disaster response

It is with profound sadness that we tell you of Kathy Ludwig’s passing on Saturday, May 16, 2015 after a long struggle with cancer.  Until her retirement in July 2014, Kathy had served as a Senior Conservator in the Conservation Laboratory at the National Archives for 17 years.  Prior to joining the staff of the National Archives, Kathy was an Archives Conservator at the Minnesota Historical Society.  
In preparation for her work in conservation, Kathy earned degrees in Art History and Studio Arts from the University of Minnesota, and completed one year of training in art conservation at the Rosary College Graduate School of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy.  Kathy was in the first class of conservators who graduated from Columbia University’s Conservation Education Program with a MS in Library Service with a Certificate of Advanced Study in Library and Archives Conservation.  Kathy was passionate about her work.  She continued to study and learn throughout her career, taking workshops and seminars on subjects ranging from papermaking to disaster planning and response to the history and making of parchment.  Kathy always generously shared the knowledge she gained, with others.  She developed and taught numerous preservation classes over the years to National Archives staff and volunteers and also imparted her knowledge of materials and conservation techniques to interns and other conservators
Kathy loved her work at the National Archives.  She was a highly skilled conservator and over the years treated thousands of records, including such significant documents as the Monroe Doctrine and the Delaware Ratification of the Bill of Rights.  A valued member of NARA’s conservator-on-call team, Kathy conducted independent research on drying methods, and assisted with the recovery of Orleans Parish records following Hurricane Katrina.  
Most importantly, Kathy was a good friend and a valued colleague.  She was a thoughtful and reliable presence who always made us smile.  We will miss her.
We are planning a tribute to honor Kathy. If you are interested in details please contact Preservation@nara.gov

JPL’s RoboSimian to compete in DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals

RoboSimian, the ape-like robot developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals at the Fairplex in Pomona, California, June 5 and 6.

During the two-day competition, which is open to the public and free for spectators, robots will compete simultaneously across four different courses during hour-long runs. In addition to participating in the tournament, JPL will have a booth at an on-site robotics exposition, joining about 70 groups showcasing technologies relating to disaster response, robotics and unmanned systems.+

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Dutch Architects 3-D Printing Canal House

A team in Amsterdam is working to 3-D print the classic Dutch canal house, a project that marries the city’s traditional architecture with state-of-the-art additive manufacturing.

Their effort is more than a study in futuristic design and building–they’ve got their sights on very real global issues that are set to mount in coming years.

“For the first time in history, over half the world’s population is living in cities,” says Hans Vermeulen, a cofounder of the 3-D Print Canal House project. “We need a rapid building technique to keep up the pace with the growth of megacities and we thing 3-D printing can actually be the technique to provide good housing for the billions of people on this planet.”

See the video and read more below.

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In the event of a major disaster, the identification of the victims can be complicated. For a closed disaster, such as a commercial plane crash in the wilderness, the list of passengers can be obtained easily, and thus ante mortem information such as medical records and physical descriptions are relatively easy to acquire. For an open disaster, like an earthquake, a tsunami, or an explosion in a city, the victims are unknown so no ante mortem data is readily available. In either case, in order to make a positive identification, the ante mortem information of the missing individual must be matched with the post mortem information gathered from the body in order to make a positive identification.

This is where these forms come in. These are the Interpol Disaster Victim Identification Forms. They are intended to help streamline and regulate the identification process, which helps especially if there are teams from several different countries working together. The yellow, AM forms are used to record the ante mortem data, and the pink, PM forms are used for post mortem.

The top row of images shows two pages from the AM form. Personal data for the missing person is recorded, along with any clothing or jewelry worn, their physical description, any distinguishing marks like tattoos or scars, and any fingerprint and medical information.

The bottom row shows two pages of the PM form. This form, like the AM form, contains several fields which have to be filled out, each section by an expert in the related field. A description of the recovery, the condition of the body, any personal effects, distinguishing marks, and fingerprints are noted. The information from the medical examination is recorded, as well as any DNA test results and odontological (dental) analysis.

If an AM and a PM form are matched, the white Comparison Form is filled out, and all three forms are joined into the same report. The white form states whether it is probable, possible, or established identity, and which findings suggest this: police investigation, fingerprint, pathology, odontology, DNA, anthropology, or other.

For more info, check out the Interpol website: they have a guide about the whole process, and the forms themselves can be downloaded.

Toshiba has developed a remote-controlled tetrapod inspection robot with camera and dosimeter, designed to investigate risky areas, such as Fukushima nuclear power plants. The multiple joints of its legs are controlled by a movement algorithm that enables the robot to walk on uneven surfaces (like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog), avoid obstacles, and climb stairs to get access into areas can’t be reached by wheeled robots (such as some iRobot models) or crawlers. It also carries a companion smaller robot with a second camera for constricted locations. Toshiba plans to add the ability to install shielding, stop flows of water. and remove obstacles. (via A Japan-developed robot for disaster response | KurzweilAI)

With everything that’s going on in Nepal right now, I feel the need to share some important information we just went over in my Disaster Response course.

