaster article

Scientists and citizens collaborate on Cahooots GIS Map of Gulf Coast oil spill

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Author: Dr. Neeraj Mainkar, Physicist/Manager, Software Development, IEM

Information sharing and collaboration among the general population for disaster management and response is a very powerful thing. Take the current BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill disaster for example. Since the start of this catastrophic event, Cahooots is being used by thousands of individuals, agencies, and response groups to post, share, and gain information about this ongoing environmental tragedy. Witnesses on the ground have reported and shared oil sightings in the water, fouled wildlife sightings on the Gulf shore, and conditions at popular beach resorts along the Gulf coast.

BP Gulf Oil Spill MapThis information on the Gulf oil spill response, oiled wildlife and the 21st century’s greatest environmental disaster is being collected in a powerful collaborative GIS mapping tool. The information on the Cahooots Gulf Oil Spill map is instantaneous, real-time and entirely decentralized. To help collaborate with us on Gulf oil spill data, register for a free account at www.cahooots.com. To view the collaborative Oil Spill map, visit www.cahooots.com/gridresponder/gulfspill/impact.gsp.

Is the U.S. ready for a public/private aeromedical evacuation model?

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Author: Shelby Rushing, Emergency Management Planner, IEM

Since August 2008, when deployed to New Orleans to assist with the evacuation of transportation-dependent citizens during Hurricane Gustav, I have been involved in evacuation planning in one capacity or another. At the recent National Evacuation Conference in New Orleans, several IEM colleagues and I delivered presentations on our experiences with the planning and execution of evacuations by air and rail.

Also on the agenda was Annika Wallengren of the Swedish Transport Agency who discussed that country’s successful private/public aeromedical evacuation model – the Swedish National Air Medevac System.

The Swedish Transport Agency, in partnership with Scandinavian Airlines and the county council of Västerbotten, developed and operates this emergency aeromedical system, which uses a converted Boeing 737 jet to transport individuals to hospitals and other medical care locations. The commercial jet can be converted rather quickly – in approximately 6 hours – and can carry up to a dozen patients and an additional 20 “lightly” injured patients, relatives, or other passengers.

This service was first employed during the Mumbai terrorist attacks in December 2008 to evacuate injured Europeans from India to London. According to Annika, a similar system exists in Italy, but other countries have been slow to adopt this public/private aeromedical medical model.

Perhaps we should consider such collaboration in the U.S.

In this country, aeromedical missions are conducted by the Department of Defense using military cargo aircraft. The Swedish model appears to represent an alternative that deserves consideration, with DoD aircraft being reserved as a last resort contingency.

Hospital Preparedness: A Critical Community Infrastructure

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Author: Erin Downey MPH, ScD, Senior Health Systems Analyst, IEM

Hospitals are community symbols. Their ability to provide patient care is an indicator of a functioning society. During disasters their continued ability to provide patient care is essential, not only for disaster victims, but for their role in representing a resilient community that can withstand adversity.

Hospitals are also dependent upon critical infrastructures, e.g., power, water, information technology. The loss of their operational capacity during a disaster is devastating to a community and will call to question the confidence its members have in their jurisdictional leadership – at local, state or national levels. Many would argue that hospitals are critical community infrastructures in and of themselves.

The Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP), initiated by the Bush Administration and continued in the Obama Administration, is now in its eighth year of funding and represents an approximate $4 billion national investment. It is clear that strengthening hospitals’ resiliency is a priority, but given its competition with other national priorities, are preparedness levels improving fast enough? Will US hospitals be prepared not if, but when, our next disaster occurs?

We know that disaster frequency is increasing, both natural and manmade threats, nationally and internationally. Since HPP was started, the US has experienced over 475 federally declared disasters of over 20 disaster types.[1] Most recently, the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes reveal a painful truth: any community is at risk, at any time, for abrupt devastation. Hospitals as critical community infrastructures must be strengthened.

Mitigation investment strategies that ensure hospital operational status in post-disaster periods are essential. In addition to power, water, information technology, hospitals must be designed architecturally to withstand threats. Expenditures that consider hospital security during its formation represent approximately 4% of the construction costs—far less than those of rebuilding, or redesigning existing construction.[2]

Further, mitigation strategies must stem from quantitative, high quality research efforts that accurately reflect ground truths of disasters—not just US disasters, but global disasters. The World Association for Disaster Emergency Medicine promotes the standardization of disaster terminology and research design. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction promotes research agendas in economically disadvantaged countries. In “Safe Hospitals” the Pan American Health Organization underscores that “Protecting critical health facilities, particularly hospitals, from the avoidable consequences of disasters, is not only essential to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, but also a social and political necessity.”

Given the devastation that is now seen in both Haiti and Chile, and given the ongoing impacts of disasters that are of higher probability and of lower catastrophic consequence (e.g., flash flooding and severe storms) ongoing research and mitigation strategies specific to hospitals must emphasize their role as a critical community infrastructure.


[1] Retrieved February 16, 2010 from http://www.fema.gov/news/disaster_totals_annual.fema.

[2] Boroschek, Krauskopf R, Retamales Saavedra R. Guidelines for Vulnerability Reduction in the Design of New Health Facilities. Washington DC: Pan American Health Organization; 2004.

Information Sharing in Disasters

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Author: William Doerr Davis, Director of Software Development, IEM

The crisis in Haiti is unfolding in a world that has never been more connected in terms of information, people, and emotion. The 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2004 tsunami, and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina showed us that the web can be a responsible source of information for billions of people all over the world. However, the information flow in response to the recent Haiti earthquakes is much different due to an expansion of web 2.0 platforms. When Katrina struck, Facebook had barely begun its explosive growth, Twitter had not yet been created, and not a single person carried the now ubiquitous iPhone. So despite having many web sources of information during those disasters, we still relied heavily upon the traditional news networks for information about what was happening.

Today, we see that information is flowing at a more rapid pace and from many more sources. As consumers of this information, we are able to follow up-to-the minute disaster reports through Twitter and Facebook —all from the convenience of a cell phone that is by our side 24/7. The application of these technologies in response to a disaster were considered futuristic a mere decade ago.

While Haiti has helped us realize how the flow of information can bring us unprecedented knowledge during a disaster, there is still much work to be done to better harness that knowledge to help communities respond and recover.  This is a key focus area for IEM’s technology teams. We are working on solutions that leverage the latest generation of web 2.0 technologies while also working to overcome one of the most basic challenges facing emergency managers in a disaster —how to share, consume, and act upon knowledge that can save people’s lives.

The technologies that enable this are improving each day and, with each disaster, organizations, communities, and public officials are learning how they can incorporate these tools into their processes.  One of the solutions IEM has developed is a collaboration platform called Cahooots (www.cahooots.com), which is built upon an open source framework and uses the power of social networking to help emergency managers, and even individual citizens, share information related to a disaster. In contrast to Twitter and Facebook, Cahooots allows anyone to post information to a map, so that a “picture” of a particular set of information can develop. Other technology companies have also taken up similar challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work collectively with the entire web community to translate information sharing into lives saved and communities rebuilt.

If even one life can be saved by a piece of information, the technology will be a success.