White House urges better response planning for nuclear attacks

July 28, 2009
The recently released Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation, developed by the White House Homeland Security Council, stresses that it’s “incumbent upon all levels of government” to prepare “through focused nuclear attack response planning.” Mayors, governors, emergency managers and first responders will be the first to deal with the consequences, and according to that same guidance, “local and state community preparedness to respond to a nuclear detonation could result in life-saving on the order of tens of thousands of lives.”
Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.
Two assumptions prevail at the local level: 1.) Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and 2.) The military is the only organization capable of responding.

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A new report suggests that “surge capacity is the largest threat” to America’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.

From the press release:

Ready or Not?, a yearly analysis of preparedness for health emergencies that’s released by the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health, found that “surge capacity remains the largest threat to the nation’s ability to respond to a major catastrophe.” Local, and specifically, regional abilities to care for the wounded will be vital just after a nuclear terrorist attack. Unfortunately many communities haven’t gotten the point.

The report notes that, “Two assumptions prevail at the local level:

  1. Any nuclear explosion will completely destroy a major city; and
  2. The military is the only organization capable of responding.

Because it often takes the military time to respond to catastrophic events, the report urges local governments to consider and prepare for what they would do if the military doesn’t arrive in time.

The report suggests that local decision-makers:

  1. Come to grips with the threat and understand that the military can’t arrive immediately to help.
  2. Realize that isn’t a problem for only large, high-risk cities, but one that requires a regional response.
  3. Actually make plans and co-ordinate with your neighbours.

The press release concludes that, “Such preparation isn’t necessarily specific to nuclear terrorism. Regional preparedness and response can be used for a range of catastrophic events, including hurricanes such as Katrina. Moving down the scale, preparing for the “big one” will help communities deal with the small disasters they face every year.”

Press release herefull report here.


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WHO says new flu “unstoppable”

July 15, 2009

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Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO director of the Initiative for Vaccine Research, declares H1N1 “unstoppable”.

“The committee recognized that the H1N1 pandemic … is unstoppable and therefore that all countries need access to vaccine,” Kieney said.

“The SAGE recognized first that healthcare workers should be immunized in all countries in order to retain a functional health system as the virus evolves,” she added.

After that, each country should decide who is next in line, based on the virus’s unusual behavior.

The United States alone is projected to spend over $850 on vaccines, which have yet to be tested or produced.

Full report here.


Bill Gates files patents for geo-engineering ships

July 11, 2009

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Bill Gates and colleagues are seeking patents for a flotilla-based hurricane suppression system.

The patents, discussed here, are intended to use the temperature differential between the warm, surface water and the cold, deeper waters below.

Hurricanes are caused when ocean water temperatures rise, releasing warm, moist air into the atmosphere. This water condenses and creates cyclonic wind storms due to the pressure difference between hot and cold air fronts in the atmosphere.

Gates’ idea is to use giant floating bath tubs to capture warm water on the surface, then suck it down to the ocean depths in a kind of thermohaline exchange mechanism.

The basic idea is to draw cold water up from the ocean depths to cool the ocean surface, thus reducing the frequency and intensity of tropical storms.

This appears to be the latest effort in climate change, weather suppression technologies, discussed on this blog in a series of posts here and here.

From TechFlash:

Patent watcher “theodp,” who tipped us off to the filings, says he was reminded of “The Simpsons” as he read through them. “The richest man in the world hatches a plan to alter weather and ecology in return for insurance premiums and fees from governments and individuals,” he writes. “It’s got kind of a Mr. Burns feel to it, no?”

The hurricane-suppression patent applications date to early 2008, but they were first made public this morning.


Dengue fever to spread in 28 US states thanks to climate change

July 9, 2009
Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

Red states are already at risk for Dengue Fever, blue states will likely become at risk thanks to climate change

The Natural Resource Defence Council (NRDC) just released a report measuring the spread of the tropical disease Dengue Fever in new states thanks to climate change.

Also known as “bonebreaking fever”, dengue is “characterized by agonizing aching in the bones, joints and muscles, a pounding headache, pain behind the eyes, a high fever and a classic rash. There is no cure or vaccine against the virus, only preventative and supportive care.”

The NRDC press release states that, “Many factors may be contributing to the rise in dengue fever, including increasing international travel and trade, densely-populated communities living in poverty in many countries including the United States, and the effects of global warming. Researchers project that because of global warming, in the next 75 years 3 billion additional people will become at risk for the disease across the globe.”

