Last week was The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS) 2011 Annual Conference, hosted this year in Bucharest, Romania. I, along with three CDRP staff and one of our students, had the privileged of presenting papers and research to our peers at this event. The conference drew attendees from around the world, each with some unique perspectives on disaster and emergency management. My presentation was based on a paper written primarily by Chris Church, and it was well received. Covering the usage of Information Communication Technology (ICT) usage by terrorist organizations, I drew several interesting questions and comments on cryptography and obfuscation from attendees. One of these gentlemen turned out to be an Eastern European ex-intelligence officer now working for a Romanian communications firm. He talked to me for about twenty minutes after the presentation, and I found it odd that his conference name tag was blank. No name, no country.
While Bucharest is a fine city, I particularly enjoyed the Carpathian mountains and the drive up to Brasov and Bran. Note that I say the ‘drive up’. Our GPS freaked out a bit and routed us back to Bucharest along an… interesting… route. Not all roads in Romania are equal – some don’t even qualify as roads, but are more like boundaries for the pothole and rut collection to exist. Between the wild switchbacks down the mountains, the massive (and almost impossible to describe) pothole issue, the livestock in the road, and the wolves, it was the most exciting trip I’ve ever driven. No they weren’t wolves, just large stray dogs (Romania has millions of strays), but two of them charged the moving car, which was fun since I was busy threading my way through the previously mentioned pothole collection at the time. I’m surprised either of them lived. Of course, my concern was not with the suicidal canines, but with the huge sum of Euros we’d have to cough up if they managed to dent a fender during their death throes.
Overall we had a productive conference and a nice time in Romania. I am quite pleased by the performance of the CDRP staff, punctuated by Malaika Samples winning the ‘Best Research Paper’ award for the conference. Her work on U.S. citizen repatriation after the Haiti earthquake was very interesting to the European attendees, as they face similar problems on a regular basis. In fact, we had a nice discussion with a colleague from the UK who is still dealing with emergency repatriation of his citizens from Libya and Japan.
Finally, there was a lot of good information on earthquake warning systems as well as first hand accounts of response and recovery operations in Japan. Systems are coming online that can detect an earthquake and warn citizens anywhere from 5 to 45 seconds before the main shock hits, depending on distance from the epicenter. While I’m unconvinced 5 seconds isn’t enough time for a recipient to even register the information and mutter, “Oh, shit”, 45 seconds is certainly enough time to get under cover in some circumstances. At the same time, Japan’s automated tsunami warning system is amazing and worked as advertised, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.