Category: News

CRC graduate participates in Hurricane Irma recovery

Matrix McDaniel, far right, is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District Power Team currently working in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to aid recovery from Hurricane Irma.
Matrix McDaniel, far right, is a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District Power Team currently working in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to aid recovery from Hurricane Irma. Photo submitted.

A graduate of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education program is part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) team aiding in Hurricane Irma recovery.

Matrix McDaniel, a spring 2016 graduate of Jackson State University who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, is part of a 14-person USACE Memphis District team responding to impacts of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico. The team arrived in the island territory on Sept. 11 to provide technical expertise and “turn-key” installation of FEMA emergency generators at critical public facilities, such as hospitals and shelters.

McDaniel joined the Memphis District earlier in the summer and is pursuing his Master of Science degree in Engineering with a Coastal Engineering concentration. His graduate education has been supported by the Education and Workforce Development program of the Department of Homeland Security Office of University Programs. One of the goals of the CRC’s education programs is to educate and place graduates in the workforce of the greater Homeland Security enterprise.

McDaniel’s role with the USACE Power Team is Action Officer, linking USACE, FEMA and other government institutions to fulfill requests. His background is in the technical elements of engineering, he said, and he has realized the value of project management skills in running on-the-ground projects. He said he credits his JSU education with providing a strong foundation in the engineering process.

“With project management experience, in addition to technical expertise, an engineer can venture into many more roles and gather many different experiences,” McDaniel said. “This is relevant because although the mission is to help repair infrastructure, the mission my team had was more about governing.”

The Power Team is part of more than 700 USACE employees in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, North Carolina AND Texas supporting the response to hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Hurricane Irma passed north of Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm on Sept. 7, causing more than 1 million residents to lose power in the initial wake of the event.

HBCU experts gather for Flood and Hurricane Meeting

Attendees of the HBCU Flood and Hurricane Meeting pose with U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (center, at podium).

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) hosted their first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Flood and Hurricane Meeting Aug. 3-4 on the campus of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss. The CRC university network includes 21 universities and colleges from throughout the country.

More than 30 researchers and other professionals representing 21 HBCUs from Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama and the District of Columbia attended the meeting.  The HBCU representatives  interacted with CRC researchers on issues related to response and recovery from natural disasters within minority communities. Because of their locations, historical significance, and positive reputations within their surrounding communities,  HBCUs are likely to be able to help improve outcomes within minority communities.

Stephanie Willett, a program manager within the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) Office of University Programs (OUP), assisted with organizing the meeting. As program manager she has worked intensely with various HBCUs for the past nine years. She has overseen the management of grants, internships and summer programs intended to increase capabilities and involvement of HBCUs in homeland security mission space.  The meeting provided an opportunity for HBCUs with ties to S&T and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to interact and identify synergistic opportunities for future work and opportunities.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, gave the keynote address at the event. Rep. Thompson, a Tougaloo College graduate, spoke about the partnership DHS has with HBCUs and the importance of diversity within the universities that are involved with DHS.

“When I went to meetings [at DHS], there was no one who looked like Bennie Thompson, and I wondered, why?” Rep. Thompson said. “I am trying to make sure the playing field looks like America.”

Rep. Thompson said that through dealing with multiple hurricanes in the Gulf region of Mississippi – including Katrina and Rita– he began to better understand the gaps in emergency management planning for underserved communities. These communities are often disproportionately impacted by natural hazards, he said, and a mission for HBCUs is to train future professionals to provide a talented, local workforce for major emergency management functions.

“We want to, over time, grow that product so we have it here locally,” Rep. Thompson said.

The event featured presentations on CRC education projects by Dr. Meherun Laiju and CRC Education & Workforce Development Director Dr. Robert Whalin. Dr. Gavin Smith, the CRC Director,  spoke about the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, through which University of North Carolina faculty, staff and students, along with state and federal officials, work with six local governments in eastern North Carolina to plan for long-term recovery needs.

Other featured speakers were Norma Anderson, founder of the William Averette (Bill) Anderson Fund; Ellis Stanley, Chairman of the Global Board of the International Association of Emergency Managers; and Dr. April Tanner, who teaches computer science at Jackson State University.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi speaks to attendees of the HBCU Flood and Hurricane Meeting at Tougaloo on Aug. 3.

The Bill Anderson Fund (BAF) was started in honor of its late namesake, who was director of the Natural Disasters Roundtable at the National Academies/National Research Council. The BAF works to increase minority representation in the hazard and disaster mitigation fields, with a heavy emphasis on mentorship, especially of Ph.D. candidates. It currently has 14 fellows, more than 50 volunteers, and is supported by more than 700 individual donors.

Norma Anderson said she works to engage future scholars by asking them to think about their next steps and to ensure the hazards and disasters field reflects the society it impacts. Greater community understanding, she said, can help mitigate future hazards.

“HBCUs should be in a position of understanding what our communities need,” she said. “Many cities are a Flint [Michigan] waiting to happen.”

Stanley stressed the importance of coordination of individuals and groups within university communities to make sure those most impacted by hazards are involved in preparedness discussions. He said that many people don’t know who emergency management officials are in their community, and that students are more aware of community conversations taking place through social media. Engagement across income spectrums is also key to preparedness, he said.

