Submitted by Anna K. Schwab, Program Manager

The Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters is a PLAN!T NOW ally that conducts research associated with natural hazards and translates those findings into practice.

The Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters experienced a busy year during 2010, hosting several conferences and workshops, initiating new projects and producing the Center’s first iteration of its Strategic Plan, all while continuing to pursue an intense research agenda with our many colleagues and partners.

Established in 2008 as a research center headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Hazards Center seeks to advance the understanding of hazards resilience through rigorous interdisciplinary research; create translational models that move knowledge into practice; and develop education, extension and training methods that reflect the diversity and needs of targeted audiences. With a major grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the UNC Hazards Center also administers DIEM, the DHS Center of Excellence for Natural Disasters, Coastal Infrastructure and Emergency Management, a coalition of principal investigators located at 19 institutions throughout the United States. DIEM partners are pursuing innovative projects in disciplines as diverse as engineering, planning, coastal modeling, psychology and economics, as well as projects in other fields that have direct bearing on the policy and practice of hazards management in its broadest context.

Applying Center Expertise to Address the Gulf Oil Spill

During 2010, several Center researchers demonstrated they are adept at addressing emerging issues, often with quick turnaround results during and immediately following a disaster. For example, Dr. Rick Luettich’s ability to generate computer models of storm surge and flooding was put to use during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Luettich and his colleagues were able to extend the high resolution models normally used during hurricanes to track oil in near-shore waters of the Gulf, providing valuable information to the U.S. Coast Guard and emergency managers in the Gulf region. While Luettich’s study focused on the physical impact of the spill, DIEM partner Dr. Mary Lou Kelley of Louisiana State University seized the opportunity to expand her current research into the psychological impact of disasters to look into the social-psychological effects that the BP Spill is having on Gulf Coast residents. Dr. Kelley has added to the data gathered following Hurricane Katrina to include information about how families in communities that are directly impacted by the spill are coping with its effects. Her work will result in improved evaluative tools that can help therapists and others provide services that meet the needs of disaster victims.

Expanding the Research Portfolio

As current projects continue to mature and investigators produce more robust findings, Hazards Center research has expanded to include the study of additional natural hazards while increasing the number of social science and planning research projects. Spinoff projects with potential for immediate and direct benefit to federal, state and local stakeholders include: a study of FEMA’s Community Rating System flood hazard reduction plans; an assessment of select state disaster recovery plans; and a joint project with the UNC Institute for the Environment and University of Maryland-based DHS Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism (START) to assess the social and physical dimensions of disaster resilience at the community level. Of particular value to the residents of North Carolina is the Center’s participation in the N.C. Sea Level Rise Risk Management. With funding from FEMA and the N.C. Division of Emergency Management, UNC researchers are currently assessing existing state policies, programs and regulations and their effect on the ability of the state to successfully adapt to rising sea levels. In the next phase of the project, investigators will recommend adaptation strategies the state may pursue to reduce the impacts of sea level rise on North Carolina coastal communities.

Workshops and Other Events

The Hazards Center hosted several exciting events during 2010, many of which were open to the public. In September, the Hazards Center partnered with the Center for the Study of the American South to convene “Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later: A Humanities Focused Observance.” Through an art exhibit, live music, storytelling and speakers from New Orleans and coastal Mississippi, participants and guests explored the ways individuals, communities and the Gulf Coast region were affected by Hurricane Katrina, how they survived the disaster and how they are preparing for a more resilient future. Photographs taken by Donn Young, a resident of New Orleans whose own studio was destroyed by the storm and who was commissioned to document the aftermath of the event, were the highlight of the three-day event. Many of the photographs are now on display at the Hazards Center headquarters located in Chapel Hill, N.C. A select number of the photographs will be available for viewing on the Hazards Center website in early 2011.

In October, Dr. Stephen Flynn, President of the Center for National Policy, was a guest of the Hazards Center and our partners at the Institute for Homeland Security at Duke University. Dr. Flynn gave a public lecture entitled “Katrina, Haiti, Deepwater Horizon: Building a More Resilient World.” Flynn also met with a group of graduate and undergraduate students over breakfast to talk about research and potential careers in the hazards management and disaster fields, followed by a roundtable event with invited guests from academia, emergency management professionals, and local and state officials to discuss the current state of security building and potential future directions in applied hazards research.