The full PDF of the report goes into more detail:

Global warming is likely to increase the number of people at risk of dengue epidemics by expanding both the area suitable for the mosquito vectors and the length of dengue transmission season in temperate areas. By 2085, an estimated 5.2 billion people—more than 3 billion additional people worldwide—are projected to be at risk for dengue because of climate change–induced increases in humidity that contribute to the disease’s spread, based on models that use observed relationships between weather patterns and dengue outbreaks.6 Researchers in Australia and New Zealand calculated that climate change is projected to increase the range and risk of dengue in these countries. According to their study, another 1.4 million Australians could be living in areas suitable for the dengue mosquito vector by 2050. Moreover, the number of months suitable for transmission may rise, increasing the costs of dengue management three- to fivefold.In the United States, dengue fever outbreaks have so far been limited to the U.S.-Mexico border region and Hawaii. However, our analysis reveals thatglobal warming could result in increased vulnerability to dengue fever throughout the United States and the Americas. The findings are cause for concern: The analysis shows an increase in dengue fever in recent years in the United States and its neighbors to the south. And the mosquitoes that can transmit this disease have become established in a swath of at least 28 states, making disease transmission more likely.

The political blow back from an increase in tropical disease in the US will likely be quite significant.  A few seasons of bone breaking disease should change people’s belief in climate change, for instance.  The pressure to “do something” will most likely be focused on the CDC and private health care providers, however, and could be too diffuse to translate into stronger support for climate change action.


Very few people changed their behaviour during the early stages of swine flu

July 6, 2009

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A new study in the British Medical Journal reports that despite major media coverage, most people did nothing to prevent the spread of swine flu.

The research, conducted at the Institute of Psychiatry King’s College London and the Health Protection Agency, was intended to evaluate whether perceptions of the swine flu outbreak changed the behaviour of the public.  They conducted a telephone survey of 997 adults between 8 and 12 May 2009 and were asked asked nine questions about recent behaviours.

The results are dismal from a flu prevention perspective:

  • Anxiety about the outbreak was low, with only 24% of participants reporting any anxiety and only 2% reporting high anxiety.
  • 62% of those surveyed did nothing to change their behaviour.
  • Most people reported that they had not changed the frequency of their hand washing (72%).
  • 83% said that they did not change how often then cleaned or disinfected things.
  • Fewer than 5% of people reported that they had avoided people or places as a result of the outbreak.

What does this imply for public health standards and pandemic flu prevention?  The authors suggest that:

Factors associated with an increased likelihood of making these changes included perceptions that swine flu is severe, the risk of catching it is high, the outbreak will continue for a long time, the authorities can be trusted, and people can control their risk. In contrast, being uncertain about the outbreak and believing that it had been exaggerated were associated with a lower likelihood of change, say the authors.

In other words, the real world likelihood of personal prevention of swine flu is very, very low.

This suggests that stronger policy measures must be on hand to enforce preventative measures if they are to be effective.  Are our governments and institutions prepared for and ready to take such measures?


Collapse dynamics: a lecture on complex change in social systems

June 16, 2009

Noah Raford, a contributor to this blog and consultant with HFP, posts this video and slides from a recent lecture on collapse and social transition he gave at the LSE Complexity Programme.

Video of the talk can be found here, thanks to our good friend Vinay Gupta:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Thanks to Professor Eve Mittleton-Kelly and all those who attended from the Collapsonomics group.


Before Disaster Strikes: Rate and Raise Public Preparedness Now

June 15, 2009

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A new policy brief from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University concludes that American cities need to develop new measures of preparedness and rapidly roll them out across all major cities.

From the policy brief, found here:

The American public is not prepared for major disasters. That will prove costly, including to the federal government, as more and new types of disasters are expected to occur. The new Security Council Resilience Directorate – Preparedness, as one of its first initiatives, should task the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with federal and non-federal stakeholders and independent experts to:

  • Develop agreed measures of public preparedness, and
  • Develop and execute cost-effective, innovative approaches for ensuring timely progress in preparedness.

In the revamped federal agency performance measurement system, public preparedness should be deemed a high priority measure for DHS, as well as for selected other departments who need to be made federal partners in this effort. The new Directorate should monitor the establishment of and progress in these measures.

The brief concludes, “More, more severe, and new types of disasters can be expected to occur as a result of new types of threats (e.g., biological, cyber, nuclear/radiological) and more as well as more severe threats due to increased global interconnectedness and climate change. Yet, most Americans are not adequately prepared to respond to or recover from a catastrophic disaster, and many expect the government to take care of them.”