• Flood risksHouston officials let developers build homes inside reservoirs. But no one warned buyers.

    By Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, and Al Shaw

    Hurricane Harvey forced many Houston-area residents to realize that their homes were built inside the two massive reservoirs which had been built west of Houston decades ago to protect the city from catastrophic flooding. These homeowners are now coming to terms with the fact that in big enough rainstorms, their neighborhoods are actually designed to flood. Trouble is, nobody told them about it. Today, about 14,000 homes are located inside the reservoirs, or “flood pools,” as city planners call them.

  • Disaster evacuationPsychology holds key to getting people out before disaster strikes

    By Elizabeth Newnham, Rex Pui-kin Lam, and Satchit Balsari

    Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intense. Recent hurricanes, floods, bushfires and earthquakes have highlighted the significant potential for mass trauma. Yet we know relatively little about the psychology of decision-making in dangerous conditions. Evacuation is a key strategy for keeping city residents safe. Yet our study identifies several barriers to evacuation in high-density cities. Importantly, psychological factors could affect decision-making in these situations.

  • Planetary securityThis is only a Test: Asteroid tracking network observes close approach

    Yesterday, 12 October 2017, a small asteroid designated 2012 TC4 safely passed by Earth at a distance of approximately 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). This is a little over one tenth the distance to the Moon and just above the orbital altitude of communications satellites. This encounter with TC4 was being used by asteroid trackers around the world to test their ability to operate as a coordinated international asteroid warning network.

  • WildfiresWildfires create much more pollution than previously thought

    Naturally burning timber and brush launch what are called fine particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels officially noted in emissions inventories at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study. This does not mean that burning biomass produces more pollution than it previously did, but the new research makes clearer how much and what pollutants are inside a wildfire plume. Fine particles, the microscopic, sooty specks that form aerosols, are a hazard to human health, particularly to the lungs and heart.

  • Flood insuranceAfter hurricanes, Congress ponders future of flood insurance program

    By Abby Livingston

    The devastating hit Houston took from Hurricane Harvey has exacerbated — and highlighted — the enormous financial jam facing the National Flood Insurance Program. Thanks to the recent onslaught of hurricanes hitting Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, there has never been a greater need for the program. But that need has also set off a new round of calls to dramatically overhaul a program that hasn’t been able to sustain itself without major subsidies from the U.S. Treasury.

  • Storm surgesAdvancing the accuracy of hurricane storm surge forecasts

    Of the thirteen named storms so far this season, eight have been hurricanes, with five of the eight — Harvey, Irma, Jose, Lee, and Maria — reaching Category 3 or higher. Storm surge — how high ocean waters rise and where flooding occurs —  is often the greatest threat to life and property during a tropical cyclone. A single storm can devastate livelihoods and cause tens of billions of dollars in damage.

  • Mass casualty incidentsMass casualty incidents and the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness

    A single patient with a gunshot wound (GSW) to a vital body part (e.g., head, chest, abdomen, or major artery) will stress a typical community hospital. The more than 500 people who were injured in Las Vegas on 1 October have been transported to a number of hospitals around Las Vegas and have overwhelmed some of the hospitals closest to the scene. A number of the injured are in critical condition and hence the death toll is likely to rise. Among other issues, this tragedy illustrates the overlap between trauma systems and hospital disaster preparedness.

  • Urban waterwaysUSGS helps four cities improve urban waterways

    This fall more than $1.5 million is being invested in improving urban lands and waters thanks to expanded USGS partnerships with Albuquerque, New Mexico; San Antonio, Texas; Gary, Indiana; and Harlem and Bronx, New York.

  • Hurricane IrmaHurricane loss model estimates damage caused by Hurricane Irma at $19 billion

    A team of researchers estimates that Hurricane Irma caused $19.4 billion in wind-related losses to Florida residents alone. The data does not cover flood losses. Of that total, $6.3 billion will be paid by insurance companies. As a result, roughly two-thirds of the losses will be borne by homeowners.

  • Hurricane IrmaAI, citizen science, disaster response combine to help Hurricane Irma’s victims

    A highly unusual collaboration between information engineers at Oxford, the Zooniverse citizen science platform, and international disaster response organization Rescue Global is enabling a rapid and effective response to Hurricane Irma. The project draws on the power of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform, to work with volunteers and crowd source the data needed to understand Irma’s path of destruction and the damage caused.

  • Search & rescueDrones could save lives in disaster zones

    Research from the University of South Australia has shown for the first time that drones can be used to detect human vital signs in war zones and natural disasters. The researchers have successfully trialed unmanned aerial vehicles to measure heart and respiratory rates using remote-sensing imaging systems, while hovering three meters from humans.

  • InfrastructureTesting bridges for safety after major hurricanes

    After Hurricane Irma hit, there was a major concern about South Florida’s bridges, mainly the ones in the Florida Keys. Would the structures be safe to cross for drivers anxious to get back home? Would relief efforts be impaired due to damage caused by massive winds? Fortunately, all forty-two bridges that connect the mainland to the Keys were inspected and declared safe by Monroe County officials. If another major hurricane like Irma hits South Florida, researchers and engineers shares an easy and cost-effective way to test a bridge for safety.

  • ResilienceExamining NYC storm surge infrastructure resilience

    With the recent Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria, which ravaged much of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, as well as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, from which NYC infrastructure is still recovering, it has become clear that addressing threats to infrastructure is critical to keeping our communities safe, functional, and healthy. Storm surge has emerged as one of the most destructive forces on infrastructure, especially interconnected structures in cities.

  • HurricanesImproving forecasts of hurricane strength

    As Hurricane Irma approached U.S. shores, researchers sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) were using air-dropped autonomous sensors to compile real-time ocean observations to help forecasters predict the strength of future tropical storms. This marked the first time a new, specialized version of the sensors—called ALAMO (Air-Launched Autonomous Micro Observer) sensors—was being used in hurricane-prediction research.

  • Emergency communicationNo internet? No problem: Improving communications during natural disasters

    Storms like Hurricane Irma and other natural disasters bring with them lots of uncertainty: where will they go, how much damage will they cause. What is certain is that no matter where they strike, natural disasters knock out power. And no power means no internet for thousands of people in affected areas. Researchers are proposing a new way of gathering and sharing information during natural disasters that does not rely on the internet.