In November, the Hazards Center convened a workshop on Disaster Recovery, in partnership with the Public Entity Risk Institute and California Polytechnic State University. With a grant from the National Science Foundation, hazards scholars from across the United States met to develop a working theory of disaster recovery. Published proceedings of the Disaster Recovery Workshop released in spring 2011, will define the model, propose a research agenda and identify possible sources of funding to test the theory.

The Way Forward

Looking ahead to 2011, the Center will move forward in accordance with the new strategic plan, which clarified our mission and purpose, and will help guide progress across both research and administrative dimensions. This will be accomplished through: 1) strategic expansion of research activities in critical areas (e.g., climate change-related work); 2) leveraged expansion of ongoing research activities to expand the scope and application of results, tools and techniques; and 3) opportunistic expansion of research activities as dictated by critical events, including major disasters. We look forward to an exciting year as our center continues to mature, evolve, and expand our understanding of natural hazards and disasters and apply these research findings in practice.

Image: Photos like this of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward at sunrise from Donn Young were featured at the “Hurricane Katrina Five Years Later” event hosted by the UNC Hazards Center. Photo courtesy of Donn Young/UNC Hazards Center.


For the year, it was on par with sweltering 1998

While snowy, icy winter weather has taken center stage in much of the United States this December, possibly the most important weather story of 2010 is just how hot it became.

In October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center reported that the year-to-date average temperatures across the world were tied for the warmest land and ocean temperatures on record. The same period in 2010 saw a combined land-and-sea temperature average of 58.67 F, the mark reached at the same point in 1998. This year’s average land and ocean temperatures, taken independently in the January-September period, were the second highest on record, behind on those in 2007 and 1998, respectively. NOAA records date back to the 1880s, and all 2010 data is considered preliminary.

In November, the Climate Data Center saw information that remained consistent with the trend, as October 2010 was the eight-warmest ever recorded, almost a full degree warmer than the 20th-century average temperature in Fahrenheit. This was consistent with September, also the eight-warmest on record.

Though the fall’s temperatures were higher than the historical average, it was the past spring that helped 2010 set records. In March, the global average land and sea temperature was the warmest on record, at 56.3 F. April’s average, 58.1 F, also set records. At 58.6 F, May also set records for the 130 years of monitored global average temperatures.

In June, the Climate Data Center saw the highest global average for the month on record, at 61.1 F. July was only the second warmest on record, behind 1998, but global average temperatures reached 61.6 F. August 2010 was the third-warmest year-to-year August on record, behind only 1998 and 2009.

In an early December, in an Agence France Presse article, World Meteorological Organization Secretary General Michel Jarraud was quoted as saying, “2010 is almost certain to be in the top three warmest years on record. It is probably the warmest one up to October-November. …The decade from 2001 to 2010 has set a new record, it will be the warmest decade ever since we have records.”

Jarraud said that the temperatures were a call to action on enacting policies curbing climate change.
“This is the (scientific) foundation to say where we are now, these are the facts,” he said. “Of course, if nothing is done, this curve will go on increasing and increasing, it will go up and up.”
While not as record-setting as the spring, the summer produced some notable temperature extremes. According to NOAA’s National Weather Service, Los Angeles set a new all-time high temperature for the area on Sept. 27 when temperatures reached 113 F, surpassing the previous record set in June 1990.

In the southern hemisphere, though, conditions were different. According to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, the country had its coolest maximum temperatures in that month since 1984.

Though high temperatures were the trend earlier in the year, the winter season could actually bring colder-than-average temperatures in some parts of the United States, according to NOAA. The Pacific Northwest and northern plains states will likely see colder and wetter temperatures than normal, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, because of a moderate to strong La Niña. The rest of the United States should expect higher-than-average winter temperatures, according to the report.

For more information, or to read the Climate Data Center’s reports, visit http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/?report=global.


