Category: News

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.”

ADCIRC Week focuses on comprehensive coastal modeling, 21st-century risk analysis

Meeting for its 21st year, organizers of the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting tried something new – recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to the ADCIRC community.

Nate Dill of Ransom Consulting was named ADCIRC Community Man of the Year 2017, and Dr. Jennifer Proft of the Institute for Computational Engineering Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin was named ADCIRC Community Woman of the Year 2017 at the event, held in early May in Norwood, Mass. Zach Cobell of ARCADIS and Rosemary Cyriac with the Coastal & Computational Hydraulics Team at North Carolina State University were also finalists for the awards.

The community awards were based on individuals’ visibility on the ADCIRC listservs (online communities that discuss coastal modeling issues); leadership, outreach and capacity-building contributions beyond their official job descriptions; and developing, documenting and distributing ADCIRC-related code to the wider community.

Nate Dill, left, and Dr. Jennifer Proft were named ADCIRC Man of the Yea and Woman of the Year during the 2017 ADCIRC Users Group meeting.
Nate Dill, left, and Dr. Jennifer Proft were named ADCIRC Man of the Yea and Woman of the Year during the 2017 ADCIRC Users Group meeting. Photo by Clint Dawson.

The awards were part of ADCIRC Week, held in early May, which consisted of presentations of ADCIRC projects along with interactive discussions to advance the state of the art in ADCIRC modeling.

The event is a way for the ADCIRC community to share experiences, teach, learn, discuss, plan and build capacity for coastal ocean modeling using ADCIRC. The Users Group Meeting was preceded by a three-day ADCIRC Boot Camp for novice users, organized by Dr. Jason Fleming of Seahorse Coastal Consulting. Dr. Fleming is a co-PI on a Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project led by Dr. Brian Blanton.  The Boot Camp, supported by the CRC, is a mix of lecture, demonstration and interactive discussion focusing on creating, running and analyzing ADCIRC models.

Award nominations were judged by a committee including Drs. Rick Luettich, Joannes Westerink, Clint Dawson, Chris Massey, Casey Dietrich and Fleming. Each winner received artwork made from reclaimed metal depicting mythical creatures that symbolize the duality of technical excellence and community engagement. The Man of the Year Award was a sculpture of a horse with a mane made of seaweed, representing the terrestrial aspect of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. The Woman of the Year award depicted a mermaid, a hybrid creature with marine and terrestrial elements.

“These were really Lifetime Achievement Awards for Nate and Jennifer,” Dr. Luettich said. “They’ve made substantial contributions to the community for a number of years, and I couldn’t be happier that they have received this recognition.”

Dill was nominated based on his long-standing dedication to answering technical questions on the ADCIRC mailing lists, including taking the time to write software that addresses concerns and technical issues reported by other ADCIRC analysts. His expertise and willingness to sharing code and solutions have benefited newcomers as well as experienced professionals within the ADCIRC community.

Proft has been closely involved in engineering studies with ADCIRC following Hurricane Ike (2008) and has provided ADCIRC training and mentorship to new graduate students at the University of Texas and Rice University. She also leveraged her Ike experience to provide many hours of technical assistance for an investigative journalism piece produced by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune that used ADCIRC extensively. The project, called “Hell and High Water,” won a Peabody Award.

Attendees of the ADCIRC Boot Camp learn the basics of the modeling system during ADCIRC Week. Photo by Jason Fleming.
Attendees of the ADCIRC Boot Camp learn the basics of the modeling system during ADCIRC Week. Photo by Jason Fleming.

Cobell has taken the initiative over the past year to modernize the ADCIRC development process by migrating the code base from a legacy Subversion development system to a repository on GitHub. This new development paradigm improves code management, issue tracking, documentation and developer communication. His other recent contributions include the introduction of a cross-platform build system for ADCIRC on both Windows and Linux, and the implementation of an automated code testing system that will enhance code robustness.

Cyriac has developed, documented, and released an open source program called Kalpana to the ADCIRC Community for use in converting ADCIRC output files to shapefiles that can be used in commonly available GIS systems. Risk analysts and emergency managers generally work within a GIS framework to perform their calculations and make decisions; as a result, the free availability of her software enhances the value of ADCIRC in the wider context of decision support.

Students, professionals learn the basics

ADCIRC, short for the Advanced CIRCulation model, was originally developed by Dr. Luettich, CRC Lead Principal Investigator and a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, and Dr. Westerink of the University of Notre Dame, in the early 1990s and has been undergoing development and improvement since that time . It 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.

Within the CRC, researchers in several ongoing projects are continuing to improve ADCIRC, by adding new sources of water, such as precipitation, and decreasing the computer power needed to run simulations. In recent years, ADCIRC has been used to evaluate coastal flood risk worldwide.

