News and perspectives from the DHS Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence at UNC-Chapel Hill

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JCSU summer camp reflections: Assessing risk for preparedness

As part of their final presentation, Haya Dahhan's team demonstrated how they used multiple modeling tools to provide quick and efficient predictions of forest fire outbreaks.

As part of their final presentation, Haya Dahhan’s team demonstrated how they used multiple modeling tools to provide quick and efficient predictions of forest fire outbreaks. Images via Haya Dahhan.

 

By Kouri Evans, Mahaley Holit, Haya Dahhan and Hannah Anderson

Johnson C. Smith University, as part of a CRC project led by Dr. Ahmed Faik, holds multiple annual summer camps focused on applying STEM knowledge to disaster-related research. Students from this year’s camps – which were held online – reflected on their experiences.

Our reason for joining the program was to gain experience in research. We as partners have agreed that this opportunity will help us prepare for our Senior Project course, and being able to work in a group and get insights and ideas from others was very helpful. Group collaboration allows for a chance to work through all ideas and work through the most effective ones. Our project involved researching the natural disaster of our choice and gathering data. We specifically wanted to look at different types of earthquake data: death tolls, cost of damages, which regions were most impacted.

Being able to bring all of the collected data together to look at earthquake impacts over the years added to the experience. The biggest takeaway would be learning how to find useful data and apply it to our research for visualization using Tableau software.

Using data mining tools for analysis helped us learn a lot of key things that build on the success of gathering good data. We learned that it takes time and a lot of patience to find good, reliable data. With more time for data mining research, we could have gotten better data and results. We might have also been able to see more patterns within the data and use more models than just clustering and correlation. It was just a little harder to do this remotely because we were only able to communicate with each other by email and phone, and sometimes via Zoom. Continue reading

My learning experience from Puerto Rico’s encounter with Hurricane María

Verónica Díaz Pacheco, bottom left, was part of the UPRM team with fellow student Frederick Gonzalez-Roman and Dr. Mauricio Cabrera-Rios who worked with CRC partners at Jackson State University this past summer.

Verónica Díaz Pacheco, bottom left, was part of the UPRM team with fellow student Frederick Gonzalez-Roman and Dr. Mauricio Cabrera-Rios who worked with CRC partners at Jackson State University this past summer.

Dr. Mauricio Cabrera-Ríos of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez worked with CRC Executive Director Tom Richardson and Education Director Dr. Robert Whalin of Jackson State University on a project called “Individual Emergency Response and Recovery: A learning experience from Puerto Rico’s encounter with Hurricane María,” as part of this year’s Summer Research Team (SRT) program. The program is a summer internship that provides quality research experiences to early career faculty members and students attending a Minority Serving Institution in the United States and the 16 U.S. territories. 

Graduate student Verónica Díaz Pacheco, who along with Frederick Gonzalez-Roman was part of the UPRM team, wrote about her experience working with CRC researchers.

This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving institutions, held virtually for the very first time this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team, composed of Dr. Mauricio Cabrera, Frederick Gonzalez, and myself, from University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, all brought our best strengths and talents to tackle the problem at hand, even if we had to work remotely. Although it would have been great to see the Coastal Resilience Center in person, I must say it was an amazing experience to dedicate all my time and energy to solving a complex problem: how to make better decisions during hurricane disasters. Continue reading

Thriving through the storm

Hurricane Florence (2018), as captured over North Carolina by NASA satellites.

Hurricane Florence (2018), as captured over North Carolina by NASA satellites.

By Tiana Johnson and Jackson Wiles

Dr. Liping Liu of North Carolina A&T University, along with first-year graduate student Tiana Johnson (who is focusing on Applied Mathematics), and undergraduate senior Jackson Wiles (who is majoring in Physics) partnered with CRC’s Dr. Rick Luettich in this year’s Summer Research Team (SRT) program. The program is a summer internship that provides quality research experiences to early career faculty members and students attending a Minority Serving Institution in the United States and the 16 U.S. territories. 

Their project, called “Combined Atmospheric-Storm Surge Modeling of Hurricane Florence (2018),” worked to enhance research capacity at NCA&T and develop additional courses on severe weather and numerical prediction of those events. Johnson and Wiles wrote about their experience working with CRC researchers.

 

Tiana Johnson

Tiana Johnson

Tiana: This summer research experience was invigorating. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Liping Liu and Jackson Wiles, and I was looking forward to this research opportunity with my team in collaboration with the Coastal Resilience Center. This was my first research experience, so I was a little disappointed when I found out our research would be done remotely. The project, which focused mostly on the atmospheric attributes of the record-breaking storm, Hurricane Florence (2018), came with a huge learning curve for me. I was not only new to the research world, but also to the science of hurricanes.

