Claire B. Rubin has 32 years of experience as a researcher, consultant, and educator in the fields of emergency management and homeland security

  • Major Criticism of FEMA Spending by DHS OIG

    1 Oct 2014 | 8:04 am

    Major Criticism of FEMA Spending by DHS OIG The Diva does not usually do breaking news flashes, but a couple of fresh emails from the DHS Office of Inspector General regarding financial matters at FEMA probably are of special interest to this audience. For a full list of DHS/OIG reports dealing with FEMA, go to this website.  The two most recent releases are as follows: OIG Audit Cites Millions in Unaccounted-for Funds A New Orleans nonprofit that received more than $19 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina has so far accounted for only $5.3 million and engaged in prohibited contracting practices, according to an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Department of Homeland Security. The OIG found that the University Of New Orleans Research and Technology Foundation (Foundation) did not follow Federal contracting guidelines, which call for “open and free competition,” as well as opportunities for small business and those owned by women or minorities. On that basis, the OIG questioned more than $9.6 million in contract payments. OIG auditors further determined that the Foundation, which was originally awarded $12 million by FEMA, ran up $7 million in cost overruns without obtaining required permission from FEMA. They also noted that the Foundation’s accounting for taxpayer funds was still far from complete, eight years after Katrina and an average of four years after all repair projects were completed. Flawed FEMA System Could Hamper Disaster Relief After spending more than $247 million on a high tech system, the Federal Emergency[…]

  • Major New Report on Effects of Climate Change

    1 Oct 2014 | 6:04 am

    Major New Report on Effects of Climate Change From the National Geographic, Human-Caused Climate Change Worsened Heat Waves in 2013, Study Says. The climate connection to storms and droughts is less clear. A new report attributes heat waves around the world in 2013 to human-caused climate change, but finds the link between climate change and other extreme weather events—including the California drought—to be much less certain. The peer-reviewed report [108 pp]“Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 From a Climate Perspective” examined the causes of 16 extreme events that occurred on four continents in 2013. The special report, published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, includes 22 separate analyses prepared by groups of scientists from the U.S. and U.K. Thomas R. Karl, the director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said in a press briefing that “being able to physically understand extreme events is absolutely critical for our ability to predict future extreme weather and understand our role in changing the climate.” Karl noted that “extreme events are very complex and are often caused by multiple factors.” Natural variability often plays a role, he said. This is the third annual report on the connections between individual extreme weather events and climate change, led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Another take on the same report is this article from the Smithsonian. Filed under: climate change

  • “Forget Sandy, Worst is Yet to Come”

    30 Sep 2014 | 12:54 am

    “Forget Sandy, Worst is Yet to Come” The article titled Forget Sandy, the Worst Is Yet to Come is a news account of a Swiss Re Insurance Co. report. Some excerpts: The chilling insurance company report * * * cautions that Hurricane Sandy was nothing more than a harsh reminder that more powerful storms – like the 156-mph Norfolk-Long Island Hurricane of 1821 – await the Jersey Shore. Hurricane Sandy was mild compared to the 1821 Hurricane Such a storm today as the 1821 Norfolk-Long Island Hurricane could swamp Atlantic City under a 15- to 25-foot storm surge, according to “The Big One: The East Coast’s 100 billion Hurricane Event,” produced by Swiss Re American Holding Corp. The report breaks down the potential impact of another 1821 Hurricane in South Jersey’s Atlantic and Cape May counties a well as across the Southeast, Middle Atlantic and Northeast states. The outlook isn’t good, according to Swiss Re, the world’s second-largest insurance company. Here is the direct link to the Swiss Re report, which is titled The big one: The East Coast’s USD 100 billion event. This 21 page publication draws on history to paint a scenario that will help plan for the future.Filed under: Hurricane, Hurricane Sandy

  • New Resources from Australia

    29 Sep 2014 | 2:00 pm

    New Resources from Australia Two papers from down under that you might find interesting. From the Australian Business Roundtable site, here are two new white papers:  Building an Open Platform for Disaster Resilience Decisions (released July 2014) or see the media release. Building our Nation’s Resilience to Natural Disasters’ (released June 2013) or see the media release.   Thanks to Dudley McArdle for sending me the citation.          Filed under: Australia, Resilience

  • White Paper from Climate Change Officers Assoc.

