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image: My Wonderful World
August 2009 Newsletter
"Doing" geography is often about the fun side of life: visiting foreign cultures or exploring new environments. But knowing—and using—geography can help us with life's challenges, too. Natural hazards are all over the news—from deadly fires and hurricanes to flu epidemics and tsunamis. Is your family safe? You can benefit from new mapping technologies and growing efforts to predict, plan for, and cope with natural disasters. Check out how 4-H clubs are engaging kids with real-life first responders to develop community emergency plans. Have a safe summer and tell us in this month's poll whether your family has an emergency plan.

Christopher Shearer, My Wonderful World (MWW) Director
Is Your Family Ready for a Natural Disaster?
Photo:The dog days of summer are upon us, and the August heat brings more than just rising ice cream sales. In the American Southeast, the end of summer means the beginning of hurricane season; and in the West, months of dry days can give way to droughts and wildfires. The bad news is that hotter-than-average recent years are thought to be linked to more extreme weather events like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and destructive fires across the state of California in 2007 and 2008. Scientists predict these trends will persist if the Earth continues to warm as a result of climate change.

The good news is that professionals are using technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to better prepare for the threat of these natural disasters—events occurring naturally that have large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as volcanoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes.

There are steps you can take to prepare as a family, too. Our August challenge: Identify your community's emergency preparedness resources and develop a plan for your family. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a website called Ready.gov to help. Check out the interactive national map to find information on preparedness in your community, as well as the Ready Kids site for young planners; kids can complete three activities and take a quiz to graduate from "Readiness U."
Read more >
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Operation: Monster Storms
Photo: sidebarThe JASON Project's Monster Storms science curriculum transports students to the center of Earth's most extreme weather events. Learn how powerful storms form and how cutting-edge technology is used to better understand and forecast weather as you fly into the eye of a hurricane and chase tornadoes. Check out these fun introductory videos and take a tour of the "storm tracker" digital lab.

Wildfire Awareness
Photo: sidebarDid you know that more than 100,000 wildfires clear 4 to 5 million acres of land in the U.S. every year? National Geographic's Mark Thiessen is an expert at documenting these powerful blazes. Watch a video describing the intrepid wildland photographer's work and view a selection of his photos on NG's natural disasters portal, where you'll also find safety tips. Check out the MWW blog for more on fire awareness, including everyone's favorite friend of the forest: Smokey Bear.
Tour Global Hot Spots
Photo: sidebarGlobal hot spots are places where conflict or change—in environments, cultures, politics, climate, or population—have created new pressures and uncertainties in today's world. Geography can help us understand why these challenges occur and what we can do to solve them. Learn more by taking My Wonderful World's Global Hot Spots Geotour.
Green Effect Contest Winners
Photo: sidebarA fleet of recycling tricycles in California and a green version of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for low-income housing in Washington, DC, are among five winning entries in the Green Effect contest hosted by SunChips® and National Geographic. Winners, selected by online voters and a panel of judges that included actor Edward Norton and National Geographic Weekend radio host Boyd Matson, will each receive $20,000 to put their green idea into action, as well as earn a spot in National Geographic magazine.
Photo: sidebarNat Geo Entertainment is excited to be releasing Amreeka, a film by Cherien Dabis, on September 4. Amreeka (Arabic for "America") tells the heartwarming story of Muna, a Palestinian single mother who comes to live in small-town America with her teenage son. Rated PG-13; go to amreeka.com for more information.
Engaging Kids in Geotourism
Photo: sidebarToday's young people are savvy, opinionated, and passionate about our world's biggest issues. Now is the time to encourage schoolchildren and teens to become dedicated stewards of sustainable travel, but where do we begin? Join a conversation led by Ashoka and National Geographic on Changemakers.com to discuss the best ways to engage youth in the growing geotourism movement.
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Take Action
Photo:Mapping Our Way to Safety
Hurricane, tornado, flood, or wildfire, the 4-H Community Readiness Network helps communities and families improve their ability to be prepared during an emergency. Using geospatial technologies, participants in the Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter Project serve their communities by developing critical mapping tools to aid in the event of natural and other disasters. Students work with local officials to build emergency preparedness teams across the country and, in the process, contribute to expanding geo-literacy nationwide.

Examples of projects:
—A 4-H team in Glenn, County, GA, gathered donations from local businesses like Lowe's®, Wal-Mart, and The Home Depot® to create 100 animal emergency kits. The kits included supplies and maps of area pet shelter locations.

—The "Street Team" teen group in Statesville, NC, has developed an online database with photos of area houses to assist first responders in locating residences in the event of an emergency. Bonus: The local Domino's Pizza is interested in using the website to make speedier deliveries.

Visit the Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter website for more stories like these and for additional information on the program.
Read more >

Take Action
Photo:GIS Aids Planners in Katrina Aftermath
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast to become one of the costliest, deadliest disasters in U.S. history. Many questioned the preparedness of New Orleans and other vulnerable communities to protect people and property from surging waters and evacuate citizens to safety. Luckily, geospatial technology came to the rescue.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, GIS volunteers from several professional organizations, universities, and government agencies set up ad hoc operations bases to supply the expertise, equipment, and mapping resources needed to aid relief efforts. For example, "geocoding," a process of converting street addresses into global positioning system (GPS) coordinates, was used to help first responders navigate streets that were flooded or missing signage. Several years later, satellite imagery and other geographic information is being used to support reconstruction efforts and plan for future hurricanes. Check out these articles from CNN, GIS Corps, GIS Café, and National Public Radio to learn more about how GIS assists with disaster relief efforts around the globe; there are also some excellent academic papers on the topic from researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Directions Magazine.
Read more >

Take Action
Earth Science Explorations Down Under
Our friends Roger and Anita Palmer of GISetc have just returned from leading a group of educators around Australia and they're telling us all about it on the blog.

"There could not have been a better place to be during the July heat of the North American summer than down under! It is winter in Sydney, Australia at 34 degrees south latitude, and 19 educators and some of their family members didn't mind at all that they had to bundle up and wear their jackets. During our stay in Australia, we visited amazing geologic features, including the Jenolan Caves and the Three Sisters at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains, Uluru (Ayer's Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) in the outback. We didn't realize how truly large this country is, but certainly had more of an idea by the time we ended our trip back in Sydney 12 days after we arrived."
Read more >
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