Jackson Wiles

Jackson Wiles

Jackson: I had a general idea of what the summer would hold as well as how to run the WRF model, but due to the pandemic, everything changed. To keep everyone safe, it was decided to conduct the internship remotely. This was a big change because the team and I had to relinquish our onsite experience. I personally, had never participated in a summer research experience and was not accustom to teleworking. However, the adjustment came with ease.

Tiana: In my first week, I spent time learning UNIX and the proper commands to use to complete tasks. Thanks to my teammate Jackson I learned quickly and now I can complete tasks with little to no help. The second week is when we jumped into creating hurricane simulations. During this week, I completed eight hurricane simulations, one of which would be my best case up until the sixth week. In the third week, I was finally able to utilize skills I learned from a MATLAB course I took during the first semester of my graduate program. I used these skills to visualize the best track data and the track of the best case I had developed in the previous week. I really enjoyed this task because I had the chance to utilize a skill I developed in my graduate courses in applied mathematics. Continue reading

Adapting to challenging circumstances during a pandemic

On Straub's tour of the Oregon coast, she visited the Yaquina Head Marine Garden to learn about ongoing research projects.

On Straub’s tour of the Oregon coast, she visited the Yaquina Head Marine Garden to learn about ongoing research projects.

By Jessamin Straub

Jessamin Straub is a current NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow with the Army Corp of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC). She is an alumna of the Marine Sciences Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she was a Coastal Resilience Center Science and Engineering Workforce Development Grant recipient and received a certificate in Natural Hazards Resilience through the CRC.

I first learned about the NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship Program during my Junior year of high school in an Oceanography course. After hearing about such an interesting program, I tried to learn as much as possible about this program through my educational and professional career. Luckily, the Knauss Fellowship program has an extensive alumni base who I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with and learning from during my career. After years of learning about the fellowship, I was ecstatic to finally have the chance to apply and get accepted to be a Knauss Fellow while a graduate student in the Marine Sciences Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

During Straub's free time in Vicksburg, she was able to visit downtown and see some of the local sights.

During Straub’s free time in Vicksburg, she was able to visit downtown and see some of the local sights.

I was thrilled to find out my host office would be the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), where I would be working on a wide range of Civil Works R&D projects. Within the first few weeks of starting my fellowship position, based in Washington, D.C., my supervisors, mentor and I met to discuss my professional development plan. My plan included numerous opportunities to travel to domestic and international conferences, Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) district offices and national meetings, with the goal of networking and learning all about different aspects of the agency. A large component of the Knauss Fellowship is professional development, networking and travel, and fellows have the opportunity to travel to some pretty amazing places. I was excited about all of the fascinating opportunities through my fellowship host office and couldn’t wait to learn more, network and travel!

Unfortunately, parts of that did not go according to plan.

During the third week of my fellowship, in the last week of February, I had the opportunity to travel to the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) located in Vicksburg, Miss., to learn all about the fascinating research and work going on and to meet with fellow colleagues. Continue reading

Rebuilding their trust in what we say: Public information’s new frontier

North Carolina Emergency Management “Safety messaging” from Keith Acree’s Natural Hazard Resilience Series guest lecture.

North Carolina Emergency Management “Safety messaging” from Keith Acree’s Natural Hazard Resilience Series guest lecture

By Patience Wall

Public information is at the core of our public safety and natural disaster resilience work. It’s a reliable source we can turn to when outcomes are uncertain and emergency responses are ambiguous. But in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with growing misinformation, contentious mistrust of government and the scripted drama of endlessly breaking news, all of the efforts that go into providing reliable public information often go unseen and perhaps even undervalued.

Keith Acree

Keith Acree

I was reminded of those many unseen efforts during Keith Acree’s guest lecture in the Coastal Resilience Center’s Natural Hazards and Resilience Speaker Series in April. Acree serves as a Public Information Officer with North Carolina’s Department of Public Safety. As a part of the Emergency Management team, he works with other public information officers to manage external affairs communications to the public. In natural disaster emergencies, he helps coordinate messaging through the state’s Joint Information System by collaborating with the other public information officers to ensure there’s consistent emergency communications across state agencies and departments. This external communication work extends to composing messaging for press briefings with the Governor and other administrators.