“Poor people are probably the most resilient people in your community because they have to fight to survive every single day,” Stanley said.

Dr. Tanner spoke about her research on the role of social media in disasters. Pulling from government-established social media models as well as commercial systems, Dr. Tanner said she hopes to analyze data on past hazards response to improve response to future events.

Participants broke into groups to discuss how HBCUs could be better involved with the OUP mission and work on coastal resilience efforts specifically. Some of the conclusions and recommendations generated during these discussions included:

  • Utilize the expertise on HBCU campuses – law enforcement, emergency managers, urban planning, computer science – as well as existing relationships with disadvantaged communities and state and local officials.
  • Enhance campus and community engagement through a variety of education options – digital, in-person and tailored to communities.
  • Engage veterinary and agriculture programs to increase their capacity to prepare for hazards. Utilize agriculture programs’ relationship with the rural community and their additional resources to enhance relationships outside of campuses.
  • Identify other stakeholders within disproportionately impacted communities, including churches and nursing homes.
  • Emphasize the integration of social media, GIS mapping and other technologies in education and response training.

Meldon Hollis, J.D., a visiting lecturer at Savannah State University, said that education programs sometimes have to choose between training emergency management practitioners or future scholars.

Attendees at the HBCU Flood and Hurricane Meeting discuss breakout session questions.
Attendees at the HBCU Flood and Hurricane Meeting discuss breakout session questions.

“You have to figure out if you’re training people going out into communities or educating people to get their Ph.D or their master’s,” Hollis said. “We need both, but it’s hard to do that if you’re short on resources.”

Curtis Johnson, Director of Campus Safety and Government Relations at Arkansas Baptist College, said he hopes to further engage the law enforcement community on emergency preparedness and hazard mitigation issues on campus. He has worked to establish a formal emergency management program on campus, and the meeting gave him further information and contacts to push that discussion forward.

“I have already visited the City of Little Rock as far as integration with our campus,” he said. “I think we have some things in motion that we didn’t have before that will impact our city and the people who really need help.”

Dr. Jessica Murphy, Associate Professor and Technology Education Master’s Degree Program Coordinator at Jackson State University, said the discussion of drawing lessons from other countries was particularly interesting.

“At this point, we have been more focused on growing our program from within,” she said. “However, in working with other HBCUs with their distinct programs to grow our own, as well as working with international collaborators, I think that’s one of the key things that will expand our knowledge of emergency management.”

Design teams develop options for Princeville

Residents urged to get involved

When Hurricane Matthew flooded Princeville last fall, it marked the second time in less than 20 years that a flood nearly wiped out the town. Local, state and federal leaders vowed to work with the community to help them recover and figure out solutions to help preserve one of the country’s most historically significant towns.

This week, local and state leaders will host a five-day community design workshop to bring together teams of land use planners, engineers, architects and landscape architects to collaborate with local, state and federal  officials to develop three scenarios for a new 52-acre tract of land that the state intends to buy. The parcel will include houses, businesses, infrastructure, public facilities and community open space in ways that ensure that the new space connects physically, socially, environmentally and economically to historic portions of town.          

“Princeville has a deep, rich history and incredibly resilient people,” said Dempsey Benton, Governor’s Recovery Office director who is leading the hurricane recovery efforts. “The town has a rare opportunity to develop a new portion of land that will be better able to withstand flooding while still preserving this historic community.”

The design workshop begins Friday, Aug. 25. Various local and state officials will make technical presentations to the designers to outline the planning and visioning process and also describe the culture and history of Princeville, review local codes and standards, flooding history, floodplain management and hazard mitigation programs. Additionally, they will discuss levee issues and proposed solutions, and review best practices and lessons learned from other community design projects across the country. Friday afternoon, local officials will lead the design teams on a tour of the community.

During the day Saturday through Monday, the design teams will create three conceptual plans for Princeville’s future. Each evening from 6 to 8 p.m., the three teams will present their ideas at an open house to gather feedback from local residents and town leaders, then adjust the designs based on input they receive. Residents are encouraged to come multiple nights to see the evolving designs as they change based on public input.

“Local input is critical,” said Mayor Bobbie Jones. “This is our town and we want our citizens to help decide its future. These plans will help ensure our future.”

Co-sponsored by the town of Princeville, Edgecombe County, NC State Design School, the UNC Center for Coastal Resilience, North Carolina Emergency Management and the Governor’s Recovery Office, the workshop is a one-of-a-kind collaborative effort amongst government agencies, universities, and subject matter experts to protect one of nation’s most significant towns.

 “Our goal is to partner with the people of Princeville and together develop a workable plan for a community that is flood resilient, attractive, safe and welcoming,” said Gavin Smith, professor in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning and director of the Coastal Resilience Center who is leading the Princeville design workshop. 

Tuesday evening at 6, the design teams will present their final concepts for how the town could be developed in a way that connects the new tract of land with historic Princeville, while still allowing the town to expand in the future. Ultimately, town leaders will determine which plan is the most viable.

Initiative addresses community needs post-Matthew

Dr. Gavin Smith, who heads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery & Resilience Initiative, walks along Main Street in downtown Fair Bluff, N.C., one of six communities that is the focus of the project. Photo by Darien Williams.
Dr. Gavin Smith, who heads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, walks along Main Street in downtown Fair Bluff, N.C., one of six communities that is the focus of the project. Photo by Darien Williams.