Topics of presentations at the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting included “ADCIRC and the coastal dynamics of sea level rise,” “Development of an optimized tide and hurricane storm surge model for the northern Gulf of Mexico for use with the ASGS,” “Development of high resolution ADCIRC model for the US northeast coast: Challenges, Issues, and Solutions” and “Probabilistic Storm Surge Risk Assessment Using a Synthetic Hurricane Database”

The event also included a GitHub Migration Workshop, an ADCIRC Career Fair and an ASGS Advisory Board formation meeting.

“This was our largest and most comprehensive ADCIRC Boot Camp yet, with attendance up over 50% from previous years,” Fleming said. “Our Boot Camp participants from federal agencies included professionals from NOAA, FEMA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our private sector participants included professionals from Bechtel, Moffat & Nichol, RPS ASA, Stantec, AECOM, Risk Management Solutions and Oceanweather. Our internationally-based Boot Camp participants travelled from the UK, Spain and Korea for our training.”

Dr. Luettich said, “We were pleased that the US Coast Guard was able to send a representative to see the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting presentations and to learn more about how ADCIRC’s capabilities can benefit the USCG.”

Attendees of the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting. Photo by Shangyao Nong.
Attendees of the ADCIRC Users Group Meeting. Photo by Shangyao Nong.

Several students also participated in the event, with costs subsidized by the Coastal Resilience Center. Sabrina Welch, a graduate student at Jackson State University who is part of a CRC education project, said the introduction to ADCIRC was a beneficial experience.

“As a new user in the ADCIRC community it is very heartening to know that there are other users out there who can and are willing to offer assistance to fellow users, and also that the developers of this software took the time to organize this event for the benefit of the community,” Welch said. “I had a great experience at the 2017 ADCIRC Week Boot Camp where I was exposed to the vast capabilities of this software, as well as the opportunity to improve my use of ADCIRC.”

How ADCIRC works

ADCIRC predicts the response of the coastal ocean to various forces including tides, river discharge, wind, atmospheric pressure and waves.  It can be used for a variety of applications, including predicting storm surge and flooding due to strong storms such as hurricanes.  ADCIRC can be used to analyze the response due to historical storms, statistical sets of storms for risk analysis and design, hypothetical storms scenarios for planning and for forecasting storm events in real time.

ADCIRC coastal forecasts are currently run on supercomputers at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC-Chapel Hill. Forecast results are displayed using a Louisiana State University (LSU)-based platform, CERA, that projects results onto a map for presentation. In addition, shape files can be downloaded for use with standard GIS applications. During active hurricane events, ADCIRC model runs are initiated every time a new storm forecast is released by the National Hurricane Center. Results using the forecast track and several alternate tracks can be accessed from the 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.

Project integrates storm surge modeling into resilience planning for vulnerable communities

Researchers at Louisiana State University and thousands of residents in south Louisiana are still feeling the effects of historic rain event that hit the area in August 2016. The event brought more than two feet of rain in some areas during the month, with 11 river gauges in the state reporting record flood levels.

Dr. Robert Twilley
Dr. Robert Twilley

A project led by Dr. Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University hopes to help communities adapt planning and response to minimize the impact of future storms that could leave similar damage. Dr. Twilley’s project, “Integrated Approaches to Creating Community Resilience Designs in a Changing Climate,” is aimed at improving resilience in two specific ways; focusing emergency response to better protect vulnerable infrastructure and people, and reducing repetitive loss by giving community planners accurate estimates of infrastructure vulnerability of events that may happen in the future.

His team includes faculty at other Louisiana State University institutions: Director Jeff Carney and Assistant Research Professor Traci Birch of the Coastal Sustainability Studio, Brant Mitchell, Director of the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute; and Carola Kaiser of the Center for Computation and Technology. This combination provides end users with experts from the fields of disaster research and response; coastal hazards modeling; planning and design; and outreach from the Louisiana Sea Grant College program (where Dr. Twilley is executive director).

“Communities want clear guidance on what infrastructure and people could be threatened by a tropical storm and/or major rainfall events,” Dr. Twilley said. “Our project integrates coastal modeling tools into community design and planning, and couples it with outreach efforts to emergency managers and land use planners to obtain community-level data about vulnerable infrastructure.”

Researchers will develop pre- and post-disaster planning and adaptation tools for coastal communities to improve resilience. These efforts will enable vulnerable communities to plan, react and recover more quickly and effectively in areas facing repetitive disturbances. They have been incorporating consequence modeling – which creates realistic scenarios for planning before a disaster – into results from CERA, the mapping interface that displays results of the ADCIRC storm surge model to show how flood risks will impact people, industry and coastal infrastructure. Using that tool, project participants will inform community planners on impacts, helping them reduce repetitive loss by updating land use and redevelopment guidelines following flood events.

