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Preparing Our Communities for Climate Impacts: Recommendations for Federal Action

October 16, 2014 Comments off

Preparing Our Communities for Climate Impacts: Recommendations for Federal Action
Source: Georgetown Climate Center

The Georgetown Climate Center released 100 recommendations today to improve federal programs that could be used to prepare for climate change. The new report will inform the White House State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.

The report, Preparing Our Communities for Climate Impacts: Recommendations for Federal Action, draws from a series of workshops with leading federal, state and local officials and builds upon lessons learned post-disaster in New Orleans (following Hurricane Katrina), New York (following Hurricane Sandy) and Vermont (after Hurricane Irene). The report identifies more than 30 federal programs, initiatives and laws that can be used to prepare for extreme events such as storms, floods and heat waves as well as rising seas.

The report recognizes that recent extreme weather events and the mounting economic losses from such events have shown how vulnerable many states and communities are to climate change. Although state and local governments will be the primary actors when it comes to preparing for climate change impacts, the federal government can boost – or impede – preparedness.

See also: State and Local Adaptation Plans

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CBO — Understanding FEMA’s Rate-Setting Methods for the National Flood Insurance Program (presentation)

October 10, 2014 Comments off

Understanding FEMA’s Rate-Setting Methods for the National Flood Insurance Program
Source: Congressional Budget Office

Program Goals

  • Help property owners recover from floods
  • Limit federal costs
  • Reduce flood losses – Better incentives for property owners – Better floodplain management
  • Allow floodplains to play their natural beneficial roles

Encroaching Tides; Tidal flooding, driven by sea level rise, will dramatically increase in U.S. East and Gulf Coast communities over the next 30 years

October 9, 2014 Comments off

Encroaching Tides; Tidal flooding, driven by sea level rise, will dramatically increase in U.S. East and Gulf Coast communities over the next 30 years
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Today scores of coastal communities are seeing more frequent flooding during high tides. As sea level rises higher over the next 15 to 30 years, tidal flooding is expected to occur more often, cause more disruption, and even render some areas unusable — all within the time frame of a typical home mortgage.

An analysis of 52 tide gauges in communities stretching from Portland, Maine to Freeport, Texas shows that most of these communities will experience a steep increase in the number and severity of tidal flooding events over the coming decades, with significant implications for property, infrastructure, and daily life in affected areas.

Given the substantial and nearly ubiquitous rise in the frequency of floods at these 52 locations, many other communities along the East and Gulf Coasts will need to brace for similar changes.

DHS OIG — Flawed FEMA System Could Hamper Disaster Relief

October 7, 2014 Comments off

Flawed FEMA System Could Hamper Disaster Relief (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General

After spending more than $247 million on a high-tech system, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may still not be able to efficiently deliver emergency supplies to survivors of a catastrophic disaster, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit has found.

OIG Report 14-151, “FEMA’s Logistics Supply Chain Management System May Not Be Effective During a Catastrophic Disaster,” found the system, developed over nine years, cannot interface with those of its partners and suppliers, making it difficult to track and locate emergency supplies. The report also noted that FEMA does not have enough trained employees to efficiently operate the system.

+ Full Report (PDF)

FEMA Miscalculation Costs Taxpayers $12 Million

October 1, 2014 Comments off

FEMA Miscalculation Costs Taxpayers $12 Million (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials did not follow their own disaster relief guidelines in response to 2008 flooding in Cedar Rapids, IA, resulting in a loss to taxpayers of more than $12 million, according to a new report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Homeland Security.

OIG auditors determined that officials did not correctly follow FEMA’s “50 Percent Rule” in determining that four flood-damaged structures in Cedar Rapids be replaced, rather than repaired. The rule states that Federal funds can be used to replace damaged structures only when the cost of repairs meets or exceeds 50 percent of the repair costs. The OIG found that none of the four structures – the Main Library, two animal control facilities and a park maintenance shop – met the 50 percent threshold and could have been repaired for a total of $8.57 million. FEMA granted the city more than $20.6 million to replace the buildings.

“FEMA needs to improve and refine its calculations in regard to repairing or replacing damaged facilities,” said Inspector General John Roth. “We have made several recommendations that will assist FEMA in that process and hopefully prevent misspending on disaster relief.”

+ Full Report (PDF)

Reducing Coastal Risk on the East and Gulf Coasts (2014)

September 29, 2014 Comments off

Reducing Coastal Risk on the East and Gulf Coasts (2014)
Source: National Research Council

Hurricane- and coastal-storm-related losses have increased substantially during the past century, largely due to increases in population and development in the most susceptible coastal areas. Climate change poses additional threats to coastal communities from sea level rise and possible increases in strength of the largest hurricanes. Several large cities in the United States have extensive assets at risk to coastal storms, along with countless smaller cities and developed areas. The devastation from Superstorm Sandy has heightened the nation’s awareness of these vulnerabilities. What can we do to better prepare for and respond to the increasing risks of loss?

Reducing Coastal Risk on the East and Gulf Coasts reviews the coastal risk-reduction strategies and levels of protection that have been used along the United States East and Gulf Coasts to reduce the impacts of coastal flooding associated with storm surges. This report evaluates their effectiveness in terms of economic return, protection of life safety, and minimization of environmental effects. According to this report, the vast majority of the funding for coastal risk-related issues is provided only after a disaster occurs. This report calls for the development of a national vision for coastal risk management that includes a long-term view, regional solutions, and recognition of the full array of economic, social, environmental, and life-safety benefits that come from risk reduction efforts. To support this vision, Reducing Coastal Risk states that a national coastal risk assessment is needed to identify those areas with the greatest risks that are high priorities for risk reduction efforts. The report discusses the implications of expanding the extent and levels of coastal storm surge protection in terms of operation and maintenance costs and the availability of resources.

Reducing Coastal Risk recommends that benefit-cost analysis, constrained by acceptable risk criteria and other important environmental and social factors, be used as a framework for evaluating national investments in coastal risk reduction. The recommendations of this report will assist engineers, planners and policy makers at national, regional, state, and local levels to move from a nation that is primarily reactive to coastal disasters to one that invests wisely in coastal risk reduction and builds resilience among coastal communities.

Structured Information Extraction from Natural Disaster Events on Twitter

September 29, 2014 Comments off

Structured Information Extraction from Natural Disaster Events on Twitter
Source: Microsoft Research

As soon as natural disaster events happen, users are eager to know more about them. However, search engines currently provide a ten blue links interface for queries related to such events. Relevance of results for such queries can be significantly improved if users are shown a structured summary of the fresh events related to such queries. This would not just reduce the number of user clicks to get the relevant information but would also help users get updated with more fine grained attribute-level information.

Twitter is a great source that can be exploited for obtaining such fine-grained structured information for fresh natural disaster events. Such events are often reported on Twitter much earlier than on other news media. However, extracting such structured information from tweets is challenging because: 1. tweets are noisy and ambiguous; 2. there is no well defined schema for various types of natural disaster events; 3. it is not trivial to extract attribute-value pairs and facts from unstructured text; and 4. it is difficult to find good mappings between extracted attributes and attributes in the event schema.

We propose algorithms to extract attribute-value pairs, and also devise novel mechanisms to map such pairs to manually generated schemas for natural disaster events. Besides the tweet text, we also leverage text from URL links in the tweets to fill such schemas. Our schemas are temporal in nature and the values are updated whenever fresh information flows in from human sensors on Twitter. Evaluation on ∼58000 tweets for 20 events shows that our system can fill such event schemas with an F1 of ∼0.6.

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