Matthew work continues in 6 impacted communities 

Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) researchers, state officials and students from the University of North Carolina system have begun field work to address the unique needs of communities in eastern North Carolina impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

They are working as part of the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (Initiative), which began earlier this year to address recovery and rebuilding issues in six communities: Princeville, Fair Bluff, Seven Springs, Windsor, Kinston and Lumberton. Since early spring, a team led by CRC Director and UNC-Chapel Hill Professor Dr. Gavin Smith has met with leaders from the six communities to learn about the particular challenges the communities face.

The Initiative is funded by the State of North Carolina (through disaster-recovery appropriations and through the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, through the Flood Apex program.

The towns face unique issues and are located in four distinct watersheds: Fair Bluff and Lumberton along the Lumber River; Kinston and Seven Springs in the Neuse River watershed; Princeville in the Tar-Pamlico watershed; and Windsor along the Cashie River.

Several projects underway

Princeville, N.C., officials give a tour of the damage to the town museum, which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
Princeville, N.C., officials give a tour of the damage to the town museum, which was damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Jessica Southwell.

Within the larger Initiative, recovery planning is underway to support each of the six communities, which involves deep community engagement throughout the process. The recovery planning process includes creating a broad community vision, a set of associated goals and the identification of policies and projects. Common themes addressed in a recovery plan include housing, infrastructure, public facilities, public health, hazard mitigation, economic development and finance. Recovery planning projects intended to help residents turn their communities’ vision of recovery into reality include:

  • A team from North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) College of Design, led by Professor Andrew Fox, is designing housing prototypes for residents who are being bought out and will relocate. The proposed housing designs will ultimately inform bid specifications used by builders to construct replacement housing in the affected communities, but located outside the floodplain.

The NCSU College of Design has also developed open space guidance to be used by communities participating in the buyout. Once acquired, the home is demolished and the land turned into open space. Appropriately designed, this open space can serve as local amenities and as community greenways, pocket parks and flood retention areas. The housing designs and open space guidance have been combined in a report titled “HomePlace,” and will be placed online once completed.

  • Dr. Mai Nguyen, of the Department of City and Regional Planning at UNC-CH, is leading an effort along with several UNC-CH graduate students to focus on housing and relocation strategies. This effort focuses on families who have chosen to accept buyouts of their properties, including interviews with residents to ascertain family size, whether they would be able to return to a new home nearby (but outside of the floodplain) and other factors that can inform the types and locations of replacement housing to be built.
  • The HMDRRI is also working with North Carolina Emergency Management, including Lea Sabbag, a former Career Development Grant recipient at the CRC. Sabbag is part of a group studying affordable housing solutions for impacted communities.

    Princeville, N.C., Commissioner Milton Bullock (orange shirt) gives HMDRRI staff and students a tour of Hurricane Matthew-impacted areas of the town. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
    Princeville, N.C., Commissioner Milton Bullock (orange shirt) gives HMDRRI staff and students a tour of Hurricane Matthew-impacted areas of the town. Photo by Jessica Southwell.
  • Sarah Odio of the Development Finance Initiative, part of the School of Government at UNC-CH, is leading a study focused on the financial viability and associated economic development opportunities in three hard-hit communities.
  • The N.C. Rural Center is funding an effort to identify varied flood retrofit techniques for historic downtown buildings. These funds will enable experts from the Association of State Floodplain Managers to conduct this study. The results and estimated costs will be used to inform efforts to identify funds to implement the techniques identified.

Community needs assessed

As part of the process of gathering information to assist in recovery planning for six communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew, Initiative staff, students and partners made community visits from May 15-17, 2017. During visits to Fair Bluff, Kinston, Seven Springs, Windsor and Princeville, the project team toured damaged historic downtown and residential areas, and spoke with local stakeholders on issues faced on the road to recovery.

N.C. State University Professor Andrew Fox, right, discusses redesign options for buildings in Seven Springs, N.C., with Mayor Stephen Potter, second from right. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.
N.C. State University Professor Andrew Fox, right, discusses redesign options for buildings in Seven Springs, N.C., with Mayor Stephen Potter, second from right. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.

An important objective of the HMDRRI is to link schools within the University of North Carolina system through resource-sharing agreements to assist targeted communities with unmet needs. Initiative leadership is working with local governments and the N.C. Governor’s Office, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Planning and Capacity Building group.

All six communities have faced significant impacts from Hurricane Matthew and subsequent flooding, and have modest-to-low capacity to address recovery needs, which will necessitate working with them for 1-2 years.

Another important aspect of the Initiative is to provide a hands-on learning environment for students, who gain practical experience not found in the classroom.

“Working with my peers on this project, outside of a more prescriptive experience, and dealing with many unknowns, has presented a different set of challenges than working in a classroom,” UNC-Chapel Hill student and CRC Education and Workforce Development grant recipient Colleen Durfee said. “I am working through these situations with talented, passionate individuals on the project who want to impact change in these communities. Recovery can be unpredictable, and we can use what we have learned while being challenged – you don’t get that in the classroom.”

