Category: News

Maryland researchers host project management training for disaster responders

A Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) education project led by the University of Maryland’s Dr. Sandra Knight recently hosted a project management training in which emergency managers assessed their job functions and looked for ways to improve how they manage recovery processes.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s Insurance and Mitigation Readiness Division (IMRD) worked with the University of Maryland’s Center for Disaster Resilience to lead a workshop, “A Project Management Framework for HM Disaster Functions,” on May 15, 2018, in Emmitsburg, Md. The training centered around introducing a framework for project management for Hazard Mitigation Disaster Cadre mid-level managers.

Participants in “A Project Management Framework for HM Disaster Functions," a training course delivered by the University of Maryland, work through group assessment activities. Photo by Don Bouchard.
Participants in “A Project Management Framework for HM Disaster Functions,” a training course delivered by the University of Maryland, work through group assessment activities. Photo by Don Bouchard.

About 70 professionals, most of whom had recently been deployed to disaster-response sites around the United States, attended the training. The workshop helped identify current challenges and opportunities among individual roles and processes within the mitigation mission area, identifying priority areas that could potentially improve future delivery and performance. Many of the attendees could be redeployed to recovery areas.

In addition to Dr. Knight, instructors included University of Maryland’s Greg Baecher, Softek’s Don Bouchard and John Johnson and JoAnna Wagschal of Ideation, Inc.

“The workshop confirmed that implementing mitigation programs in a disaster environment is extremely difficult,” Dr. Knight said. “While the dedication to the mission by the mitigation cadre was extraordinary, there were plenty of areas where improvements in process, a focus on key activities and special training would make their efforts more enduring. We appreciated the opportunity to conduct this workshop and the genuine enthusiasm of the 70 professionals who attended.”

Training process

Dr. Sandra Knight
Dr. Sandra Knight

The workshop broke down practitioners’ jobs into functional areas: Community Education and Outreach; Grants and Planning; Floodplain Management and Insurance; and Hazards Performance and Analysis.

Participants shared all their current job activities to help identify opportunities for improvement, while learning about project management processes in layman’s terms to evaluate how well their current jobs align with the project management framework.

Training was broken into four learning sessions. The opening and closing were presentations and discussions with the whole class, first introducing project management and finally, looking at how it aligns with their jobs. The majority of the training was conducted in breakout sessions, where between eight and 10 participants – grouped by their respective functional areas – were given exercises to stimulate discussion. The disaster employees were first asked to identify all the activities they perform on a daily or weekly basis. Then they discussed the challenges and opportunities, landing on priority needs and a wish list of things they would change.

“The skills gained from this training will accelerate FIMA’s effort to have the right people in the right place at the right time,” said Kelly DeGraff, Director of FEMA’s Insurance and Mitigation Readiness Division. “Introducing project management to emergency managers will increase their ability to make sound, rapid and accurate decisions while having limited access to information.

“There is a shared history between project managers and emergency managers where both cope with changing environments and unexpected requirements. Project management before, during and after disasters can reduce hazards, guide recovery, support rebuilding and help to sustain community resilience.”

Dr. Sandra Knight presents during the training session. Photo by Don Bouchard.
Dr. Sandra Knight presents during the training session. Photo by Don Bouchard.

The training is part of a CRC project led by Dr. Knight, “Development and Testing of a Project Management Curriculum for Emergency Managers,” at the University of Maryland (UMD), which explores the opportunity to introduce project management skills in the emergency management community. The goal of the education project is to develop and test training and/or curricula that combine the challenges of emergency management with the capabilities and technologies introduced through project management processes to better manage the escalating costs and complex demands of natural hazards

The project explored the goal through two distinct career lenses: 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.

In addition to the workshop for FEMA, a curriculum has been developed to support a concentration at the master’s and Ph.D.-level in the University of Maryland’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department on resilient engineering.  As part of the CRC project and as a part of the broader resilience curriculum, an introductory course, “Principles of Disaster Management,” was taught in the spring 2017 semester and will be offered biannually beginning in Spring of 2019.

Based on her research, Dr. Knight concluded that by adapting and using project management tools in emergency management, resilience goals can be achieved more efficiently. By correspondingly building disaster-resilience concepts and emergency protocols into project management, project managers will be better equipped to contribute to overall resilience.