Outside of natural disaster work, Acree’s day-to-day work includes safety messaging campaigns and preparation. This messaging covers a wide array of hazards and risks from grill safety to power line warnings to mold precautions. These preparedness campaigns are supported through a host of in-person and virtual campaigns including but not limited to: ReadyNC.org, NC 211, the emergency management podcast and several Preparedness Weeks for hurricanes and other recurring severe weather events. Continue reading

UNC Research Professor helps communities build a more resilient future

PIRS compares several types of plans and develops a composite score to show where gaps or incompatibility may make a community more vulnerable to hazards. Graphic by Chris A. Johns.

PIRS compares several types of plans and develops a composite score to show where gaps or incompatibility may make a community more vulnerable to hazards. Graphic illustration by Chris A. Johns.

By Lauren Jensen

On April 9, 2020, the Natural Hazards Resilience Speaker Series had a guest lecture from UNC’s very own Dr. Phil Berke. Dr. Berke is a leader in community resilience planning, and he has recently returned to UNC after teaching at Texas A&M University. Dr. Berke’s current work surrounds the Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard (PIRS), a framework used to assess the integration of community plans and the incorporation of resilience and hazard mitigation strategies in these plans.

Dr. Phil Berke

Dr. Phil Berke

Dr. Berke explained that there is often a disconnect between the different plans that communities adopt. Communities large and small adopt many plans – transportation plans, comprehensive land use plans, housing plans, buyout plans – the list goes on. However, there are often silos present, preventing these plans from being well-communicated and coordinated between different departments.

In addition to having many disconnected plans, Dr. Berke also found that there is often poor integration of resilience and mitigation across these networks of plans adopted by communities, even in communities that are very vulnerable to natural hazard events. This showcases the disconnect between developers and land use planners, he said, and it leads to the over-investment in infrastructure in hazardous areas. This has led to an increase in the per capita and total losses that communities see from natural hazard events. However, this increase is not necessarily due to an increase in frequency or magnitude of disaster events, but rather the fact that developers continue to build in dangerous places and fail to listen to land use planners.

Continue reading

Army Corps speaker highlights coastal resilience projects across country

A graphic from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' New Jersey Back Bay Study details one of several options for defending shorelines.

A graphic from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Jersey Back Bay Study details one of several options for defending shorelines.

By Lauren Turner

On April 16, 2020, the Natural Hazards Speaker Series was joined by J.B. Smith of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Smith is the Coastal Technical Expert for the Philadelphia District of the Corps. He spoke about the planning perspective of the Corps around coastal hazards and resilience. Earlier this semester, we heard from his Army Corps colleague, Julie Rosati, who presented the programmatic model of the Corps. Smith’s presentation was a follow-up on that, delving into specific programs (namely the New Jersey Back Bay) as well as barriers to implementing preferred techniques.

JB Smith

JB Smith

Smith works in the Coastal Storm Risk Management program, which focuses on beach erosion and restoration, shoreline protection, urban inundation and sea level rise. Smith said USACE addresses these issues through engineering and practice-based solutions. Many projects take up to 10 years, and the Corps is constantly conducting research to propose new and better solutions. As Smith puts it, “The Corps is the nation’s engineers”.

The planning process that the Army Corps uses is as follows: (1) Identify problems and opportunities, (2) inventory current conditions and forecast future ones, (3) formulate alternative plans, (4) evaluate alternative plans, (5) compare alternative plans and (6) select a plan. Smith said that at each stage of this planning process, there is more opportunity for community engagement, and more stakeholders become involved at each level.

Continue reading

Norfolk adopting resilience strategies in the face of rising seas

Norfolk's susceptibility to flooding from storm surge, from the city's plaNorfolk2030 planning publication.

Norfolk’s susceptibility to flooding from storm surge, from the city’s plaNorfolk2030 planning publication.

By Julianna Schroeger

On March 26, Paula Shea, an alum of UNC’s City and Regional Planning program, and Chief Planner for the city of Norfolk, Virginia, presented to our class about the resilience initiatives southeastern Virginia has undertaken. Shea kicked off the presentation, which was part of the Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers Series, by acknowledging the role of resilience in responding to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic we find ourselves in now. She noted how the use of technology and ability to adapt classes, jobs and even public meetings to virtual formats serves as a prime example of a resilient strategy.

Paula Shea

Paula Shea

Norfolk, with its 144 miles of coastline, is a city that relies heavily upon its coastal resources. Norfolk is home to the world’s largest naval station and the third-busiest port on the East Coast of the United States. At the same time, Norfolk and the southeastern Virginia region as a whole has a long history of flooding and faces increasing challenges due to rising sea levels and more extreme storms. Shea dated the city’s flooding back to the 1700s, when a hurricane in 1749 shifted the topography of the land, adding several acres of sand bar to the city’s boundaries. The community of Willoughby was subsequently developed on that new dry land but is now among the most vulnerable in the region to flooding. Additionally, sea level is rising in southeastern Virginia faster than the global average, compounded by land subsidence at a rate of about 2 millimeters per year. The region is especially vulnerable because of this, and is frequently inundated by flooding from high tides, heavy rain and storm surge.

