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

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The cost of flooding

Don Hornstein presents on flood insurance as part of the Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers Series in February

Donald Hornstein presents on flood insurance as part of the Natural Hazards Resilience Speakers Series in February.

By Rachael Wolff

“Flooding is head and shoulders above any other catastrophe that you or the world is going to face in its lifetime… in terms of sheer dollars and cents, especially with sea level rise.”

Rachael Wolff

Rachael Wolff

Take it from Don Hornstein, who knows a thing or two about flooding. Prof. Hornstein holds the distinction of Aubrey L. Brooks Professor of Law at UNC-Chapel Hill and membership with the University’s Institute for the Environment, Ecology and Energy Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. He serves as a longstanding appointee on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association. His current projects include writing about The Political Economy of Resilience and training lawyers to represent low-wealth communities in flood zone property buyouts.

Donald Hornstein

Donald Hornstein

Prof. Hornstein took time out of his busy schedule on Feb.17, 2021, to participate in the Natural Hazards Resilience Speaker Series, a partnership between UNC-Chapel Hill’s Department of City and Regional Planning and UNC’s Department of Homeland Security Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence.

Prof. Hornstein was a delightful speaker – candid, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. His presentation brought up many questions on the role of flood insurance, who it serves, and how the public should respond. Personally, this discussion resulted in three key takeaways: 1) Flooding is ubiquitous and expensive; 2) Disaster costs are political; and 3) Flood insurance should be accountable to the people.

Flooding is ubiquitous and expensive

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Institutionalized equity combats hazard uncertainty

Anchor handling tugs and platform supply vessels combat the fire on the Deepwater Horizon while the U.S. Coast Guard searches for missing crew. Photo via Wikipedia.

Anchor handling tugs and platform supply vessels combat the fire on the Deepwater Horizon while the U.S. Coast Guard searches for missing crew. Photo via Wikipedia.

By Zuri Garcia

What is good Hazard Governance?

Dr. Ashley Ross-Wootton, an associate professor, author and proud Aggie, posed this question to our Natural Hazards Resilience class in February. Dr. Ross began by laying out the consequences of the 2010 Deep Horizon explosion and oil spill off the Louisiana coast: the event directly spurring her research to answer the very question she posed to us. And, with good reason.

Zuri Garcia

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Macondo prospect exploded. Very soon after, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig caught fire and began gushing oil. The rig sunk while continuing to spew crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before finally being capped on July 15. So, how did that end? Not well. About 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf, leaving 11 people dead and devastating family livelihoods built on fishing and shrimping. The spill had and will have catastrophic and irreparable impacts on the health of human, animal and plant life for generations.

As Dr. Ross watched the Deepwater Horizon spill unfolding, the inextricable connections between public and private disaster-related service provisions stood out starkly to her. When events such as Deepwater Horizon or Hurricane Harvey happen, their impact is polarizing and often exacerbates a community’s vulnerabilities, wicked problems and deficiencies.

Dr. Ashley Ross

Dr. Ashley Ross

Siloed interventions will not cut it. Hazards are complex problems, at times with overlapping events. Therefore, these problems need strategic capacity-building through an intersectional lens aimed at equity-driven outcomes. There are fiscal and human capital restraints, institutional bounds, infrastructure, and social vulnerabilities to work out. Such that an expansive set of instruments and expertise collaboration are necessary to bolster inclusive community resilience.

You need a coalition. One grounded in good (Resilient) hazard governance as established by Dr. Ross (See Figure 1 and Figure 2). The defining characteristic of good hazard governance is community cooperation and citizen power. The coalition, or collective, should include resident experts, professors, therapists, clergy, engineers, teachers, non-profits, for-profits, and well, I think you get the picture.

The collective can then identify and agree on hazard management objectives together. Once the collective vision is set, the community can then strategize how to proceed. During this process, the coalition must be built with a profoundly critical eye. If neighborhoods are to become truly resilient, then the structures and powers which barred their progress must be interrupted. In other words, if a part of the community remains oppressed (i.e., by selective capacity building and inclusion, gatekeeping, etc.), that inequity thwarts any attempts toward community resiliency. Continue reading

Elevating resilience planning to protect communities

The Plan Integration Resilience Scorecard grades for Norfolk, Va., are shown.

The Plan Integration Resilience Scorecard grades for Norfolk, Va., are shown.

By Fern Hickey

The Coastal Resilience Center, in partnership with UNC’s Department of City and Regional Planning, recently hosted American Planning Association’s (APA) Joe DeAngelis and Texas A&M’s Jaimie Masterson for a presentation on “Using Local Planning Tools to Build Community Resilience.”

Fern Hickey

Fern Hickey

The first portion of the presentation highlighted current APA projects and recent publications aimed at providing greater resources and training around issues of climate resilience, beginning with the Multihazard Planning Framework for Communities at the Wildland-Urban Interface. This guidebook identifies the common risks faced in wildland-urban interface areas and a range of planning interventions that can be used to reduce those risks, providing multi-scalar guidance and planning system audit tools that can be used to identify gaps and potential areas for improvement in local codes and regulations.