With trusted sources doing community outreach to emergency managers and planners, researchers hope to mitigate future risks through current action. Building on the strength of each research and outreach center in the partnership, they aim to reach vulnerable populations with flood prediction, protection and response materials.

The resulting CERA-Consequence Model will show how flood risk (both from storms and sea-level rise) will impact people, industry and infrastructure. Utilizing this data, they plan to provide:

  • Planning tools that visualize risks to include hurricane-force winds, storm surge and inland flooding along with vulnerable populations based on socio-economic status
  • Modeling and visualization tools to communicate flood risks during a storm by identifying vulnerable populations and structures that are susceptible to storm surge
  • Post-landfall search and rescue grid system with prioritization based on socio-economic vulnerabilities
  • Methodology for helping community planning departments and recovery planning teams effectively utilize and implement changes to their built environment through effective resilience-based planning.

Dealing with the Consequences

Using consequence modeling, researchers identified what areas of Vermilion Parish, La., are at greatest risk after a hurricane.

The CERA-Consequence Model has so far been used to capture the diversity of coastal infrastructure and assets in the Mississippi River Deltaic Plain (MRDP). Researchers have conducted preliminary analysis of hurricane impact scenarios to capture the diversity of recovery and adaptation needs in the MRDP to determine what data can be used in the model. They will take this data to build an automated model in the CERA mapping platform to interpret ADCIRC Surge Guidance System (ASGS) outputs and analyze community-level impacts of expected storm surge in a new website called “CERA-Planning.”

In the first year of the project, Dr. Twilley and the project team focused on outreach to ensure local, state and federal planners – along with emergency managers – were aware of the project and its potential to influence decision-making and planning processes. Those reached include the State of Louisiana, American Planning Association and the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Association, as well as many local and regional emergency management groups, among others.

Proposed modeling products were evaluated at an annual focus group workshop to engage end users directly in the development process. Feedback is now being used to develop integrated approaches on the new CERA-Planning website, for university-based design studio courses and design/outreach entities working in target communities.

Building the database

Researchers also formed a focus group of emergency managers and planners to determine sectors not involved in the data-collection process. Already, the data stream is expected to be large, comprising more than 140,000 data points on infrastructure from the State of Louisiana that serves as the basis for this model. The scope for the project includes possible expansion to communities across the United States, bringing in additional users such as the National Communications Center (NCC). The NCC is responsible for providing situational awareness for all communications infrastructure during tropical cyclones and U.S. Coast Guard–Sector New Orleans.

More than 140,000 data points, shown above, are used to build the model.
More than 140,000 data points, shown above, are used to build the model.

Other additions could include adoption of parcel data and building footprints in the consequence model. Critical infrastructure such as water utilities and sewer treatment plants will be included, as storm surge could disrupt their operations and severely impact a community’s ability to recover.

The original data source for the 140,000 data points on infrastructure across the State was a joint project between SDMI and GOHSEP funded by FEMA.  This data set established the original source of information for the consequence model in this CRC project; initial focus groups worked to prioritize information needed to indicate infrastructure vulnerabilities.

“This information will also be used to prioritize information needed to identify infrastructure vulnerabilities in planning to reduce competitive losses,” Dr. Twilley said.

Students, faculty to exchange for summer research programs

For the second year, the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) will facilitate exchanges between students, faculty and research projects as part of its summer programs.

Eight students from the CRC’s education projects will be hosted by principal investigators (PIs) of research projects as part of the SUMmer Research Experience (SUMREX) Program. As part of the program, CRC Education & Workforce Development partners arrange for one or more students to visit the home institution of participating CRC Research PIs for a summer research internship lasting between six and 10 weeks. Key to the program’s success is making the best match between the student interns and the research PIs, so that the students have the opportunity to become fully immersed in a research project.

The program is already showing success: Felix Santiago, a graduate student in Civil Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, was hosted by Dr. Stephen Medeiros at the University of Central Florida and by Dr. Scott Hagen at Louisiana State University in a cooperative effort. He was recently awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and will continue to work with Dr. Hagen at LSU in 2018.

This year’s pairings are:

  • Sabrina Welch, a PhD candidate in Engineering at Jackson State University, and Diego Delgado, a graduate student in Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, will be hosted first by Dr. Medeiros at the University of Central Florida and later by Dr. Hagen at Louisiana State University.
  • Two students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, Hector J. Colon and Peter Rivera, both undergraduate students in Engineering, will be hosted by Dr. Dan Cox at Oregon State University.
  • Stephen Kreller, a graduate student in Geography at Louisiana State University, will be hosted by Dr. Brian Blanton at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Three undergraduate students from Tougaloo College will be hosted at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center: Psychology major Courtney Hill (advised by Pam Rubinoff and Donald Robadue), Biology major Rosalie Cisse (advised by Jan Rines and Lucie Maranda) and Biology major Kierra Jones (advised by Tatiana Rynearson and Stephanie Anderson).