For instance, some design concepts for impacted communities were proposed during a student competition, DesignWeek, which was held at NCSU’s College of Design in January. Students from multiple North Carolina universities came together to assess the best ways for two impacted communities studied under the Initiative – Windsor and Kinston (and a third, Greenville) to rebuild.

About 70 students worked in teams, along with participating schools’ faculty, industry representatives and community leaders, to research and create designs that mitigate flood damage and improve resiliency in the towns. Some student perspectives can be found on the CRC blog.

Four teams of students won student awards – three Analysis & Planning Honor Awards and one Analysis & Planning Merit Award – at the 2017 American Society of Landscape Architects Southeastern Regional Conference in June.

Other efforts

Seven Springs, N.C., business owner and resident Ronda Hughes, center, discusses the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on her property. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.
Seven Springs, N.C., business owner and resident Ronda Hughes, center, discusses the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on her property. Photo by Mary Lide Parker.

Additional researchers are working with the six communities, including some involved in other CRC projects. CRC Principal Investigator Dr. Jen Horney has proposed working with the Department of Health and Human Services to apply her CRC project’s disaster recovery indicators in impacted communities.

Another project is closely tied to CRC’s participation in the Flood Apex project, a FEMA initiative that brings new and emerging technologies together to increase communities’ resilience to flood events and to provide predictive analytic tools for floods. A Floyd-Matthew Study component of Flood Apex will explore the hazard mitigation policies, plans, investments, activities and actions taken by the State of North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd (1999) to increase resilience. These actions, which could have lessened the impact of Hurricane Matthew, will be studied to improve understanding of the impacts of state- and local-level mitigation actions over the course of repeat disasters.

For more information on the CRC’s involvement in Hurricane Matthew recovery, and to find resources for other UNC-CH involvement, visit the Hurricane Matthew Information page. To see images from site visits, visit the CRC Flickr account.

Q&A: Career Development Grant recipient Ashton Rohmer

Ashton Rohmer, a recent master’s graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the first recipients of the Career Development Grants (CDG) from the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC). She reflected on her work with the CRC and other projects to bring together practitioners focusing on resilience.

Can you describe the work you did with the CRC during graduate school and how it shaped your career goals?

I worked on two major projects with CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith over the past two years. One examined the state’s role in disaster recovery, a project that was aided by the fact that Dr. Smith has been quite involved with various state recovery operations in his career. In particular, we looked at both Mississippi’s response to Hurricane Katrina and North Carolina’s response to Hurricane Floyd, specifically on recovery processes. Together with Lea Sabbag, the first CDG recipient, I helped with drafting the overview pieces for each state and also proofread and edited the final article that Dr. Smith authored and that we’re hoping to get published in an academic journal.

Ashton Rohmer

The other project that I worked on was the Resilient Design Education Study, which was requested by the White House under the Obama administration, as a way to learn about the state of resilient design education at colleges and universities across the U.S. There are different disciplines that relate to the topic of resilient design that we focused on for our study – engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, planning and building sciences. We wanted to get a sense of what these programs were offering to students, what innovative programs there might be, and potentially what gaps and challenges schools might face. We are hoping that this information could be helpful to catalog existing programs, identify best practices, and determine whether or not students are adequately prepared to go into this field and contribute to our nation’s homeland security efforts.

 

Describe your experience interning with the National Park Service in the summer of 2016 and how that applies to the sort of things you want to do in your career, regarding climate.

I was really fortunate to be selected for the George Melendez Wright Initiative for Young Leaders in Climate Change. I worked with the National Park Service Park Planning and Special Studies Division in Washington, D.C. as a climate change adaptation planning intern. I was involved with several projects: One was interviewing park superintendents, park planners at the regional level, facility managers for specific parks, the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Manager, and others who have insight into climate change issues at coastal park units about the challenges they face around climate change and the progress they have made to make their parks more resilient.

Through these interviews, I collected information about projects that made coastal park units more resilient to storm surge, sea-level rise, and other climate change impacts, and then created six fact sheets with detailed information that could potentially help other parks look at what their options are and determine how feasible different projects would be. I wrote a report on my activities and presented it to leadership within my group to highlight what we could do to better support parks’ work in the face of climate change. It was a very helpful experience working with the Park Service because I now have a better understanding of not only how climate change is affecting infrastructure and buildings, but also natural and cultural resources. That exposure and the folks I was able to talk with who expanded my knowledge of climate science and specific impacts that are happening on the ground will be useful going forward in whatever career I end up in.

 

You started the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners group – it’s a listserv, a newsletter and a website, and you planned a Triangle Resilience Student Research Symposium. Can you tell me about how that started and what you hope to do with it in the future?

In my first semester, I got a request to send a resource to “all of the hazards people” – I didn’t really know who those were, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to come up with a way to reach out in a centralized fashion. Lea and I began by collecting email addresses and sending the Triangle Resilience newsletter, which included job postings, events, and articles. The newsletter catalyzed the creation of the Triangle Resilience blog, which served as a repository for newsletter content. Now that I’ve graduated I hope to transfer that to another student – fortunately there are several students in the program who are passionate about hazards, so I’m hoping there will be interest to keep it going.

