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January 27, 2005

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Landslide area can be unstable
940 News Radio, Montreal, Jan. 19

Brent Ward is a professor of earth sciences and in the past, he's taken his students on field trips to the site of the huge mudslide which occurred in North Vancouver. He says he would not live in the area. “We go there because there was a big slide in the area in 1979,” said Ward, of Simon Fraser University. “The area is on a raised river terrace that has been cut through with glacial deposits.” In technical terms, it's an area of glacial till - sandy and sometimes unstable when there are huge downpours such as the one the area has been experiencing in recent days.

Establishing an early-warning system
Vancouver Sun, Jan. 15

The largest humanitarian operation in human history got under way shortly after the massive tsunami struck in southern Asia. Experts have already begun work on developing an early-warning system for next time. SFU professor Peter Anderson - an expert on emergency communications - is heading to Sri Lanka to consult with local officials. But Anderson stressed that while the devastation of the tsunami has been immense, major earthquakes are relatively rare in the Indian Ocean. For that reason, he will be stressing the establishment of a standard warning system that could be used for everything from mudslides to forest fires as well as tsunamis. “We're going to try to look at how to develop a framework for a more integrated approach to warnings,” he said. Because, as the tsunami dramatically showed, you never know where the next disaster is coming from.

Power to the people
The Guardian, Jan. 14

As relatives grieve for the tsunami dead, questions are being asked about why there was no advanced warning so that people could quickly move to higher ground. There was enough time to warn people but because an adequate global warning system was not in place, as many as 200,000 people died needlessly. The UN disaster reduction office in Geneva calculated the tsunami took a full hour to reach the Indonesian coast, another two hours before reaching Thailand and Sri Lanka, and almost six hours before reaching Africa. What, then, went wrong? The problem, says John Clague, an expert on earthquakes at SFU in Vancouver is that “there is no infrastructure to communicate it. How do we communicate with millions of individuals who have no access to electricity?”

Urban legends are folklore
Vancouver Sun, Jan. 12

Urban legends: some - well, a few - of these tall tales are true. Some even happened here. But urban legends are basically folklore on the hoof, says SFU professor Barry Beyerstein, who chairs the B.C. Skeptics Society and often shares platforms with Jan Harold Brunvand. Before Brunvand, folklore was merely part of ancient times. Now we know that when we hear about a friend of a friend whose kidney was stolen, we're encountering an urban legend. “They've always spread by the best means available,” Beyerstein said. “When it was the telegraph, that's how they moved. Then it was the telephone, or the radio, or the fax machine. Now it's the internet. They circulate at a much faster rate and disseminate much more widely. But by and large it's the same old thing, just updated.”

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