NC State project aims to create faster storm surge forecasting

CRC PI Dr. Casey Dietrich
Dr. Casey Dietrich

Planning for a hurricane is a complicated process involving many stakeholders and varying degrees of uncertainty. Accurate predictions of storm surge and wave heights are vital to decision-making before, during and after the storm. Creating these predictions through modeling software can be expensive and time-consuming. When dealing with hurricanes, time is critical for emergency managers and other officials.

Helping decision-makers to save valuable prediction time is CRC Principal Investigator Dr. Casey Dietrich of North Carolina State University (NCSU). His project, “Improving the Efficiency of Wave and Surge Models via Adaptive Mesh Resolution,” involves collaboration with co-PI Dr. Clint Dawson at the University of Texas at Austin. Their project focuses on speeding up a widely used prediction tool, ADCIRC. His work with North Carolina Emergency Management during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and his contributions to developing future disaster resilience specialists, have helped make significant contributions to disaster preparation and recovery.

Speeding up predictions

Dr. Dietrich is investigating new ways to optimize coastal ocean models as part of his CRC project to improve ADCIRC, a storm surge prediction tool used by state and federal emergency management officials, among others. The results of his research will make the tool faster, more efficient, and more accurate when predicting flooding from storms.

“We are working with how ADCIRC is employed on a parallel computer, and trying to better use the computing resources that are available so that we can make those predictions much faster,” Dr. Dietrich said. Read more

Summer Research Team to build on collaborative summer project work

Two researchers from Norfolk State University (NSU) will continue a second summer of funded collaboration with Old Dominion University (ODU) as part of a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Summer Research Team Program for Minority-Serving Institutions will support continuation of work by Dr. Camellia Okpodu and Dr. Bernadette Holmes, who will work with CRC’s ODU partners, led by Dr. Wie Yusuf this summer. Their original collaboration, from the summer of 2017, focused on the impacts of disasters on minority communities.

The project for this summer, “Advancing Preparedness for Coastal Resilience,” will be a continuation of their 2017 collaboration. The goal of the project is to support research and education initiatives centered on impacts from and opinions toward sea-level rise and other environmental factors by minority populations in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.

The 2017 project, titled “A Systems Approach:  Developing Cross-Site Multiple Drivers to Understand Climate Change, Sea-level Rise and Coastal Flooding for an African American Community in Portsmouth, VA,” included five students, three from NSU and two from ODU.

Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.
Norfolk State University students Mikel Johnson an Raisa Barrera participated in a summer research team project at Old Dominion University.

The Summer Research Team program aims to increase and enhance the scientific leadership at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) in research areas that support the mission and goals of DHS.

Dr. Okpodu, Professor of Biology at NSU, led biological and ecological aspects of the project and Dr. Holmes, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at NSU, led the sociological elements of the project of the project in 2017. Read more about the research in this Q&A.

“This summer, my team will participate in engaging in Citizen Science,” Dr. Okpodu said. “We will be supervising undergraduate research projects, and most importantly, canvassing for the continuation of the perception survey research we started as it relates to African Americans in Portsmouth, Va.”

Read more

ADCIRC Week introduces new tools, honors top contributors

Coastal modelers and decision-makers gathered April 9-13, 2018, to learn, discuss, plan and build capacity for ADCIRC, a tool that provides decision support for hazards like storm inundation during tropical and extratropical cyclones.

The 22nd ADCIRC Week, a gathering of professionals, academics, students and officials, was hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md. The Week included the ADCIRC Boot Camp training event from April 9-11 and the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting from April 12-13.

Dr. Jason Fleming leads a session at the ADCIRC Boot Camp during the 2018 ADCIRC Week. Photo by Taylor Asher
Dr. Jason Fleming leads a session at the ADCIRC Boot Camp during the 2018 ADCIRC Week. Photo by Taylor Asher.

The three-day ADCIRC Boot Camp, organized by Dr. Jason Fleming, Principal Consultant at Seahorse Coastal Consulting and a co-PI on a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project, expanded this year from two to four simultaneous tracks – from newcomers to high-level decision-makers who use the results. Student attendance at the Boot Camp was sponsored by the CRC to support workforce development.

Several CRC researchers involved in ongoing projects are continuing to improve ADCIRC, by adding new model inputs, such as precipitation, and decreasing the computer power needed to run simulations.

