Monday, March 24, 2008

Helping small communities in a disaster

Helping small communities in a disaster

Contributing editor

Whether it’s springtime flooding, an infectious disease outbreak or a volcanic eruption, small or rural communities affected by natural disasters often suffer additional hardship because of their size, say organizers of “Natural Disasters in Small Communities: How Can We Help?” a conference sponsored by the University at Buffalo on March 29 and 30

The conference, which will be held at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, 2401 North Forest Road, Getzville, is open to faculty, students, researchers and all stakeholders in the consequences of natural hazards. For more information, go to the Geohazards Web site.

“In the U.S. and around the world, smaller communities, clusters of less than 20,000-30,000 people, are generally less well-prepared to deal with extreme natural phenomena than are larger communities,” said Michael F. Sheridan, director of the UB Center for Geohazards Studies, which is organizing the conference. “They often are caught by surprise by an event that probably has been brewing for a long time.

“Small communities generally lack the more sophisticated communication networks, hospital facilities, crisis rescue squads, emergency housing and other resources that larger communities have,” he added. “They also are more remote, which means help takes longer to arrive.”

To address the disaster and emergency management issues specific to small communities, the multidisciplinary conference will feature presentations and case studies by researchers from across the U.S. and the globe focused on a broad range of hazards.

Among the disasters researchers will discuss are: volcanic activity in Chile and Argentina; a 2005 dengue fever outbreak on the border between Texas and Mexico and evacuation questions in communities near Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano.

A cross-disciplinary group of geographers, geologists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians and social scientists will present data on planning, communication, modeling and assessment tools, such as remote sensing, satellites, geographic information systems and high-end computation.

Several presentations will focus on disaster communication and management issues in small communities and will address the role of relief agencies and how social networks can help a community recover.

A key focus of the conference will be on a community’s resilience in the aftermath of disaster, Sheridan said.

“Resilience is the capacity to recover after experiencing a large disaster,” Sheridan explained. “Small, precautionary measures, such as construction of a barrier to divert mudflows, a plan to move to higher ground or the use of gas generators for prolonged power outages, can make a great difference in survival rates and overall resilience,” he noted.

The conference is an outcome of UB's strategic strength in mitigation and response to extreme events. Research in this area has been identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan as one of eight areas of strategic strength that, along with a commitment to academic excellence, will be the foundation elevating UB to the ranks of the nation’s top public research universities.

In addition to Sheridan, UB faculty participating in the conference include Marcus Bursik, professor; Eliza Calder, assistant professor; Beata M. Csatho, assistant professor, all in the Department of Geology; Hugh S. Cole, professor of urban and regional planning; Bruce Pitman, associate dean for research, College of Arts and Sciences and professor of mathematics; Christian S. Renschler, associate professor of geography; and Natalie C. Simpson, associate professor of management science and systems in the School of Management.

Bruce McCombe, dean of the UB College of Arts and Sciences, will make welcoming remarks.

Conference sponsors include the UB Department of Geology, the College of Arts and Sciences and the State University of New York, Conversations in the Disciplines.

Established in 2007, the Center for Geohazards Studies seeks to reduce harmful societal effects of such natural phenomena as volcanic eruptions, landslides, mudflows, avalanches, climate change and groundwater contamination. The center’s team of scientists and engineers work together with social scientists, urban planners and public-health researchers to evaluate harmful effects of hazardous geological phenomena. The goal is to integrate analyses of the various impacts of geophysical mass flows from natural disasters on lifelines, structures and the environment in order to reduce property losses, bodily injury and mortality.


Agency funnels information to potential storm spotters

By Kathy Antoniotti/Beacon Journal online journalist

Spring is here -- at least according to the calendar.

And with spring severe weather in Northeast Ohio often arrives in the form of heavy thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.

Tornadoes are "one of our major concerns'' during severe weather, Lt. Jeff Nash of the Twinsburg Police Department said. He remembers the one that ripped through his town in 2001.