Building an emergency supply kit is key for cold weather

Winter is quickly approaching and along with that holiday cheer should come preparation for the winter storms. As with most extreme weather, it is not always the temperatures or storms that create the immediate danger but often the public’s reaction and lack of knowledge and readiness that may cause trouble when storms arrive. Always aim to be ahead of the storm by having proper supplies at your disposal and follow some of our important tips and guidelines that are guaranteed to help.

An Emergency Supply Kit is not only needed during the winter months but throughout the year, having one is crucial to your safety and the safety of others. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends the following tips for the winter season:

Items in any emergency kit should include:
Water (one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days)
Non-perishable food
Battery-powered (with extra batteries) or hand crank radio
Flashlight (with extra batteries)
Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place
Local maps
Wrench or pliers to turn of utilities
Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
Cell phone
First aid kit

These additional supplies are necessary for areas experiencing winter weather:
Rock salt to melt ice on walkways
Snow shovels
Sand to improve traction

Remember to always keep a plan in mind and open lines of communication with your family. Take time to talk about a Family Emergency Plan. Decide where your family will meet within and away from your neighborhood in the chance that you are separated from one another. Perhaps even choose a long-distance contact that can relay a message to the the family members who are separated and is not at risk of being part of the weather emergency.

Winterizing the home:

  • Prepare for possible isolation in your home by having sufficient heating fuel such as dry, seasoned wood, as regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • Insulate walls and attics, caulk and weather-stripping doors and windows and install storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).

Preparing your car:

  • Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:
    Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
    Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
    Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
    Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is a serious danger, is deadly and is often undetectable.
    Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas.
    Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
    Lights and flashing hazard lights – check for serviceability.
    Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
    Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
    Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.

  • Install good winter tires and make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions, though some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
  • Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season.
  • Place a winter emergency kit in each car that includes: a shovel; windshield scraper and small broom; flashlight; battery-powered radio; extra batteries; water; snack food; matches; extra hats, socks and mittens; first aid kit with pocket knife; necessary medications; blankets; tow chain or rope; road salt and sand; booster cables; emergency flares; and a fluorescent distress flag

For more information on preparing for winter storms, visit http://www.fema.gov/hazard/winter/index.shtm.

"Surviving Disaster deconstructs how the brain responds to life-or-death events—so that we can all learn to do better. The documentary includes many characters from my book, in addition to other survivors of all kinds of trauma, from tsunami to car crashes. One young survivor describes in unflinching detail exactly what it felt like to get out of a house fire as a little girl in Texas. It is the kind of story you will never forget once you see it, and it is told with a purpose—to help the rest of us become smarter and stronger in our own homes and communities." - Amanda Ripley, author of THE UNTHINKABLE, Who Survives When Disaster Strikes.

It's been just over five years since this revolutionary book was first published and we urge you to celebrate by buying a copy of THE UNTHINKABLE. It's essential mantra is ours : practice makes perfect where preparedness is concerned. Go to PBS.com to purchase the companion documentary that will change your life and perspective about emergency preparedness, based on the book by the insightfully, plain-spoken Amanda Ripley. Click here and buy it on AMAZON!


You may already know that our Owlie Skywarn is a severe weather prep hero! Now, THE YMP WEATHERFEST RALLIES are being held in cities all over the country, in cooperation with The National Weather Service, to help prepare the nation's kids as well as their parents and teachers for flash floods, climate change, storms and tornadoes, and more.

These events include appearances by OWLIE SKYWARN, the mascot and lots of participation by community first responders and other stakeholders! Go to www.youngmeteorologist.org/wrn for more information. And GO TO www.youngmeteorologist.org to PLAY THE GAME!


You can help protect low-income and disadvantaged families in Mexico and the U.S.!

PLAN!T NOW, in collaboration with Estes Mexico and other corporate partners, is working to provide life-saving weather survival kits--including water, storage-ready food, flashlights, batteries, first-aid kits and other critical supplies--and emergency family plans for residents in two severe-weather vulnerable towns in Mexico and the U.S.

Your tax-deductible donation today helps save lives tomorrow--give now.

For more information and the metric for this project, click here.