“I think ADCIRC Week continues to grow because it is a great opportunity to make those personal connections that are so key to success, even in our fast-paced industry,” Dr. Fleming said. “Researchers and developers sit down together in person to discuss code development, the newcomers learn from the experts, and our community leaders give perspective and direction. We all look forward to the Users Group Meeting and come away with new information and fresh enthusiasm.”

Researchers share applications of software

This year’s Boot Camp included a high-level “ADCIRC for Decision Makers” panel discussion on Wednesday, April 11, for state and federal government stakeholders, including FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard. The forum connected university researchers to decision-makers who use ADCIRC model guidance for flood fighting, search-and-rescue and emergency asset prepositioning. The researchers described the current state of ADCIRC model guidance along with the new innovations they have under development. Decision-makers provided ADCIRC success stories from experiences during hurricanes Isaac, Harvey and Maria, as well as descriptions of the expanded capabilities they would like to have going forward.

The 2018 ADCIRC Users Group Meeting gave coastal modelers and ADCIRC developers the chance to show off the latest new features and engage in interactive discussions to advance the state of the art in ADCIRC modelling.

ADCIRC Week 2018 attendees pose in front of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md. Photo by Jian Kuang.
ADCIRC Week 2018 attendees pose in front of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md. Photo by Jian Kuang.

The two-day Users Group Meeting kicked off with a keynote address from Hendrik Tolman, Senior Advisor for Advanced Modeling Systems at NOAA. Dr. Tolman provided a broad historical perspective on the development of practical operational modelling systems and the NOAA vision for the future of model decision support.

His keynote was followed by plenary talks from NOAA researchers that produce critical infrastructure for ADCIRC decision support, including wave coupling capabilities, ADCIRC model guidance for the National Hurricane Center and accurate ground elevation references for calculating inundation. Their talks were followed by researchers and private-sector practitioners presenting their development and use ADCIRC for a diverse range of applications.

The Users Group Meeting closed on April 13 with four tracks of special-interest meetings including developer tutorials; “birds-of-a-feather” meetings (for MATLAB software and programming languages Python and Perl); GIS integration for ADCIRC; and a career fair.

[The meeting] was everything that I needed at this point in my research to equip myself with the recent advancements in ADCIRC and its applications,” Arslaan Khalid, Ph.D student at George Mason University, said. “It was a great to meet all those big personalities in the field of storm surge.”

ADCIRC Man, Woman of the Year named

As an annual part of ADCIRC Week, the community of users voted for ADCIRC Man and Woman of the Year for individuals’ visibility on the ADCIRC online community, leadership, outreach and capacity-building contributions beyond their official job descriptions.

The 2018 ADCIRC Community Woman of the Year is Kendra Dresback, Research Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma, and the 2018 ADCIRC Community Man of the Year is Zach Cobell, Surface Water Hydrologist at ARCADIS.

Kendra Dresback (left), Research Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma, and Zach Cobell, Surface Water Hydrologist at ARCADIS, were named ADCIRC Woman and Man of the Year at the event. Photo by Jason Fleming.
Kendra Dresback (left), Research Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma, and Zach Cobell, Surface Water Hydrologist at ARCADIS, were named ADCIRC Woman and Man of the Year at the event. Photo by Jason Fleming.

“Over the past nine years, Cobell has consistently added features to the ADCIRC code, developing tools and methodologies for pre- and post-processing data,” according to nominations. “He develops solutions to complex problems, and so often is one of the first to respond on the listserv with answers and good ideas. He has incredible, in-depth knowledge of

the code and spends an enormous amount of his personal time supporting it.”

“Kendra Dresback has made a wide variety of contributions to the ADCIRC Community, including vectorization of the core of the software to improve performance, enhancement of the 3D baroclinic features, and developing and supporting hydrological model coupling in North Carolina,” according to nominations. “She has also mentored many new students over the years and volunteered to co-teach the first ever ADCIRC 3D session at the ADCIRC Boot Camp in 2018.”

Other finalists for the award were William Pringle, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Notre Dame, and Crystal Fulcher, Research Technician at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences.

“Zach and Kendra are pillars of the community, so it was gratifying to see them recognized for these awards,” CRC Lead PI and ADCIRC co-developer Dr. Rick Luettich said. “Zach has dramatically improved our development processes while Kendra’s algorithmic contributions over the years produced new capabilities that we rely on every day. We are so grateful to have them in our community.”