    29 Sep 2014 | 5:55 am

    White Paper from Climate Change Officers Assoc. White Paper: Sea Level Rise Adaptation in the Public Sector: Challenges, Solutions, and Opportunities. This is a 6 page report from the Association of Climate Change Officers, an organization that I just learned about.Filed under: climate change

  • Recovery Lessons Learned from Oso Mudslide

    28 Sep 2014 | 7:10 am

    Recovery Lessons Learned from Oso Mudslide From Eric Holdeman’s blog for EM magazine: Lessons Learned from the Oso, Wash., Mudslide Recovery. It has only been six months since the incident, but there are recovery lessons to be learned. Even if mudslides are not a major threat for your community, some of the lessons re recovery planning are worth noting.Filed under: learning from disasters

  • The At-Risk Population – higher no. than you think

    27 Sep 2014 | 6:18 am

    The At-Risk Population – higher no. than you think According to an article in USA today, More than half in U.S. at greater risk in disasters More than 50% of the U.S. population may be in need of special attention during extreme weather events, with such emergencies putting the disabled, seniors and children at greater risk. Nearly one in five Americans is disabled, which means about 60 million people are more at risk during times of emergency. “Very little is known as to how to make these individuals safe,” says Irwin Redlener, head of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and one of the foremost authorities on disaster relief.

  • Editor Job Available – Hazards Center, Univ. of CO

    26 Sep 2014 | 2:27 pm

    Editor Job Available – Hazards Center, Univ. of CO The folks at the Hazards Center at the University of CO are looking for a editor.  I have been a fan of their publications for many years. Should be a great job for the right person. And you get to work in Boulder CO!!  

  • Cost of Disasters Worldwide

    26 Sep 2014 | 7:01 am

    Cost of Disasters Worldwide Disasters could cost world $421bn by 2030:  The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events could cost the world $421 billion per year by 2030, the Red Cross warned on Monday. “Disasters take lives and ruin prospects, often making the situation of already impoverished people even worse,” said European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva in a news release from the Red Cross on Monday. The warning came as the Red Cross-a global humanitarian aid charity-and the European Commission-the executive body of the European Union-launched a joint communications campaign on the importance of preparing for disasters. NOTE: Usually I post the URL to the original report, but in this case I cannot find it. The Red Cross is a big organization!  If any readers know please comment.

  • Streamlining Oversight of the DHS

    25 Sep 2014 | 4:07 pm

    Streamlining Oversight of the DHS Once again the Washington Post has addressed some of the organizations concerns and the severe deficiencies of the Congressional oversight of  DHS.  See: Department of Homeland Security has 120 reasons to want streamlined oversight. From the lead in to the article: The Department of Homeland Security is, by all accounts, not the easiest place to work. The pressure is high, the job is hard and morale in recent years has been about as low as it can get. But perhaps the most universally frustrating part of working for DHS, according to numerous former and current officials, is the byzantine congressional oversight. More than 90 committees and subcommittees have some jurisdiction over DHS, nearly three times the number that oversee the Defense Department. And that doesn’t count nearly 30 other congressional bodies such as task forces and commissions.Filed under: DHS

  • Reach Your Audience in an Emergency: #SMEM

    1 May 2014 | 11:04 am

    Reach Your Audience in an Emergency: #SMEM Post by: Kim Stephens Keep the flood photos coming. Click here to upload: — WJZ | CBS Baltimore (@cbsbaltimore) April 30, 2014 Flooding was rampant yesterday for what seemed like half the country. Social Media was buzzing with images, safety tips and information about the event as it continued to get increasingly worse as the day wore on and the rain seemed unending. GALLERY: Heavy April Showers Bring Flooding To Maryland. Upload Your Flood Photos, Here: — WJZ | CBS Baltimore (@cbsbaltimore) April 30, 2014 Using social networks to communicate emergency, safety and preparedness information has now, in 2014, become a standard operating procedure for quite a few emergency management and response organizations. As with any standard procedure, each event can provide an opportunity to understand how to improve and adjust. As a person on the receiving end of the information stream yesterday, I noticed three things that could be improved upon. 1.  Ensure posts are “Mobile Ready” On a day where the situation is changing rapidly, as it does with flooding, people will be looking for information anywhere they can get it. It is important to keep in mind that there is a high likelihood that those searches will be occurring on a mobile device. According to the Pew Research Center “The growing ubiquity of cell phones, especially the rise of smartphones, has made social networking just a finger tap away.  Fully 40% of cell phone owners use a social networking site on their phone,[…]

  • Keeping the Lines of Communication Open: Atlanta Public School’s Long Snow Day

    29 Jan 2014 | 10:08 am

    Keeping the Lines of Communication Open: Atlanta Public School’s Long Snow Day Post by: Kim Stephens We had a light dusting of snow last night and schools are closed today in my county. I’m guessing there are some officials in Atlanta wishing they had made the same decision yesterday before snow and ice paralyzed the city‘s roadways. Although they tried to dismiss school early the traffic was so horrific some buses were unable to get children home and instead had to return them to school. Parents who normally pick up their children were stuck in traffic eerily reminiscent of scenes from the Atlanta-based series The Walking Dead. A shelter-in-place order was issued after 10:00 pm last night and about 452 staff and students spent the night in several different ATL public school buildings. This situation could be any public communicator’s nightmare scenario. However, the Atlanta Public School’s communications team provided a master class in emergency information dissemination, mainly through their @apsupdate (or Atlanta Public Schools Update) Twitter account. Here are a few things they did well. 1. Addressed parents questions and concerns directly Reply to @KharaJ1 be sure to reach out to your child's school. All students are allowed to use phones. — ATL Public Schools (@apsupdate) January 29, 2014 I have heard quite a few communicators debate whether or not they should address direct questions since it could overwhelm staff and bog down the message they are trying to convey. However, in this situation, the decision to address each person was the only logical choice–ignoring parents’ questions could have been its own[…]

  • Deaf People Use Social Media to Make Their Voices Heard: Can #SMEM be used to reach them in a crisis?