The city’s historical connection to the water, reliance upon coastal industry and its vulnerability to coastal changes accelerated by climate change makes it a particularly important place to develop and implement resilience strategies. Shea reviewed the hard infrastructure improvements that city engineers have pursued to address local flooding issues and emphasized the important role that planners play in including residents in community resiliency projects. Norfolk began its resilience planning in 2013 when it joined the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Continue reading

Hazards modeling predicts flooding from coastal storms

The National Flood Hazard Layer is a geospatial database that contains current effective flood hazard data. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides the flood hazard data to support the National Flood Insurance Program. Image via FEMA.

The National Flood Hazard Layer is a geospatial database that contains current effective flood hazard data. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides the flood hazard data to support the National Flood Insurance Program. Image via FEMA.

By Katie Koffman

On March 5, Dr. Brian Blanton of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) discussed coastal hazard and risk assessment with our class. He showed us various models used for forecasting and prediction of future climate events while explaining “the trap of binary thinking” regarding climate change. Dr. Blanton was a more technical speaker, but he did an excellent job explaining his research and making it understandable for those who approach climate change from a social sciences perspective.

Dr. Brian Blanton

Dr. Brian Blanton

Dr. Blanton began the discussion by explaining how we perceive risk, hazard, and consequences by demonstrating that binary thinking does not generally characterize how nature operates. On FEMA flood maps, he said, risks can be substantially underrepresented because areas are classified either “in” or “out” of the flood zone. However, when compared with historical damage patterns, many areas “outside” the FEMA floodplain experienced flooding. The primary purpose of the maps is for setting  flood insurance rates, but they are often used for land use planning and determining where to live, as well as other unintended uses. The maps should serve as guidance for decision-making, he said, rather than flooding predictions.

We tend to use the word prediction and forecast interchangeably, Dr. Blanton said, but they indicate different things. A forecast should reflect both the likelihood that an event will occur as well as something about its uncertainty, such as “there is a 70% chance it will rain tomorrow.” A prediction is a statement that an event will occur, at some place and time, without recognition of underlying uncertainty. On the FEMA flood maps, the 100-year floodplain indicates areas that have a 1% chance each year to experience a catastrophic event. Often, people interpret this as an area that will experience a catastrophic flood only once every 100 years. The latter interpretation is problematic because it is not true, and does not convey anything about the uncertainty. Continue reading

Assessing place attachment in the face of growing risks

Dr. Michelle Dovil

Dr. Michelle Dovil. Photo by Dr. Shaleen Miller.

By Anna Gustines

On Thursday, Feb. 27, Dr. Michelle Dovil of Florida A&M University (FAMU) presented research on environmental risk perception and place attachment in coastal North Carolina as part of the Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers Series. Environmental risk perception, a judgment of the adverse consequences of a particular hazard, is influenced by a variety of factors. Age, gender, income, ethnicity, political attitudes, trust in government to manage the risk, religion, environmental attitude, risk salience (how imminent the threat is) and risk characteristics all play a role in a person’s perception. Place attachment is the social bond that people have with their physical place; place attachment is closely related to place identity (“I’m from this place and it’s part of the identity I project to society”) and dependency (having familial ties, owning a business or a home) and is best encompassed by the feeling of a certain place being “home.”

Dr. Dovil’s research, conducted as part of a Department of Homeland Security-organized program and hosted by the Coastal Resilience Center, considered whether increased risk perception can override place attachment, and lead people to consider relocating in the face of sea-level rise and climate change. She and her research team of FAMU undergraduate students found that although place attachment in coastal North Carolina is strong, experiences with flooding and hurricanes are increasing the perceived risk of coastal living, leading residents in Wilmington and Elizabeth City to consider relocation.

Dr. Dovil highlights the two communities surveyed as part of her 2019 project. Photo by Josh Kastrinsky.

Dr. Dovil highlights the two communities surveyed as part of her 2019 project. Photo by Josh Kastrinsky.

Unsurprisingly, the effects of climate change that have the biggest effect on families’ and individuals’ daily lives, like repeated flood and hurricane events that caused significant property damage and property insurance cost increases, were cited by participants as their biggest concerns. However, heat-trapping emissions, sea level rise and climate change were cited as least concerning, indicating that the link between the effects of climate change, and climate change itself, are not being recognized by residents that will feel the effects most acutely. Continue reading

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