CERA updates for 2018

Attendees learned about the updated Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment (CERA) web mapper, which is used to display results from ADCIRC model runs. For the 2018 hurricane season, CERA has multiple formats – for a general audience and for frequent users. While basic ADCIRC model run results will be displayed in the public version, the login-enabled CERA-PRO website allows users to see the full range of data for each model run, see more variations on storm tracks and grids and provide higher performance and downloads of data. The CERA-PRO site also allows users to pre-set elements of their map, enable geolocation searches and a 24/7 contact tool during active tropical storms.


The ADCIRC Storm Surge Guidance System combines information on tides, river flows, wind, atmospheric pressure and surface waves to predict the response of the coastal ocean, including when, where and to what extent storm surge and flooding will impact a coastal community, often with greater precision than other available models. Results are made publicly available on the CERA website.

Results generated by ADCIRC are used by multiple federal and state agencies to help predict flooding associated with storm surge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management are among the agencies that factor ADCIRC modeling into their operations.  At the local level, results are shared with coastal emergency managers to assist with decision making including road closings, evacuations and search and rescue operations.

For more information on ADCIRC and CERA, watch this video from the CRC and visit

Colloquium focuses on ‘rethinking flood analytics’

Floods are the most common, most frequent and most costly type of disaster in the United States. A flood-resilient nation uses state-of-the-art analytics and data tools to help reduce or eliminate fatalities, minimize disruptions and reduce economic losses, according to a new report co-authored by the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC).

Cover of the "Rethinking Flood Analytics" reportRecommendations for advancing the current state of flood analytics are presented in a report, “Rethinking Flood Analytics: Proceedings from the 2017 Flood Analytics Colloquium,” written by the CRC and the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) after last fall’s “Rethinking Flood Analytics” Colloquium. The event was sponsored jointly by the CRC, RENCI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T).

Experts from across several various sectors and disciplines – some in the flood prevention and emergency response fields, others from as far afield as demography, satellite technology and news media – gathered to discuss what the future could hold at the Colloquium, held Nov. 7-9, 2017, at the offices of the CRC and RENCI in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Attendees discussed solutions and approaches to flood prediction and impact analytics that ranged from enhancements to current systems to entirely new types of technology. The event centered around ways to improve work done as part of the DHS S&T’s Flood Apex Program. A multi-disciplinary group of technical specialists and end users discussed flood analytics through presentations, group discussions and “open mic” sessions, while addressing challenges and gaps in the field.

The full report can be read on the CRC website.

“The method for quantifying flood risk is changing and the potential for doing a much better job of addressing that risk through analytics has increased dramatically,” according to the report. “Some techniques, such as numerical modeling, have been part of flood risk analysis for years. While important, evolutionary changes in the existing tools typically result in only incremental improvement.

“The most dramatic advances tend to come from techniques not previously considered in connection with flood risk analysis,” including big data, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, social media and the internet of things.

Among the conclusions for developing a more flood-resilient nation are:

  • Avoid risk by protecting the most important assets from flooding and by considering where residents live and where development takes place.
  • Invest in mitigation by understanding the real costs of flood disasters, valuing the real benefits of flood mitigation and implementing actions to achieve those benefits.
  • Transfer and accepting risk by such actions as purchasing flood insurance and implementing mechanisms to cope with residual risk. 

DHS S&T created the Flood Apex Program in 2014 to bring new and emerging technologies together to increase communities’ resilience to flood events and to provide predictive analytic tools for floods. The goals of the Program, which is managed by the First Responders Group of DHS S&T, are to reduce fatalities and property losses from future flood events, increase community resilience to flooding and develop better investment strategies to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate flood hazards.

New standard helps predict and evaluate erosion caused by storms

A Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) researcher has established a new ASTM International standard using a portable, vertical water-jet probe to measure sand detachment and evaluate erosion related to storms.

Dr. Mohammed Gabr
Dr. Mohammed Gabr

The standard describes the components and recommended testing scheme for the “in-situ erosion evaluation probe” (ISEEP), including how to monitor the rate of advancement of the jetting probe and use it to assess the soil erosion parameters, Dr. Mohammed Gabr, Professor of Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University, said.

“The device is portable and does not require the mobilization or use of a power rig to deploy in the field,” Dr. Gabr said. “Because of its capability to provide data with depth, and doing so readily at multiple locations, the use of ISEEP addresses the challenge of defining and assessing spatial distribution of potential scour/erosion rates that might occur after storm events, or in the future with approaching storm events.”

