Archive for the ‘Disaster’ Category

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

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 To view the collaborative Oil Spill map, visit

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

[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 (, 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.

The Scale and Economic Impact of the Haiti Disaster

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Author: Dr. Lloyd Blanchard, Director of Public Performance Management, IEM

The scale of death and destruction in Haiti as a result of the earthquake on January 12 (and its aftershocks) is difficult to imagine, even with constant news coverage and video. Part of my job is to estimate economic damages that result from natural disasters, and my research on Haiti and past earthquakes suggests that this disaster is on an unprecedented scale. (See our loss estimates here:

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 200,000 people across 15 countries. This scale of human loss is expected in Haiti with a population of 8.8 million—about as many people in the Chicago area.  This is absolutely staggering!

Most death toll estimates from disasters are expressed in terms of the number of deaths per 10,000 in the population, or per 1,000 in population as in the case of big events like the 2004 tsunami. In Haiti’s case, it can be expressed relative to 100 people in the population. We estimate the Haitian death toll between 173,000 and 207,000, or around 2 deaths per every 100 persons.

There is a unique fact about human and economic losses from natural disasters. If a disaster occurs in an economically developed country, one can expect high economic losses, but few deaths. The opposite is generally true when a disaster hits less economically developed countries—fewer economic losses and many more deaths.

Here are a few examples:

  • Hurricane Katrina (2005) is the most costly natural disaster in the history of the United States, at a reported $125 billion, but only 1,800 people died as a result.
  • The 1994 Northridge earthquake in California cost around $30 billion, yet only 60 people are reported to have died.
  • Consider the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami costs and death tolls for the 3 most affected countries:
    • Indonesia: $4.4 billion in costs, 166,000 deaths
    • Sri Lanka: $1.3 billion in costs, 35,000 deaths
    • India: $1 billion in costs, 16,000 deaths

This pattern is largely because developed countries have more expensive physical infrastructure –often in harm’s way—as well as more advanced protective measures. Haiti’s poorly constructed buildings are likely the primary reason for such a high rate of death.

Haiti’s economic losses could exceed the total value of its annual production, around $7 billion. Our initial estimates of $6 to 9 billion for property losses is a projection of the reconstructed property costs, which will far surpass the value of the destroyed property. The international community will likely help Haiti rebuild to modern building standards. IEM’s $2 to 3 billion estimate in business interruption losses is for the first year only. Economic recovery will be a multi-year process that will depend in part on how fast basic infrastructure is restored and lives are brought back to a sense of normalcy.

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Author: Madhu Beriwal, CEO & President, IEM

The earth heaved up a catastrophe in Haiti. The immediate tasks fall into the lowest and most basic of the Maslow Heirarchy of Needs – rescue from the rubble to be able to breathe, food, water, shelter, medical care. This will later wrap into concern for temporary housing, family reunification, and eventually long-term recovery. Haitians will have to rebuild their capital and restore their lives – with help from international organizations and countries. We at IEM are doing our part – contingents of IEM personnel are deploying today to support the Haiti effort. They will do what they do for disasters – use their intellect to do the best they can to support the mission.

But, this blog entry is not about science, technology or analysis. It is about feeling. Of the 1.8 million residents of the capital, Port-au-Prince, almost 50,000 are feared dead. There is almost no way to wrap around that number around a human heart. With all constant coverage of this catastrophe, one stands out for me personally. A reporter mentioned that children are sleeping out in the open, right next to dead bodies – there is no shelter available for them as yet, and no-one available to shield them from sight of the dead and wounded. Can you think back to the time that you tip-toed into the dimly lit room of your sleeping child and felt the warm glow of seeing them snugly bundled up safe and sound? Can we imagine that same child sleeping out in the open, knowing that those lying around them are now dead?

America will open its hand for those children. That is the mark of this country. Super-powers are not just measured in the might of their arms, they are measured in their generosity of spirit. As we always do, we will transcend tribal instincts to tend to those that are in need – without accounting for clan, creed, or color – that is the hallmark of a Great Power.

IEM is contributing $25,000 to the Clinton Foundation. In addition, we will match the generous contributions made by our employees.We are also encouraging our corporate partners, especially members of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) to contribute to Haiti relief.

Madhu Beriwal is a nationally-recognized thought leader in emergency management, with more than 30 years of experience in disaster and emergency management, homeland security, and national defense. She has pioneered efforts to help Federal, state, and local agencies optimize limited funding to achieve maximum protection.

Madhu Beriwal is a member of the prestigious Army Science Board, and a former member of the Defense Science Board’s Task Force for Intelligence Needs on Homeland Defense, created at the request of the DoD and the CIA to address counter-terrorism intelligence requirements for homeland defense. She is also a guest lecturer for the Homeland Security Executive Leadership Program at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, California, where Ms. Beriwal teaches courses on Global Terrorism and Emergency Management.

Madhu Beriwal holds a Master’s degree in Urban Planning (Transportation and Land Use) and a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Economics.