Another APA resource aims to address the challenges presented by gaps in information about climate change at the local scale. Using Climate Information in Local Planning provides guidance on how to build climate knowledge and capacity and how to use global and regional climate data at the local level to make the case for adaptation actions. PAS 596: Planning for Infrastructure Resilience hones in on infrastructure issues, providing a road map for planners and allied professionals on how to bridge existing gaps between community planning, infrastructure planning and climate change science and adaptation planning.

DeAngelis concluded his portion of the presentation by speaking about the Plan Integration for Resilience Scorecard (PIRS). The PIRS framework – developed by Jaimie Masterson, UNC’s Phil Berke and others – has been formally adopted by the APA, where it will become part of their nationally scaled education and training programs and recommended as best practice in future APA research. Moving forward, AICP certified planners will learn about resilience planning as a core part of their training, just as they do planning law and ethics. Continue reading

Building climate resiliency in North Carolina through biophilic urban design

Dr. Tim Beatley of the University of Virginia presents to the speakers series class on Jan. 27, 2021.

Dr. Tim Beatley of the University of Virginia presents to the speakers series class on Jan. 27, 2021.

By Mad Bankson, MCRP ‘22

The UNC Department of City and Regional Planning was lucky to begin our Natural Hazards Resiliece Speakers Series with a guest lecture from Dr. Timothy Beatley on Jan. 27. Beatley, a professor at the University of Virginia, spoke at length about his research on biophilic cities, the connection between humans and nature and the potential for more “natureful” cities to offer community resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenging circumstances. His primary argument, what he calls the biophilia thesis, is that nature has a positive impact on human moods, health and ability to be resilient in times of strife. For example, studies have shown that spending even a short time in forests measurably reduces stress hormones and other physical ailments. In order to harness these benefits, according to the professor, humans should work to center the incorporation of nature into city design.

Mad Bankson

Mad Bankson

Biophilic cities are not just an academic pipe dream or a concept that exists only in the form of CGI site models. Biophilic City is a designated title held by a network of more than 30 cities around the globe. While Singapore (“the garden city”) is the poster child for nature-savvy design, there is no single blueprint for a biophilic city. Cities simply must adopt a formal resolution to actively plan in a manner that integrates natural habitat. Some cities pursue the biophilic framework by installing living (planted) roofscapes, while others specifically work to improve urban bird habitats. While there are many, many examples of biophilic urban design, I was personally most interested in the multiple potential benefits offered by adaptive flooding landscape design.

Growing up in swampy, coastal North Carolina, I’ve spent much of my life wondering why people build structures in areas that are prone to flooding and the various other hazards that come with living in a place that only exists thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers. More and more, models predict that much of North Carolina will face serious environmental and economic damage related to sea level rise in the coming years, yet we continue to construct new buildings in flood-prone areas. Rather than continuing the fool’s errand that is trying to beat nature at its own game, why not work with it instead?

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JCSU summer camp reflections: Online collaboration tools for disaster education

Adrien Simmons' team used a TreeMap chart to show the frequency and intensity of storms in "Tornado Alley" in the central United States. Image via Adrien Simmons.

Adrien Simmons’ team used a TreeMap chart to show the frequency and intensity of storms in “Tornado Alley” in the central United States. Image via Adrien Simmons.

By Adrien Simmons 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.

Adrien Simmons

Adrien Simmons

Every year after final exam week, Johnson C. Smith University’s (JCSU) STEM department hosts a 1-week DHS research camp for all STEM majors, supported by the Coastal Resilience Center. It is a unique opportunity to collaborate with fellow students to create a project based around a natural disaster of the group’s choosing. The camp itself is split into morning and afternoon sessions, but the endgame is to collect data, create visualizations using Tableau and then produce a paper and a presentation for fellow students and staff.

For most camp participants, this is their first taste of collaborative work at JCSU. For me, it was an opportunity to polish up some skills that I have learned from my previous times attending. It is always fun to drop into the camp and test how much I’ve grown in comparison to the previous years. This camp was so different from past years because of lockdowns and social distancing orders given by each state, which prevented our groups from meeting physically. That, combined with the fact that I was assigned as a group leader, made me question the outcome this time around.

Despite my fears, the entire process went smoothly. In fact, I could argue that in some ways the camp went better under these circumstances. As a collective, we decided to focus our research on the analysis of tornado alley, which is an area in the Midwest that experiences frequent tornadoes. I assigned each member of my group a subtopic on which to conduct research, collect data, and create Tableau worksheets. Just from the nature of working remotely, I knew that it would require some extra work to keep everything consistent, so I tried my best to fill in the holes where I figured we would lack. That included assigning daily goals, creating templates for the paper and revising our team’s work as needed. Continue reading

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

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