The newsletter and blog led to the creation of the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners (CHRP) group within the Department of City and Regional Planning [at UNC-CH], which serves to give the growing group of students interested in hazards a way to come together and create programming that is helpful to their academic or professional pursuits. We are open to people all across the Triangle, and indeed would love to collaborate with students from local universities or different schools and departments at UNC.

The CHRP group coalesced around an idea for a research symposium – which we held in April – that would provide students from UNC, Duke, and NC State an opportunity to present their research in a low-cost, low-pressure setting. We were also successful in bringing experts from different fields to the Symposium to share their insights on issues related to equity, communicating with local stakeholders on climate change issues in the current political atmosphere, and how to work across silos. These panels and discussions were a great complement to the student presentations.

Going forward, I am abdicating my duties, but have spoken with some current students about how best to move the group forward and ensure that student interests are well represented in our events. Either way, I am hoping that these efforts will continue to bring students, researchers, and practitioners from across the Triangle together and also recognize opportunities to co-host events and highlight resources across a broader audience than just our little student group at UNC.

 

You have been working with the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative to aide recovery for six eastern North Carolina communities. What have been your biggest takeaways from this kind of work?

The primary takeaway I have is an appreciation of just how complex recovery is. Specifically, recovery is a constant tug-of-war between speed and deliberation – it’s something we talked about it a lot in class, but being in it gives you a whole new perspective. We’re constantly having conversations about meeting unmet needs as soon as possible, but also doing so in a way that is responsible as there are broader issues that we need to keep in mind. Thankfully, though, I’ve also learned that there are a lot of passionate and smart people working on recovery issues. While it’s complex coordinating with all of those different partners, it’s also encouraging to know that there are so many people that are trying their best to help these communities in North Carolina.

 

What does the future hold for you?

I’ve been so grateful to have received support from the Department of Homeland Security to pursue my passion for resilience, and look forward to finding a job contributing to the field. Throughout the past two years as a fellow, student and conference participant, I have been amazed by how broad the field is, how interesting and dynamic it is, and how many opportunities exist. Because there are so many areas involved in resilience and hazards, my experiences thus far have taught me that once I find a niche, it will be really important for me to keep that in mind – the idea that, while I might be focused on a specific aspect of resilience, there are hundreds and thousands of people who are working on a wide variety of issues that will have a lot of overlap with what I’m doing, and to not shy away from trying to make those connections and see how we can all work together to make more resilient communities. Lastly, I’ve learned how critically important it is to look at resilience through an equity lens, so I hope to work in a place that values tackling the social justice issues that increase vulnerability.

Education program to teach project management skills in emergency response settings

In the 10 years between 2003-2012, natural disasters caused estimated global losses of more than $150 billion and the loss of more than 100,000 lives per year, according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster. Recovery from these disasters involves emergency management activities paid for by federal, state and local agencies and organizations.

For her project with the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), Dr. Sandra Knight treats that recovery and building of resilience as a large-scale project that can be approached through project management frameworks.

Dr. Sandra Knight
Dr. Sandra Knight

The project led by Dr. Knight, “Development and Testing of a Project Management Curriculum for Emergency Managers,” at the University of Maryland (UMD) focuses on developing a curriculum to improve project management skills in the emergency management community. Other participants in the project include John Cable and Dr. Allison Reilly of the Project Management Institute at UMD.

To better manage the escalating costs and complex demands of natural hazards, emergency managers, engineers and construction managers should integrate their skills to deliver projects and programs that are resilient in post-disaster environments, Dr. Knight said. The goal of the education project is to develop and test a curriculum that combines the challenges of emergency management with the capabilities and technologies introduced through project management processes.

The Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council has established that building resilience into the built, environmental and social systems helps mitigate financial losses by a factor of at least 4:1.  While mitigating in advance of disasters is desirable, most funds are provided in a post-disaster environment – the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster mitigation grants represent approximately 15 percent of the total disaster dollars, Dr. Knight said.  Major investments are made through public assistance funds, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants and supplemental appropriations for disaster response, clean-up and recovery.

“Managing the vast portfolio of disaster funds, which come from many disparate sources, is a daunting task that can be improved through proven organizational processes,” Dr. Knight said. “We live in an environment where the cost of disasters, particularly in coastal areas, is continually rising. By the year 2050, one report estimates that we’ll experience losses of $1 trillion a year in coastal areas.

“It is imperative, in this often-urgent post-disaster environment, that project and emergency managers have the right training and educational skills to effectively deliver projects on-time and on-budget while being considerate of the needs of the community and planning for a resilient future.”

A FEMA Community Relations team, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and State Emergency Response Team (SERT) members meet as they go door to door providing outreach for potential Tropical Storm Fay-affected residents in 2008. Photo by George Armstrong/FEMA.
A FEMA Community Relations team, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and State Emergency Response Team (SERT) members meet as they go door to door providing outreach for potential Tropical Storm Fay-affected residents in 2008. Photo by George Armstrong/FEMA.

Disasters create disruptive environments that require emergency managers to make critical decisions within limited time frames with often less-than-optimal resources, she said. These decisions include executing and managing projects and programs under volatile change management scenarios while people and communities are dealing with loss and confusion.

