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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

A&M joins natural disaster preparedness initiative

Texas A&M urban planning researchers formed a new initiative with scientists from 10 other universities earlier this month to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
The headquarters of the coalition, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence, is based at Colorado State University, and was established via the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The alliance between the 10 universities and the CRCE won a $20 million grant through NIST and hopes to provide five years of data on how best to build and protect societies from disasters. 
Although Colorado is centrally located  in the United States, the universities involved are spread across the country to maximize the reach of the research. Other universities — such as Rice University, the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University–Kingsville — are contributing to the research to help create resilient communities through their own models of information. 
At its conclusion, the study hopes to provide policy-makers with models for implementing safer building regulations, said Walter Peacock, director of the Texas A&M Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center and a member of the research team.
“For those of us in planning, we can incorporate our research in terms of the nature of policy — how quickly it’s implemented — as well as how we organize ourselves to deal with recovery efforts to see improvements to a community’s resilience,” Peacock said.
Peacock said the team of researchers wants to measure community resiliency, or how well communities are able
to recover from the wide array of disasters that could happen in the United States.
“They are going to implement a program that is going to draw together engineering models and social science models and hazard models so that a community could better understand if they have a particular exposure to earthquakes — or if they have exposure to wind hazards or hurricanes or fire hazards — they can better understand what their likely impact would be,” Peacock said.
The team at Texas A&M has researchers with 10 years or more of disaster research focused in the Houston-Galveston area.
The focus of A&M researchers will be socially based, focusing on how people handle the stressing factors of a disaster along with urban development, said Shannon Van Zandt, director for the Center for Housing and Urban Development and researcher in the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center.
“A lot of the engineers out there are interested primarily in commercial buildings and industrial buildings, but me and my team are really interested in houses, because that’s where the people are,” Van Zandt said. “We need to remember that people are really impacted by the damage to their homes, and we need to ask how long it will take to recover from the effects of that.”
One of the goals for the initiative between the researchers is to develop a software system simple and efficient enough for policy-makers to use on a day-to-day basis.
The University of Illinois is using its computing expertise to provide a database called the NIST-COR, where models of social, engineering, hazards and economic impact of disasters are logged, Van Zardt said.
“We have a lot of data on household recovery on Hurricane Ike,” Van Zandt said. “We have a lot of data on changes in the floodplain in Houston, related to climate change and sea-level rise. And so we will be contributing that data to the [NIST-COR] and different researchers will be using it to integrate it to their different models  for the things that they’re doing.”
Peacock said researchers are able to plug in data from their localized areas and collectively map out resiliency in communities across the United States.
“What we’re hoping is that NIST-COR will itself serve the scientific community and facilitate engineering improvements,” Peacock said. “We model the vulnerabilities of a built-in environment so that those improvements can be brought into the NIST-COR and then become an environment in which we can assess the utility of the new information.”

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