To prepare for the Mother Nature's onslaught, which usually occurs from April through September, the National Weather Service in Cleveland provided a tornado spotter training course to about 70 people at the Summit County Chapter of the American Red Cross in Akron Thursday night. The class was sponsored by the Summit County Emergency Management Agency.

Gary Garnet, meteorologist and warning coordinator for the weather service, taught the crowd, many of whom were amateur radio operators, how to effectively assist in warning Northeast Ohio residents about potentially damaging wind, hail and rain before a storm actually reaches them.

''Despite the advances in technology, it's still just that -- technology. You are our reality check,'' Garnet told the audience.

The weather service gathers information from technology and experience and uses the reports from the spotters as ''real-time verification,'' Garnet said.

The attendees were given the opportunity to register as official Skywarn Spotters and when they left they would know how to identify the speed of wind gusts by the amount of damage caused and all about the danger of urban flooding.

They were told how to use the Internet, amateur radios and telephones to relay weather information to the Weather Service in Cleveland and not to call 911.

Garnet told the potential spotters that if the weather service found their reports reliable, their location might be represented on the radar map as a star, which could be considered a mixed blessing.

''If you are (a star) and you get a call from us, you know something bad is going to happen,'' he said.

Mike Mullaly, a business consultant from Bath Township, said he intended to register as a storm spotter following the training. ''I've always enjoyed observing the weather and identifying storms," he said.

Akron geologist Vicki Deppisch, who works for the Ohio Environmental Agency, said the class was her third refresher course. She's been a trained weather spotter for six years because ''I personally feel we are going through a climate change,'' she said.




Incident Summary

The Ro-Ro Ferry RIVERDANCE grounded near Blackpool on 31 January. The ship is a 6,041 GT, 116m in length Ro-Ro ferry which was on route from Warren Point in Northern Ireland to Heysham, Lancashire. The ship is owned by Seatruck Ferries and registered in the Bahamas. The ship has 100 tonnes of light fuel oil on board.

At 1943 on 31 January Liverpool Coastguard received a MAYDAY transmission from the Ro-Ro Ferry RIVERDANCE advising that their cargo had shifted and the ship had developed a 40º list. The vessel had 23 people on board. The weather on scene was difficult with winds gusting to Force 10.

Liverpool Coastguard immediately requested the assistance of tugs, the RNLI Lifeboats from Lytham and Fleetwood and rescue helicopters, from Vallet, Prestwick and Dublin. With the situation deteriorating the ship’s Master requested that the 4 passengers be evacuated

The RAF Rescue Helicopter from Valley safely winched the 4 passengers from the ship at 2100. Two additional rescue helicopters from Prestwick and Dublin were also tasked to assist and with the ship’s increased list to 60º the decision was taken to evacuate 10 non-essential crew, who were airlifted to Liverpool Airport. The two rescue helicopters and RNLI Lifeboats stayed on scene whilst the nine remaining crew attempted to stabilise the situation.

Using the ship’s pumps, the list was reduced to 20º although the sea conditions remained difficult. At 2200 the Master asked for all the remaining crew to be airlifted from the ship due to the weather conditions and the worsening list which had increased to 35º. All remaining crew were safely winched from the vessel by RAF Rescue helicopter 177 from Prestwick. All passengers and crew were evacuated without injury.

The ship is currently hard aground at Blackpool North Beach – 200m off the promenade close to Norbrecht Castle Hotel.

We are not aware of any hazardous goods on board. There are no signs of any oil leaking.

The Secretary of State’s Representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SOSREP) has set up a Salvage Control Unit locally. A formal National Contingency Plan Environment Group has been set up under the chair of Natural England.

Latest Information 04/2/08

The vessel remains aground approximately 450 metres offshore however overnight the list increased to approximately 55 degrees.

Salvors successfully boarded the vessel yesterday to check its condition. The vessel is still intact and the engine room and cargo decks are free from flooding and the ramp is secure.

The vessel has 1,199 tonnes of freight on board, non of this is considered dangerous. The contents from some of these trailers have fallen overboard.

Frequently Asked Questions

Link to Images of the Riverdance

Link to further information about the Secretary of States Representative for Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP)

Link to further information about the Receiver of Wreck