It is the job of the government, whenever a disaster happens, to coordinate all the relief efforts. Their own, those from NGOs, those from other countries, even those from the UN or WHO. The government of the affected country or region to approve, monitor, coordinate, and keep track of all relief efforts, from water and food distribution to organization of refugee camps.


The thing about a disaster of this scale is that the government is often in shambles. This happened so close to the capitol that what sections of the government are left functioning are going to be completely overloaded. Any normal government will be stretched to the limits, and when the capitol is affected, things are going to be nearly impossible. There are wounded and stranded pouring into Kathmandu, and the city itself has been damaged, meaning communication and travel are going to be limited, so the government not only has to deal with their own city being over-crowded and heavily damaged, they still have to manage hundreds of relief teams all asking to come in. The amount of coordination needed to ensure that there aren’t gaps in relief coverage, and that money isn’t being funneled into the wrong channels, and that the most people are being helped, and that outside relief efforts work with local internal efforts, and that the peace is kept while all this is happening, and that it doesn’t turn to mob rule, and that the government can still manage the rest of the country, and that medical care is being distributed according to not only current need but in anticipation of future need, and that disease doesn’t spread, and that monetary aid from other countries is being properly used–and hundreds more– is absolutely staggering.

And sometimes, under that much pressure and strain, governments crack. Take the Port-au-Prince earthquake from 2010. The government was devastated, as the palace collapsed in the earthquake and aftershocks. Without a functioning government, some agencies couldn’t get in, some came in illegally, some came in only with a blanket go-ahead and no direction as to what needed doing first. Things were in complete chaos.

I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen in Nepal; I’m bringing this up to point something out.

Who stepped in and took charge in Haiti? The United States Marine Corps. They did not, contrary to popular belief, institute martial law and take over the government. What they DID do was organize the relief efforts in place of the government, which couldn’t do it on their own. They got things under control, eliminated redundancies that drained resources from other needy areas, assisted the government in fielding all the paperwork and permissions that international agencies need to come in and work, helped keep peace UNDER the direction of the Haitian government; then, when the government was once more fully staffed, stable, and capable, they left.

That’s my point in bringing this up.

In the next few weeks, there may be a need for outside assistance to the government. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, that means military support. The military is extremely qualified for emergency management; that’s a huge part of what they do on a daily basis. I’m bringing this up now so that maybe people won’t freak out if that starts happening. It’s not a militaristic takeover of a wounded country; spreading rumors like that is only going to make the relief efforts more difficult. Understanding that sometimes military support, often from other countries, is a part of disaster management will prevent panic that could delay and hinder recovery processes. The military is so often seen as simply soldiers, only called in when there’s war or some strategic value to be gained through violence and oppression. But war and defense of life through combat is only a teeny tiny part of what the military does. They provide structured support to people in need, through peaceful means, and organizational skills. If there’s one thing any military does well, it’s organize. They’re already a body of highly organized, team-working, cooperative professionals; they can get things done more efficiently than a group of volunteers who have never worked together before. So sometimes groups like the UN and Red Cross call upon military personnel to do the groundwork. Armed Forces of all nations are trained in crisis management, and know how chain of command works; so in a situation where the government is stretched to the limits trying to maintain order within its own sovereign borders, management of relief efforts often fall to the Armed Forces, sometimes of other countries.

I just wanted to put this out there for consideration in case military personnel from any country are deployed in Nepal. It doesn’t mean they’re usurping power; they’re just highly qualified to help recovery efforts move along smoothly. And please, if Nepal does call on other countries for aid, or if other countries offer aid and it’s accepted by Nepal (remember, Nepal has the final say in what aid is taken), PLEASE don’t grumble about how other countries should stay out of Nepal’s business. We are all citizens of this world; while we’re not required to assist another country, doing so is not a crime, or “forcing” politically backed aid onto a weakened government. Nepal could easily say, “Get out, we can handle this ourselves.” If aid from the U.S. or Great Britain or anywhere else ends up in Nepal, it is because Nepal either requested or approved it. And I, for one, think it’s a very good thing for countries to help each other in times of need. If we all ignored each other for our own interests, so many more would suffer. We’re all brothers and sisters of one Earth, and just because we have problems of our own doesn’t mean we should be deaf to the cries of others who are also suffering.

That’s just my two cents, and kind of beside the point, but there it is. The main point is:

Don’t get up-in-arms if military support is requested in Nepal. Military doesn’t mean hostile takeover. They’re honestly just extra manpower and crisis management staff to hold down the fort while the Nepali government takes care of business.


Meet The CHIMP

Carnegie Mellon University's Highly Intelligent Mobile Platform took third place in last December’s DARPA Robotics Challenge. The team behind the four-limbed highly capable bot will compete against others during this December’s Finals.