“By incorporating modern project management processes, technologies and skills, emergency managers will be able to manage and execute disaster-related projects and meet resilience goals more effectively and efficiently,” Dr. Knight said. “By building disaster-resilient concepts and emergency protocols into project management processes, project managers will be equipped to contribute to a more sustainable and disaster-resilient future.”

The project combines two distinct functions and career fields: Emergency management, which functions to protect communities and reduce vulnerabilities by mitigating and responding to hazards, and project management, the process of applying specific knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to meet project requirements. Project management tools include managing cost and schedules, preparing for change and mitigating project risks, maintaining quality assurance and quality control, while communicating expectations to those responsible for the projects and programs and those impacted by them.

Applying project management organizational processes and tools to emergency management, Dr. Knight said researchers hope to allow emergency managers to meet resilience goals more efficiently. By building disaster-resilience concepts and emergency protocols into project management, project managers will be better equipped to contribute to overall resilience.

Practitioners in emergency management and project managers who carry out emergency management activities will have the opportunity to hone their knowledge and skills through a set of courses that will be offered through the existing UMD Project Management Program. Curricula will be developed to support existing certifications for practitioners and both degree and non-degree programs at the University of Maryland. An introductory course, “Principles of Disaster Management,” was taught in the spring 2017 semester, with 11 students participating.

Managing the vast portfolio of disaster funds, which come from many disparate sources, is a daunting task that can be improved through proven organizational processes. We live in an environment where the cost of disasters, particularly in coastal areas, is continually rising.

Initial feedback was very positive, Dr. Knight said. Several students said that the experience made them more likely to pursue disaster-related fields, and scored highly the discussion of engineering solutions to societal issues.

UMD’s Center for Disaster Resilience will develop and test courses through coordination with the International Association of Emergency Management, FEMA coordinating offices and other potential Homeland Security partners. The project team will create targeted training materials and short-courses to provide the broadest access possible for practitioners.

While some emergency managers have experience in operating in fast-paced and disruptive environments, most do not have formal project management training, Knight said.

“When emergency managers, construction engineers and design engineers hit the ground post-disaster to recover and rebuild, it’s important that they do so smartly and effectively,” Dr. Knight said.

CRC researchers search for appropriate incentives for coastal home protection

Only half of single-family homes in FEMA-defined Special Flood Hazard Areas are estimated to have flood insurance. Outside of those zones, the rate is estimated at 1 percent. Only 4 percent of homeowners are expected to voluntarily retrofit their homes to be better prepared for wind damages under Florida’s current wind mitigation credit program.

Retrofitting and insurance are primary ways to manage coastal storm risks, but both are relatively under-utilized. A higher rate of both could lead to significant savings in areas frequently impacted by storms, if only governments and insurers could find ways to make people purchase better protections.

Dr. Rachel Davidson
Dr. Rachel Davidson

That is the issue being studied through a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence project led by University of Delaware professor Dr. Rachel Davidson. Researchers involved in “An Interdisciplinary Approach to Household Strengthening and Insurance Decisions” are attempting to understand the processes that lead homeowners to purchase insurance or decide to retrofit their homes to defend against natural hazards. These decisions, researchers say, play into a large-scale effort to manage existing building stock at risk from coastal storms. Other researchers on the project are Dr. Jamie Kruse of East Carolina University, Dr. Linda Nozick of Cornell University and Dr. Joseph Trainor of the University of Delaware.

“Insurance and retrofitting of homes are two of the ways we can make communities safer and protect existing buildings,” Dr. Davidson said. “We need to understand how people make decisions to do those things or not.”

Dr. Davidson and the project team are using phone survey data they previously collected about homeowners’ self-reported past and future hurricane retrofit and insurance decisions. They will use it to fit new statistical models of homeowner decision-making, and will integrate those into an existing mathematical framework they developed as part of an earlier project.

“Future programs and policies intended to reduce coastal natural disaster risk will be more effective if designed to align with how homeowners actually make these choices,” Dr. Davidson said.

Making communities safer

The survey data come from more than 350 homeowners in eastern North Carolina. The mathematical framework includes models of homeowner and primary insurer decisions, together with a model that estimates hurricane losses and inputs representing reinsurer and government roles. Using the model, researchers will fit choices made (buying insurance or not buying it, retrofitting or not) to the description of homeowner, type of home and alternatives available to them.

The research team will study the effectiveness of different types of incentives on, for example, deciding to retrofit a property.

“We’re trying to predict what percentage of people would undertake these tasks, to get a better idea of what the likely penetration rate is for insurance if we change the price or any of the characteristics of the policy,” Dr. Davidson said.

Dr. Davidson's model will be developed using phone survey data from 350 respondents in eastern North Carolina.
Dr. Davidson’s model will be developed using phone survey data from 350 respondents in eastern North Carolina.

They hope the resulting models can be used to predict the percentage of homeowners in a region will buy insurance or choose to retrofit a property under each described circumstance or hypothetical, government-led program.

End users for the project include the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration – Risk Analysis Division; the National Preparedness Directorate in FEMA’s Individual and Community Preparedness Division; the Association of State Floodplain Managers; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Applied Economics Office Community Resilience Group and Materials and Structural Systems Division.

