As the United States faces the dual threat of the Atlantic hurricane season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, multiple Coastal Resilience Center (CRC) research partners are working on the issues caused by the intersection of these two threats.
Modeling built at CRC
A faculty and student team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), led by Dr. William “Al” Wallace, models how the combined threats may make community recovery much more difficult.
Wallace uses a customizable artificial community to simulate scenarios that may take place during hurricane season. This model town mimics a coastal community in North Carolina with a population of about 450,000 people.
The project is an extension of a completed project at the CRC, which took place from 2016-2017. The model built at CRC looks at the resilience of its critical infrastructures, one of which is the system of supply chains that provide the goods and services that make a community livable.
Using this model, Wallace, student Madeline Roberts, and Richard Little, a visiting research scholar at Rensselaer, simulated the scenario of a hurricane recovery effort that must take place in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team’s modeling showed that when the available workforce is reduced during a pandemic, the number of civil infrastructure outages during a hurricane increases. More specifically, the model showed a large number of electric, water and waste outages during a combined crisis situation. They found that power and water outages are three times more likely to occur than other types of disruptions in infrastructure.
For more information, visit the RPI website.
Evacuations during a pandemic
In May and June, a research team from partner Old Dominion University, led by Dr. Wie Yusuf, partnered with the University of South Florida on the CONVERGE COVID-19 Working Group on “Evacuation and Sheltering of Vulnerable Populations in a Hurricane-Pandemic.” This group hosted six workshops on evacuation and sheltering of vulnerable populations during a compound hurricane-pandemic event. A summary of those workshops and after-action reports can be found on their website. These workshops also produced practice-informed research questions that drive a broad research agenda around evacuation and sheltering during a compound hurricane-pandemic threat. This research agenda is available online.
A total of 265 professionals and researchers participated across the online meetings, representing five federal agencies (Federal Emergency Management Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Transportation, Veterans Administration, Health and Human Services), 20 states and 17 universities.
Yusuf and Larry Atkinson from ODU led a CRC project from 2016-18 which included hosting multiple teams of students and faculty through CRC’s SUMmer Research Exchange (SUMREX) and the DHS Summer Research Teams programs.
Dual threats impact the most vulnerable
Sarah Lipuma, a Duke University graduate student who works as a research associate with PI Dr. Jason Fleming, is researching social vulnerability of neighborhoods eligible for floodplain buyouts for her master’s project. Voluntary floodplain buyouts are a uniquely effective tool to mitigate flood hazards by removing people and properties out of harm’s way, yet there is no streamlined process to prioritize buyouts in a way that reduces flood risk the most. This project makes use of the ADCIRC storm surge model results from historical storms, as well as social vulnerability, storm damage assessment, and flood insurance data to create a process to prioritize potential buyout locations in advance of a storm.
Lipuma theorizes that considering social vulnerability from the outset of a buyout process could ensure existing inequalities in land use and development are not reinforced with government funding. Flood risk is not evenly dispersed in communities across socio-economic backgrounds. This can lead to greater disaster impacts for low-income people and people of color. In much the same way that flood exposure creates more adverse outcomes for low-income communities and communities of color, COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on socially vulnerable communities, she said.
“Incorporating social vulnerability information into buyout criteria will be valuable to administrators of buyout programs to identify the most at-risk populations, prioritize equity, and direct government monies to buyouts that increase resilience for the entire community,” Lipuma wrote in an initial report.
Lipuma intends to produce an online dashboard and mapping tool that land use planners, floodplain managers, and hazard mitigation specialists can use to support decision making on buyouts. She notes that “while the current study acts as an example of how a buyout assessment could incorporate social vulnerability data, engaging and empowering the community from the start is a best practice for buyout programs.”
The capabilities of the ADCIRC Prediction System™ were referenced by Beaufort, N.C. Mayor Rett Newton as part of Duke University’s hurricane season and COVID-19 briefing. Newton discussed how storm surge predictions help them prepare for evacuations when virus spread is a concern. Emergency managers across the country have been in discussion on how to plan for sheltering and evacuation of socially vulnerable populations during the global pandemic.