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Southwell joins CNHR as Project Manager

Jessica Southwell has joined the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Natural Hazards Resilience as Project Manager for the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (Initiative). In this position, she will coordinate the work of the Initiative in six communities in eastern North Carolina that were impacted by Hurricane Matthew, including documenting the Initiative’s progress, reporting to various stakeholders and engaging with targeted communities.

Jessica Southwell
Jessica Southwell

Southwell was formerly a research associate at the North Carolina Institute for Public Health at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her experience includes positions at the UNC Center for Public Health Preparedness, Minnesota Department of Health and Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State.

The Initiative, which began earlier this year, addresses recovery and rebuilding issues in six communities: Princeville, Fair Bluff, Seven Springs, Windsor, Kinston and Lumberton.

Three primary efforts of the Initiative include: 1) Studying the impacts of Hurricane Matthew on eastern North Carolina communities; 2) Advising North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and officials at the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management (NCEM) officials on state and federal recovery policies and programs; and 3) Assisting communities develop disaster recovery plans.

“We’re thrilled to have Jessica join the Initiative,” said Dr. Gavin Smith, who leads the Initiative. “Among other things, she will help our team as we work with eastern North Carolina communities to identify unmet needs, find the resources to address these needs, and to work with eastern North Carolina communities to develop and implement plans to become more resilient to future hazards.”

Interdisciplinary program teaches students, community about disaster sciences

At Tougaloo College, an interdisciplinary minor is helping prepare students for careers in homeland security-related fields.

Dr. Meherun Laiju is leading the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC) project, “Institutionalization, Expansion, and Enhancement of Interdisciplinary Minor: Disaster and Coastal Studies,” which will expand the role of Geographic Information System (GIS) and other skills and undergraduate research opportunities within the curriculum of an existing Disaster and Coastal Studies minor. The project will also create a certificate program for anyone – whether or not they are enrolled students – looking to broaden their knowledge of community resilience.

“Our goals are three-fold,” Dr. Laiju said. “Train undergraduate students in interdisciplinary skills necessary to mitigate natural and man-made coastal hazards through research, training and coursework; neighborhood outreach initiatives in collaboration with Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA); and create a professional certificate program.

Dr. Meherun Laiju (front row, third from left) with Tougaloo College faculty and students in the Disaster and Coastal Studies minor.
Dr. Meherun Laiju (front row, third from left) with Tougaloo College faculty and students in the Disaster and Coastal Studies minor.

“The certificate program will prepare undergraduates to join a workforce related to DHS and emergency management agencies. The neighborhood outreach initiative will offer opportunities for community leaders and interested citizens to be trained as first responders which will help in preparing resilient communities.”

The Disaster and Coastal Studies minor was launched through the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence, the Department of Homeland Security-funded predecessor of the CRC. Faculty members from physics, sociology, psychology and political science departments introduced students to disaster-related research through a variety of fields and are currently working to expand the program.

Students’ careers impacted

Tougaloo College, located in Jackson, Miss., is a private historically black college, and the majority of students are the first generation of their families to attend college. The project will build homeland security capacity for this Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), to build capacity for the future homeland security workforce, and prepare students for graduate schools and research programs in the field of coastal natural disasters, including those that are part of the CRC.

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N.C. students present work on resilience projects

Students from three central North Carolina universities – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Duke University – met last month at a student-organized event to present and discuss issues tied to resilience, particularly in coastal areas.

Students shared their most memorable hazards experience during the event.
Students shared their most memorable hazards experience during the event.

The Triangle Resilience Student Research Symposium, organized by a student group called the Carolina Hazards and Resilience Planners (CHRP), also brought together researchers from UNC-CH and NCSU, as well as employees from federal agencies. CHRP is a student group started by recent UNC-CH Department of City and Regional Planning graduate Ashton Rohmer, one of three Department of Homeland Security Science & Engineering Workforce Development Grant (WDG) recipients hosted by the Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC).

“I was thoroughly impressed with the breadth and quality of the student research projects, and am truly grateful for the valuable insights offered by our panelists,” Rohmer said. “I was especially inspired to see that so many of the presentations and discussions focused on crucial issues related to equity, social vulnerability, and public engagement.

“I hope the event continues in future years as a way to bring researchers and practitioners from the physical and social sciences together – as a way to build Triangle university relationships, highlight student work and address the complexities of professional work in this field, especially given the increasingly challenging political environment and the multitude of climate change impacts we’re seeing.” Read more