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MCEER Team Investigates Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

damaged bridge

satellite image of deployment

Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 in southern Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, as a Category 4 hurricane. It has since resulted in over 1,200 lives lost, thousands of injuries, extensive damage to infrastructure, and disruption of economic and other social activities within the affected region and indirectly to the nation. When the final accounting takes place, this disaster will likely be found to be one of the deadliest and most costly natural disasters in U. S. history.

Much of the physical damage to infrastructure and disruption to social and economic systems resembled the aftermath of a major earthquake. Using expertise gained from reconnaissance missions following earthquakes around the world, MCEER assembled a multidisciplinary team of experts to survey the damage, primarily caused by wind, storm surge and subsequent flooding, and to examine the financial, political and social considerations that led to the decisions that hospitals and other organizations made before, during and after the hurricane from a multi-hazard perspective.

Primarily sponsored by the National Science Foundation, several reconnaissance groups were assembled and deployed to the region at three different times. The first team visited the stricken area the week after the storm, from September 6-11, 2005. The team used remote sensing technologies and the VIEWS™ system to rapidly collect video surveys of damage over large geographical areas. They focused on damage to large engineered structures, primarily bridges and commercial buildings.

Led by Gilberto Mosqueda, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, the team was divided into two groups. Shubharoop Ghosh, ImageCat Inc. and J. Arn Womble, Wind Engineering Research (WISE) Center at Texas Tech University, focused on collecting available remotely-sensed data of damage. Gilberto Mosqueda, Keith Porter, California Institute of Technology, Jerome O’Connor, MCEER, and Paul McAnany, a volunteer professional engineer, investigated the scope of structural damage, primarily in southern Mississippi.

In early October, a second team consisting of structural engineers, social scientists and remote sensing experts was deployed, to focus on the city of New Orleans. Their purpose was to examine structural damage, gather valuable data about how hospitals, transportation agencies, utility companies and building managers decided to adhere to, or alter, their emergency response plans before, during and after Hurricane Katrina, and to use remote sensing technologies and the VIEWS™ system to collect video surveys of damage.

Gilberto Mosqueda and Keith Porter returned as part of this second team to investigate damage to commercial buildings and lifelines, including electric, gas and phone lines. They also interviewed utility crews and decision-makers to find out how they responded to the disaster. Daniel Hess, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University at Buffalo and Lucy Arendt, School of Business, University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, focused on evacuation plans of various organizations and the factors leading to decisions made once New Orleans was flooded. Shubharoop Ghosh of ImageCat Inc. also returned to the area, and with Carol Hill, Louisiana State University, focused on correlating damage detected by satellites with measurements taken in the field, using digital cameras. The VIEWS™ system was again used to quickly correlate digital pictures extracted from the video with the satellite imagery. The team was in the New Orleans area from October 5-11, 2005.

A third team will travel to New Orleans on October 17-22 to study environmental and health issues. This team includes James Jensen, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, University at Buffalo, who will focus on water quality and wastewater treatment, and Pavani Ram, Social and Preventative Medicine, University at Buffalo, who will focus on public health issues.

The reconnaissance team’s findings are available as Preliminary Damage Reports and Preliminary VIEWS™ Deployment reports from the MCEER website. The images and GPS coordinates obtained during the first deployment of the VIEWS™ system have been integrated with Google Earth, and are also available from the MCEER website.

Some of the preliminary reports are augmented with the work of a group of MCEER researchers at Cornell University. Led by Arthur Lembo, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, the group created an Internet Map Server (IMS) application to support the reconnaissance effort. Field survey data (photos, data logs, video, textual descriptions, etc.) of the damaged areas are being integrated spatially and made available via the IMS. Specific maps for many of the sites visited by the team were created and are available in the preliminary damage reports. The research team also includes Professor Thomas O’Rourke, and graduate student Amanda Bonneau, School of Civil and Enviromental Engineering.

A seminar will be held November 2, 2005 at the University at Buffalo to share the collective observations from these reconnaissance trips. The seminar will be webcast worldwide. More information is available from the MCEER website.

The Bulletin is a free publication offering articles on Center research, cooperative ventures, reports from conferences, educational activities, upcoming events, and reviews of new MCEER publications Summer 2005

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