Developing a win-win

The project framework will capitalize on the emerging view that mitigation efforts are good investments that can save money before a disaster, as compared to costs for recovering from a disaster. Similarly, the whole community’s involvement broadens the impacts of decisions across a wider group of people than just the homeowners themselves.

So far, findings are that, as expected, higher premiums correspond with a lower percentage of homeowners buying insurance for flood damages. The trend is similar to that for wind damage. Demand for insurance, however, is not very sensitive to premium and deductible costs. Homeowners are more likely to purchase insurance if they have had a more recent experience with a hurricane or tropical storm, are in a floodplain, are closer to the coast, are younger and/or have a higher income. The recent experience factor had more of an impact when the storm caused damage to their home.

“Insurers, or in the case of the federal government, the National Flood Insurance Program, need to understand how to set rates,” Dr. Davidson said. “They need them to be high enough they can stay solvent in the case of an event, but also low enough that people will actually buy the products.”

For retrofitting decision-making, initial data suggests that grants to homeowners have a bigger impact than low-interest loans or insurance premium reductions. Homeowners that are closer to the coast, in a floodplain, in a newer home or have experienced a hurricane or tropical storm in the last year are, similar to the insurance purchase model, more likely to invest in retrofitting.

“We hope to put it all together to understand how we should be designing these policies so they are as effective as possible. We want to make sure that, from each group’s perspective, they are better off and more resilient at the end.”

Each of the end users in this project face challenges. Homeowners who do not have appropriate insurance and have not retrofitted their homes face longer roads to recovery after an event. Governments, similarly, face larger, unexpected costs that can disrupt the efficiency of municipal budgeting. Insurers have to price insurance low enough that it is purchased but high enough to insure profits and fiscal solvency.

A “win-win” tool or approach that addresses these interdependent needs and challenges would depend on homeowner biases that include aversion to upfront costs, underestimation of the probability of a disaster and a short time in which to make changes, Dr. Davidson said. Ultimately, the researchers plan to develop a software tool to help state-level officials identify and evaluate alternative public policies aimed at finding effective, sustainable, win-win solutions to better manage natural disaster risk associated with existing buildings.

Specific policy tools could range from offering grants up to a certain percentage of homeowner retrofitting costs, at a capped amount. Alternately, it could include a program to buy damaged homes up to a percentage of their market value. The tool could help agencies think about the role each end user group can play and how different policy choice could impact each group.

“We hope to put it all together to understand how we should be designing these policies so they are as effective as possible,” Dr. Davidson said. “We want to make sure that, from each group’s perspective, they are better off and more resilient at the end.”

Former CRC education program student selected for prestigious Knauss Fellowship

A former student who was part of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education program has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from the National Sea Grant College Program.

Devon McGhee. Courtesy of North Carolina Sea Grant.

Devon McGhee, a recent master’s degree graduate in environmental management at Duke University, was named one of five North Carolina finalists for the 2018 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program. Finalists will head to Washington, D.C., this fall to meet with potential host offices in the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. The fellowships are expected to begin in February 2018.

McGhee received a certificate in natural hazards resilience from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is part of a CRC education project led by CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith. She also worked on a CRC-led Hurricane Matthew recovery project, the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. McGhee’s master’s project focused on effectiveness of buyouts on Staten Island after Superstorm Sandy.

“I was ecstatic to find out I had been selected as a finalist,” McGhee said. “I am looking forward to working on the Hill and learning more about how federal agencies and legislative bodies are, or could be, encouraging coastal resilience.”

Knauss finalists are chosen through a competitive process that includes several rounds of review. Students finishing Masters, Juris Doctor (J.D.), and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs with a focus and/or interest in marine science, policy or management apply to one of 33 Sea Grant programs.

For more information, see a release from the North Carolina Sea Grant.

Rhode Island researchers partner with emergency managers for statewide preparedness exercise

University of Rhode Island (URI) researchers involved in a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project demonstrated their project’s simulations in a joint training exercise last month with the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Pam Rubinoff, right, and Dr. Austin Becker, second from right, instruct participants in a June training on preparation for "Hurricane Rhody." Photo via the University of Rhode Island.
Pam Rubinoff, right, and Dr. Austin Becker, second from right, instruct participants in a June training on preparation for “Hurricane Rhody.” Photo via the University of Rhode Island.

The Integrated Emergency Management Course (IEMC), held from June 19-22 in Warwick, R.I., used the project’s “Hurricane Rhody” simulations in a four-day exercise that took the place of the traditional annual preparedness conference. The exercise, attended by more than 100 emergency managers from Rhode Island municipalities, state agencies, non-profit organizations and FEMA Region 1, focused on response to hurricane scenarios and while identifying key actions taken before, during and after a hurricane. The course included three days with presentations on emergency management and emergency operations center activities. Day 4 was an exercise in the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and five municipal EOCs, which were connected virtually.

Outcomes from the course will provide RIEMA with an opportunity to enhance overall preparedness, while actively testing modeling outputs during various parts of the course.

