Honors Service Project
Roy Dokka, PhD, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department

Workshop addresses coastal resiliency needs

Experts from around the world gathered Jan. 20-21 on the LSU campus to take part in a workshop looking to improve the technology of coastal inundation prediction for the needs of emergency managers and regional planners.

The conference — held at the Lod and Carole Cook Conference Center and Hotel and cosponsored by the LSU Office of Research and Economic Development, LSU Sea Grant, LSU Center for Computation and Technology, LSU AgCenter, LSU Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency and Shell Oil Company — featured speakers from various universities and both state and national agencies.

The workshop, titled “Grand Challenges in Coastal Resiliency I: Transforming Coastal Inundation Modeling to Public Security” workshop, was the first in a series planned at LSU aiming to address numerous challenges in coastal resiliency and create a new integrated approach to disaster management and regional planning in such instances.

LSU is situated in a unique position, geographically and strategically, to solve problems of coastal resiliency. The unique challenges its home state faces – coastal erosion, wetland loss and the near-constant threat of hurricanes – also give the university a deep base of expertise and exposure to those same areas.

Pat Santos, assistant deputy director of emergency management with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, discussed how the state prepared for and reacted to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. He also said that local agencies play a vital role in every emergency situation because “every emergency is local.”

Santos outlined what his office calls its “H-hour” timeline. This timeline is the guide as to when watches and warnings are issued for impending hurricane landfall and when to enact events such as declarations and evacuations, beginning with coastal areas.

“We start as far out as 102 hours from projected landfall,” Santos said. “Even if the storm is not initially projected to affect us, we go into action.”

Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said that two issues pose the biggest concerns in terms of planning for his office — how his agency can better convey warnings prior to a potentially disastrous weather event and how it can ensure the messages will be delivered.

Read also said that his office is instituting new technologies for management and planning in 2009. They include posting vital information such as maximum envelope of water, or MEOW, information approximately five days prior to any expected landfall and potential storm surge data when a hurricane warning is first issued.

“We also need to break the habit of media reporting hurricanes as ‘only a category 1’ or ‘just a category 2,’” Read said, referring to the Stafford-Simpson scale of hurricane rating based on sustained wind speed. “There’s no such thing. A hurricane is a hurricane and can cause extensive damage at any strength.”

Increased population of coastal zones is also an issue, Read said. He called “a lack of control in development along the coasts” as the top impediment to coastal resiliency.

“Because of this, no matter how much we improve our technologies, damage will continue,” he said.

Ken Graham, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s New Orleans-Baton Rouge Office in Slidell, said that no matter how many watches and warnings are issued by state and national government, the ultimate responsibility falls upon the individual to heed the warnings.

In a typical year, Graham said, the region sees about seven hurricanes, nearly 1,000 tornadoes, approximately 5,000 floods, about 25 million lightning strikes and 10,000 violent thunderstorms. These and other disasters lead to an average of 500 deaths and 5,000 injuries in a typical year, he said.

Challenges Graham said the state faces include working to infuse science with services in terms of preserving the state’s coastal areas. One such issue involves keeping elevation maps as current as possible with the ever-changing coast.

“Our maps are getting out of date quicker,” Graham said.

Graham also said that serious weather events such as hurricanes have come in pairs in recent years, using examples of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008. Such occurrences have given little time to create storm surge models and challenged experts to move surge guidance from research to operations at a quicker pace.

Graham said that in 2009, his office is working to better understand the needs of its partner agencies, including LSU, and understanding what resources are available.

“We need to provide sufficient information as quickly as possible,” Graham said. “We also need to remain in constant communication for threats. LSU is a vital part of the process.”

Many experts feel that Louisiana’s coast makes an ideal case study to test how inundation modeling within highly engineered and transformed coastal landscapes can provide information to emergency managers during and following hurricane events, and to regional planners facing challenges to coastal protection and restoration from rising sea levels.

Other issues discussed during the conference include planning perspectives of both the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; challenges to regional and national efforts in planning for emergencies; restoration and protection planning; and various technological advances in planning. Panelists included researchers from LSU, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Engineering Research and Development Center of the Army Corps of Engineers and researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and several other esteemed institutions.

For more information on the conference, including webcast coverage, visit http://www.research.lsu.edu/csa/grandchallenge/.

Aaron Looney | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations
January 2009