The damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder of the importance of pursuing coastal hazards research. The costs of these disasters in the United States continues to grow, with 12 separate weather and climate disasters each causing more than $1 billion in damage last year. This year, Hurricane Isaac caused up to $2 billion of damage on the Gulf Coast, while early estimates of Sandy’s toll have exceeded $50 billion in states all along the eastern seaboard.
Reducing the impacts and costs of disasters involves enhancing disaster resilience. Resilience is the ability to prepare for, mitigate against, recover from, and adapt to adverse events. Enhanced resilience allows better anticipation of disasters and better planning to reduce disaster losses—rather than waiting for an event to occur and paying for it afterward. Past studies have shown that every dollar spent in adopting risk reduction measures is equivalent to four dollars saved on disaster recovery.
The Department of Homeland Security Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence is a grant-funded resource available to assist the response and recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Established in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Center specializes in the most pressing challenges the government and communities face in recovering from and building resilience to natural disasters.
Current Research Relating to Hurricane Sandy:
- Coastal Hazards Modeling – CHC is a primary sponsor for ADCIRC coastal storm surge and flood modeling development and applications. This work includes pre-event mitigation planning, protection system design, pre-storm preparation and decision making, and post-storm damage assessments and forensic studies. CHC has recently completed hindcasts of the Hurricane Sandy to aid FEMA with damage estimates.
- Recovery Resources for States – CHC recently released a State Disaster Recovery Planning Guide to help states develop disaster recovery plans that work. In 2012, CHC Executive Director Gavin Smith completed the text Planning for Post-Disaster Recovery: A Review of the United States Disaster Assistance Framework (Island Press) in which he assesses the current state of practice in the United States regarding disaster recovery planning and offers a series of recommendations tied to strengthening the new federal recovery program the National Disaster Recovery Framework.
- Mitigation Planning Resources – CHC has developed tools to evaluate the quality of state and local hazard mitigation plans. The assessment tool is derived from the results of the first national evaluation of the quality, implementation and performance of plans completed since the passage of the 2000 Federal Disaster Mitigation Act (DMA), which requires states to develop hazard mitigation plans to qualify for Federal disaster funds.
- Building More Resilient Communities – CHC Executive Director Gavin Smith is sharing his expertise through the American Planning Association Series on Post-Disaster Recovery and by providing direct assistance to impacted communities.
- Infrastructure Restoration Modeling – CHC is developing MUNICIPAL, an infrastructure restoration and interdependency modeling tool to assist emergency managers during extreme events. The current version of the tool provides a map to visualize critical civil infrastructures, their interdependencies and optimal restoration order. To reach a full operational potential, MUNICIPAL requires data inputs on current infrastructure and additional test/evaluation. However, this body of research, including applicable algorithms, is an excellent resource for examining Sandy-related infrastructure restoration problems.
- In-Field Soils Stability Assessment Tools – CHC is developing new tools for assessing soil stability in the wake of storms. The prototype In-Situ Scour Evaluation Probe (ISEP), for example, indicates the scour potential of soils around hydraulic structures, including levees, dunes, and bridge foundations.
- Psychological Recovery of Families and Children – CHC is developing multi-format educational materials for state and federal agencies (e.g., FEMA and Red Cross volunteers and employees) to use in assisting families after a disaster and/or for use by families impacted by disasters. The educational materials are grounded in an understanding of psychological risk factors and target ways to assist children cope with the psychological effects of disasters.
- Coastal Engineering Expertise – CHC is educating coastal engineers and computer scientists with specialized expertise in natural disasters. Graduate and undergraduate students have practical experience with computer models such as ADCIRC and with applied organizations such as the US Army Corps of Engineers and state emergency management agencies.