of the SSPEED Center's objectives would be to combine storm surge models and local flood prediction models.

Local rainfall and storm surge often combine during a hurricane to worsen flooding. Local flood prediction models show how flooding will occur when large amounts of rain pass through an area. Storm surge models show how coastal waters rise when a storm hits. These cover an entire coastline, rather than watersheds.

"When water is falling over a coastal area, it has to drain into the gulf, or into a lagoon, stream or river that eventually drains into the gulf," Benavides said, "and if that water is elevated because of high storm surge, then that water can't drain as effectively. No one has really studied the interaction between those two physical systems."

Infrastructure challenges may slow the flood prediction process in some areas. For instance, Benavides said that in Brownsville, a limited number of rain gauges and the close proximity of the city's radar system impede real-time rainfall and flood assessment. Benavides said he's working to secure funding that would help improve Brownsville's local weather prediction infrastructure.

 

A Wide-Ranging Resource
The SSPEED Center will serve as a resource by sharing research knowledge with emergency officials and government, and by developing new and improved tools for emergency managers, such as real-time analysis and combined flood models. However, the center's purpose goes beyond emergency managers, including helping the public, public officials and private industry prepare for severe weather.

Researchers at LSU not only work with state officials during emergencies, but also work with nongovernmental organizations, such as the Red Cross and private industry. For instance, Levitan said another group within LSU studies the potential environmental impact of severe storms and works with industry to solve challenges related to potential flooding in the area.

"In southeast Texas and Louisiana," Levitan said, "we have a high concentration of industrial facilities -- refineries, pipelines, plants, storage tanks and all kinds of hazardous materials, in addition to landfills and other areas where once these things get flooded, you potentially have opportunities for significant contamination and environmental hazards."

In addition to contributing expertise and research in hydrology, UT Brownsville will study border issues related to severe weather so public officials will be knowledgeable and prepared for the complications related to the border in an incident, such as evacuations and crime.

Education and outreach -- not just to government officials but also to the public -- will be an important part of the SSPEED Center's mission, said Benavides. The University of Houston is working on education and outreach. Benavides said education of the public was one of the most important results the center could hope to see.

"We can't really do that much with the technology at the public level if the public isn't aware of what the public is required to do for themselves," he said.

The University of Houston will also work to assess infrastructure risks.

LSU will provide expertise in the areas of evacuation planning and storm surge modeling, as will the University of Texas at Austin. Texas A&M University and Texas A&M at Galveston will also study the impacts of storm surges and provide expertise in coastal evacuation planning. Texas Southern University and the Houston-Galveston Area Council will also supply expertise in transportation and evacuation planning.

By working with the public, and the private and public sector, the SSPEED Center is helping to apply academic research in the real world.

"One of the main goals of this center -- and the state Legislature's goal in giving the approval for the center -- was to say, 'Look, we have emergency managers out there who are not necessarily utilizing one of the best assets for staying on top of recent and new technologies -- and that is academia,' Benavides said.

"Academia is out here working on these issues. They're not necessarily in the ivory tower anymore. We're tackling real-world issues that are meeting real people's needs."

Emily Montandon  |  Editor