The CRC project led by Dr. Isaac Ginis, “Modeling the combined coastal and inland hazards from high-impact hypothetical hurricanes,” includes the development of an advanced, multi-modal ensemble system used for realistic computer simulations of hurricane hazards and impacts. “Hurricane Rhody” is a hypothetical storm that would directly impact Rhode Island, developed by simulating high-impact historical and hypothetical worst-case scenarios by combining multiple hazards elements – including wind, waves and coastal flooding due to storm surge. Dr. Ginis recently received a Microsoft Azure Research Award, a one-year grant that allows the project team to utilize cloud computing technology to develop models and other three-dimensional visualization products most useful for use by emergency managers, first responders and other professionals.

The hypothetical Hurricane Rhody, shown in red.
The hypothetical Hurricane Rhody, shown in red.

The URI team included Associate Coastal Manager Pam Rubinoff as the Principal Investigator of the course and outreach liaison; Dr. Ginis as lead of the modeling team along with Chris Kincaid and David Ullman; Dr. Austin Becker as lead of the impacts assessment and visualization lab along with PhD student Peter Stempel and Masters student Bobby Witkop; and Tougaloo student Courtney Hill, a participant in the CRC’s SUMREX program.

To create a realistic training environment, the modeling team at URI partnered with RIEMA and FEMA to develop “Hurricane Rhody” scenarios and impact visualizations. Impact analysis for Rhody was developed in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis, RIEMA and FEMA Emergency Management Institute. Impact analysis also included collecting “thresholds data” of facility mangers’ specific concerns about hurricane damages to their facilities.  Graduate students in Marine Affairs developed new expert elicitation methods designed to integrate this qualitative data with the hurricane model.

The URI Marine Affairs Visualization Lab then developed high-resolution 3D visualizations to show how impacts of concern would occur as the storm advanced. These new integrated capabilities enhance how emergency managers can understand how critical infrastructure, utilities transportation will be impacted by major hazard events.

Participants viewed this hypothetical storm with many of the tools used to prepare for existing storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Office in Taunton, Mass., developed hypothetical tropical storm advisories and hazard graphics, along with daily weather briefings, for the exercise. Employees from FEMA Region I implemented the Hurricane Rhody scenario into the DHS S&T recently transitioned HURREVAC-eXtended (HV-X) storm tracking and decision support computer program used by state and local emergency managers as well as federal agencies.

Participants in the training view simulations of hypothetical storm impacts on Rhode Island. Photo submitted by the University of Rhode Island.
Participants in the training view simulations of hypothetical storm impacts on Rhode Island. Photo submitted by the University of Rhode Island.

Rubinoff said the event was a success, and the URI team has been invited to present their modeling tools and visualizations to FEMAR Region 1 leadership and practitioners in September.

“Comments from emergency managers have been overwhelmingly positive,” Rubinoff said. “We are in the process of gathering feedback and scheduling meetings with regional, state and local decision makers that should help us to formulate the work plan for the project next stage.”

RIEMA is already considering using the presented materials for further trainings and exercises to update state materials to current threat standards.

“The information and modeling provided by URI will be used within RIEMA-sponsored trainings and exercises to update the scientific data and modeling used,” Stephen Conard, RIEMA Training & Exercise Specialist, said. “RIEMA can use this information within the State Emergency Operations Center for catastrophic planning. The information given from URI can also be used in long-term planning to deal with the effects that sea level rise plays on 21 of RI’s 39 communities.”

CRC researcher to participate in Pardee RAND faculty leaders program

Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Meherun Laiju of Tougaloo College has received a prestigious fellowship to participate in an event focusing on natural disasters this summer.

Dr. Laiju was among a dozen researchers awarded a fellowship to participate in the Pardee RAND Faculty Leaders Program, a week-long workshop that takes place in July in Santa Monica, Calif at Pardee Rand Graduate School.

Dr. Laiju, whose project focuses on an education program to develop a minor in disaster studies, will conduct a meta-analysis and prepare a report on the factors related to exploitation of children after disasters. The goal, she said, is to show the need to include child protective intervention programs in contingency planning, starting during the emergency phase of disaster response.

Dr. Laiju was among several researchers on CRC projects being honored in recent months:

  • In May, the Environmental Law Institute named CRC PI Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University the recipient of its 2017 National Wetlands Award for Science Research in his role as Louisiana Sea Grant Executive Director. The award recognizes Dr. Twilley’s work on wetland ecology in the Gulf Coast, Latin America and in the Pacific Islands. He is also involved with developing models and designs to forecast how the state’s $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan will rebuild wetlands.
  • In February, Dr. Austin Becker, a professor of marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island, has been named a Sloan Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, one of the most prestigious fellowships available to early-career scientists in the United States. The two-year fellowship is awarded to stimulate fundamental research by scholars of outstanding promise in a variety of disciplines. Becker works on a CRC project led by  James Opaluch.
  • In January, CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith received a 2017 University Teaching Award from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The award recognizes faculty who “promote the value of teaching by example, demonstrate concern for students through interaction and approachability inside and outside the classroom, create meaningful learning experiences and maintain high expectations of their students.”
  • Last fall, CRC co-PI Dr. Mo Gabr, of N.C. State University, won the American Society for Engineering Education Southeastern Section Outstanding Teaching Award. According to the award announcement, Gabr “has made exceptional contributions to the Civil Engineering education through the development and offering of new courses, leading the department effort for the 2010 ABET accreditation, and performing NSF-supported projects for the improvement of laboratory experiences for distance education students and the introduction of sensors into the undergraduate curriculum.”