DARPA is sponsoring the challenge to develop robots that can help humans respond to natural and man-made disasters in human-built environments. So the machines must be able to navigate very complex, dangerous situations. 

The 50-member CMU team, called Tartan Rescue, built the five-foot-two-inch, 400-pound robot in a bit over a year. They have already been awarded $3 million by DARPA to build CHIMP, and stand to win $2 million if they win the Finals.

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In 2012, when Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, thousands of residents were displaced from their homes. In wake of the panic and chaos, Airbnb, an online platform where people list and book accommodations around the world, saw an opportunity to leverage its existing services for neighbors to help neighbors. During the disaster, 1,400 Airbnb hosts — who typically collect payment for accommodations — opened their homes and cooked meals for those left stranded.

At the beginning of the year researchers found that earthquake casualties were reduced by 14% thanks to warning messages sent via social, and we took an in-depth look at the variety of other ways social media was playing an important – if not life-saving – role in disaster relief.

Full article: Infographic: Social media as the new face of disaster response | Social Media Intelligence 

National Service Responds to Texas Floods

Over the past several days, extreme rain has led to catastrophic flooding in 37 Texas counties. In the town of Wimberley, 25 miles southwest of Austin, the Blanco River rose more than 33 feet in just three hours. In Houston, flash flooding early this week has already affected hundreds of homes, and the city remains in a state of emergency.

The situation is still developing, and the CNCS Disaster Services Unit is working closely with our federal, state, and local partners including Texas Emergency Management and the One Star Foundation, the state’s lead agency on volunteer management.  

In coordination with OneStar Foundation, the State Emergency Management Agency, and Texas VOADs, more than 40 national service members have responded to the flooding across Texas.

  • 28 AmeriCorps members with Texas Conservation Corps deployed to San Marcos, TX, to support two Volunteer Reception Centers.
  • 12 South Central Texas Senior Corps RSVP volunteers are serving with Salvation Army food service operations.
  • Austin - Travis County Senior Corps RSVP volunteers are supporting Texas Search and Rescue teams. 
  • AmeriCorps Disaster Response Teams (A-DRTS) including AmeriCorps NCCC and Saint Bernard Project remain on standby to support pending requests.
WiFi Drones Stand Up Network During Emergencies

by Michael Keller

Some of the first responders to enter future disaster zones might be tiny drones equipped with transmitters designed to reestablish WiFi and cellphone communications. 

University of North Texas electrical engineers have unveiled prototypes of the multirotor aerial vehicles that they are designing to fly in pairs after the network goes down. One drone would land in the area–perhaps on a rooftop–and the second would be placed in line of sight of the first up to almost two miles away. 

See the video and read more below.

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I am a civil engineer

I work for a government agency, so a lot of the damaged transportation facilities you see on the news are my responsibility. Maintenance workers have fixed what they can and now the engineers are coming back in a second wave of recovery, to make sure that we’re up to code. It’s going to take a long time to bring everything back to speed.

Let me stand on my engineering soapbox a little bit: we do NOT have enough engineers or scientists in this country. We simply don’t. If we did have an adequate number, disaster responses and recoveries wouldn’t be so pitiful. Do you know how many plans were in place in case a disaster happened? HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS. But they’re just plans, no money is spent on actually taking action.

And that’s what engineers do, they take action. They keep society running. Engineers are the original humanitarians. Every single aspect of your life is touched by an engineer who agonized through the math and science and human psychology to make your life better. And nobody in this country knows what an engineer is or does. How effing sad is that? Why should I have to beg money to clean your water or dispose your waste or pave your road or bring you power???? Can someone explain this to me?

Sorry not sorry, I just have strong feels.

Mercy Corps works in some of the poorest communities in western Guatemala — which were at the epicenter of the 7.4 earthquake that struck the country on November 7, 2012. Already living on few resources and in poorly constructed homes, thousands were left with nothing, struggling to find shelter, food and treatment for their injuries. Our teams mobilized within days to reach communities with emergency assistance.

See more photos of our response to the earthquake in Guatemala. 


I was called to a local church to look at a mold issue. They were only worried about the plaster and I pointed out these three paintings that were literally dripping with condensation. The poor over looked panels are warped and heavily molded. Ed and I removed them and put them in a plastic make shift tent on racks with descant. Once they dry out I will vacuum what I can then send them off to a paintings conservator.   

First-of-its kind U.S. Preparedness Index Shows Great Strengths and Challenges in Protecting Nation’s Health During Disasters  [Washington, DC] – The Association for State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 20 development partners, announced (Dec. 4th) the release of the National Health Security Preparedness Index™ (NHSPI™), a new way to measure and advance the nation’s readiness to protect people during a disaster. The Index results will be updated annually.

(From NHSPI - National Health Security Preparedness Index)