ISEEP produces a velocity and flow-controlled water jet that erodes the soil and allows the probe to self-advance with depth. The penetration depth and time are monitored and the advancement rate is used to assess a soil erosion parameter. This parameter is used for estimating scour magnitude at hydraulic structures, including dams, levees, culverts and bridge foundations.

“The stress level applied by the probe through the jetting process is analogous to flow-induced levels during severe storms,” Dr. Gabr said.

Read more

Students in the Workforce – Lea Sabbag, North Carolina Emergency Management

Lea Sabbag, one of the Coastal Resilience Center’s Education and Workforce Development grant recipients, was part of CRC work from 2014-2016. She spoke about her current role with North Carolina Emergency Management and how the CRC shaped her career path.

Can you describe the work you did with the Coastal Resilience Center?

Lea SabbagFrom 2014-2016, I was a research assistant at the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC). During that time, I supported [CRC Director] Dr. Gavin Smith on a FEMA-funded project investigating the role of governors and state agencies in disaster recovery, and explored how these actors influence the degree to which resources address local needs, timing of assistance and inter-organizational coordination across the disaster recovery network. Through literature reviews of congressional testimony and academic literature – as well as personal interviews with two former governors who were heavily involved in state disaster recovery efforts – we assessed the importance of gubernatorial leadership and the role that pre-event planning had long-term recovery outcomes. Not only was I provided the opportunity to present our preliminary findings at the 2015 Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Broomfield, Colo., but our research is now published in the peer-review journal Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy. Read more

FEMA Administrator to speak at UNC as part of CRC speakers series

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long will speak at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus on Monday, April 16, as part of the Coastal Resilience Center’s (CRC) Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers Series.

Brock Long, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Brock Long, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Administrator Long will speak about lessons learned from the 2017 hurricane season and a vision for emergency management moving forward at 4 p.m. at Wilson Library on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus.

Long began his service as the Administrator in June 2017. He has more than 16 years of experience assisting and supporting governments at the local, state and federal levels with building robust emergency management and public health preparedness programs.

Prior to becoming Administrator, he was Executive Vice President at Hagerty Consulting, where he provided strategic direction and leadership to the firm’s full complement of emergency management programs and professionals. From 2008-2011, Administrator Long served as Director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) serving as the State Coordinating Officer for 14 disasters, including eight presidentially-declared events. Read more

Flood Apex Program increases flood resilience through emerging tech

The Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) is partnering with the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) on a program that aims to save lives, reduce property loss and enhance resilience to disruptive flood events.

DHS S&T created the Flood Apex Program in 2014 to bring new and emerging technologies together to increase communities’ resilience to flood events and to provide predictive analytic tools for floods. The goals of the program, which is managed by the First Responders Group of DHS S&T, are to reduce fatalities and property losses from future flood events, increase community resilience to disruptions caused by flooding and develop better investment strategies to prepare for, respond to, recover from and mitigate against flood hazards.

The projects

The CRC Flood  Apex project team is led by CRC Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Rick Luettich, CRC Executive Director Tom Richardson and CRC Director Dr. Gavin Smith.

The team provides support to the program in several ways: Read more

CRC project expands emergency preparedness intervention program to high school students

A new project between the University of Rhode Island (URI) – with the URI Coastal Resources Center and Rhode Island Sea Grant as partners – and Westerly High School of Westerly, R.I., is focused on encouraging students – and by extension, their families and school community – to assess how well prepared they are for weather emergencies, such as hurricanes, or the longer-term change that comes from sea level rise.

This month, ninth- and 10th-graders at Westerly High School will make use of a new online program so they can assess their readiness for themselves. The information will help URI researchers learn more about behavior change in terms of emergency preparedness and better gauge which tools best support this change.

Dr. James Prochaska
Dr. James Prochaska

“Students Creating Change: Reducing Our Risk from Natural Disaster,” is a voluntary project and engages students who receive parental or guardian permission. Students taking part in the program receive information about preparedness and readiness activities that can be applied by a family and carried out at home with little or no cost.

The project team is led by Dr. James Prochaska as an extension of his work for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence, which focuses on risk communication to motivate individual actions. URI CRC Coastal Manager and Sea Grant Extension Agent Pam Rubinoff, who is also part of the DHS work, is helping lead the outreach effort. Read more