    15 Dec 2013 | 2:24 pm

    Deaf People Use Social Media to Make Their Voices Heard: Can #SMEM be used to reach them in a crisis? Guest Post by: Dr. Steph Jo Kent News about the #fakeinterpreter for Nelson Mandela’s Memorial Service worsened daily: from grotesque incompetence to mental illness to a potential record of violent crime. If ever there was a cautionary tale for emergency management, this is it. Are you wondering “how such a spectacular mistake could have been made“? Before the latest horrifying turn, sign language interpreters and members of the Deaf community were already beginning to emerge from the first waves of disappointment, anger, and humiliation. One man’s audacity, and what appears to be a laissez-faire attitude toward providing real communication access, drew the lightning bolt flash of long pent-up Deaf frustration. Cathy Heffernan, writing for The Guardian, presents the background: “Bad interpretation is surprisingly common and something that deaf people who use interpreters face on a regular basis. Across public services and the courts unqualified people are asked to translate, even in situations where clear communication can make the difference between life or death.” The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf established a Task Force in 2009 to begin drafting an official position paper and process for integrating qualified sign language interpreters into all stages of the emergency management cycle: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Overtures to establish Emergency Management Interpreter Strike Teams have been made to responsible agencies and managers at many levels of government. Some jurisdictions have taken this seriously, most however have not. (See the Getting Real II Presentation for information on foundations laid in California, Georgia, and Florida.) Commentary from Rabbi Yehoshua Soudakoff, Director of Jewish Deaf Multimedia Deaf people were[…]

  • Information Design: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words?

    12 Dec 2013 | 10:01 am

    Information Design:  Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Post by: Kim Stephens Looking back on the year, there was one  article that stood out because of its clear use of graphics and imagery to communicate risk information. During the summer of 2013, the Washington Post published a short online report about the hazards at the Potomac River Gorge titled “The Perils at Great Falls.” This spot in the river is a deadly place where 27 people have died since 2001.  Standing on the banks, it looks deceptively calm, but it is what people don’t see on the surface that can kill–erratic currents, jagged cracks, potholes and uneven terrain can trap swimmers.  The article explained those hazards with imagery that eliminated the need to read even one word.  Some commented that the piece was the definition of information design: “…the practice of presenting information in a way that fosters efficient and effective understanding of it.”  (Wikipedia) Each of the major hazards in the river were given a graphical representation. In the image above the person is shown fishing off the bank: water rises rapidly and unexpectedly, sweeping him away. I have captured a screenshot, but the original graphic is animated. The image below shows hazards beneath the water and on the banks–cliffs that tempt people to jump in, and varied terrain underwater that can kill if you dive in the wrong spot. The Dreaded Fact Sheet Too often,  in the world of emergency management, images are occasionally included–if one can be dredged up, but they are usually not the focus[…]

  • Social Networking Trends of 2013 and Implications for #SMEM

    4 Dec 2013 | 9:52 am

    Social Networking Trends of 2013 and Implications for #SMEM Post by: Kim Stephens December is a month of reflection and I, along with Patrice Cloutier and James Garrow are using our blogs to highlight interesting  social media and emergency management trends from the year and note future possibilities for improvement. 2013 could be seen as a pivot point for quite a few organizations: social networking graduated from being novel and experimental, to just one of the tools in the communication’s toolbox. That being said, however, we still have a long way to go before full integration is realized throughout the response community. Social Networks: The Stats  We’ve all seen the statistics–social networks have millions and millions of users, except Facebook which sits at 1.11 billion. A deeper look at these stats, however,  can help create a more informed communication’s strategy, for instance,  is this the year to get G+ and Pinterest accounts? Here are a few noteworthy stats I’ve collected from a variety of sources, along with some possible implications. Twitter boasts over 500 millions users, but one interesting note is what these users are talking about. According to Nielsen, 33% of Twitter users tweet about television shows. Implication:   Why not schedule tweets that appear during shows that discuss disasters with links to information about how people can prepare–or where they could turn for help if that type of event happened in their community? If you are uncomfortable promoting a show that you did not create and have no quality control over, then simply add qualifiers, or correct misinformation, if necessary. New[…]