Natural disasters

  • Search and rescueA drone finds natural disaster survivors through their cell-phones

    During his semester project in Computer Science at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Jonathan Cheseaux developed a system for locating a person via his or her mobile phone with a drone. This device could be used to find victims in natural disasters.

  • Infrastructure protectionJapan exceedingly vulnerable to sea level rise

    Scientists say that Japan might be one of the most at-risk nations when it comes to the consequences of sea-level rise.Japan has a coastline 30,000 km long, and much of it in largely low-elevation regions. Additionally, about 80 percent of the country’s industry and population are located in these zones.

  • Infrastructure protectionDebate in Texas over fossil fuel-based economic growth

    Texas officials tout the state’s economic growth, which is due in part to the state’s energy sector. That same energy sector puts Texas’ economy at risk in decades to come, with scientists saying that this economic growth comes at a high cost.State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush, notes that the state is projected to be several degrees warmer and experience longer and more severe droughts. The see along portions of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast has already risen up to one foot in the past century.

  • Disaster trainingTraining volcano scientists from around the world to predict, respond to eruptions

    Scientists and technicians who work at volcano observatories in eleven countries visited the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory earlier this month to learn techniques for monitoring active volcanoes. The International Training Program in Volcano Hazards Monitoring is designed to assist scientists from other nations in attaining self-sufficiency in monitoring volcanoes and reducing the risks from eruptions.

  • InfrastructureMapping Florida sinkholes

    Sinkholes are common in Florida because of porous rock underground, such as limestone, which holds water. Over time, acid in the water dissolves the rock, creating a void. The Florida Geological Surveyand Florida Department of Emergency Managementare making progress on creating a statewide map showing where sinkholes are most likely to form. Florida received more than $1 million in federal funding last year to conduct a three-year study which would eventually help emergency planners predict where sinkholes are likely to develop, especially after large rainstorms.

  • WildfiresCalifornia braces for worst wildfire season in memory

    California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection(Cal Fire) is bracing for one of the longest and most difficult fire seasons in memory. A recent addition of $23 million to the emergency wildfire budget for the fiscal year that began 1 July, brings the department’s budget total to $209 million. “That’s just the first week, and we still have 51 more weeks to go,” said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for Cal Fire. “We’re not even to the peak of the fire season yet.”

  • Infrastructure protectionNew materials, designs needed to fortify infrastructure against extreme weather

    As cities prepare for the effects of climate change, higher temperatures for longer periods of time and a dramatic change in humidity and rainfall pose the highest risk to public infrastructure, scientists say. Buildings, roads, and bridges which were built for one set of climate conditions will have to function in another. Researchers say that analysis of changing conditions in Alaska, for example, shows that in thirty or forty years the state would have to rebuild roads every eighteen months unless new designs and materials were adopted.

  • Infrastructure protectionSilicon Valley braces for floods, storm surges caused by sea level rise

    A new analysis found that $36.5 billion in property and at least 145,000 California residents could be directly affected in the next thirty years from flooding caused by sea level rise. San Mateo County, home to major corporations including Facebook, Oracle, and Genentechin Palo Alto, and the low-income population of East Palo Alto, would be the most affected.

  • Infrastructure protectionEarthquake researchers get online primer for simulation method

    Researchers now have access to expert instruction for an emerging simulation method to study seismic effects on structures and to design buildings that better withstand strong earthquakes. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) is providing a primer on its NEEShub. he primer explains how to use hybrid simulations, methods that are helping researchers study the effects of earthquakes on buildings and other structures.

  • DamsDesign standards for dams are effective for earthquakes: study

    There has long been a concern among civil engineers that dams could fail days or weeks after an earthquake, even if no immediate evidence of a problem surfaced. Their concern has focused on possible cracks at the interface between the concrete section of a dam and the soil embankments at the dam’s sides, and on how the soil filters nestled amidst the embankments would fare. Soil filters consist of coarser grain soils than the soil used in the dam’s impervious core, and their purpose in the event of a crack in the soil, is to prevent the finer core soil particles from rapidly eroding and flushing through the filter. Since soil filters were instituted, their design standards have been based on experimental studies without detailed and validated computer modeling of the soil grains — until now.

  • Flood protectionU Iowa to spend $4 million on flood protection

    Facing an Iowa River which breaches its banks and advances on nearby buildings and roadsin Iowa City, the University of Iowa(UI) plans to spend as much as $4 million to secure its property. The figure covers the cost of setting up and taking down HESCO barriers near vulnerable buildings. “It’s worth it to spend $4 million to prevent tens of millions of dollars in damage and all the disruption that could be caused for students,” said UI spokesman.

  • ResilienceSeattle builds resiliency in the face of changing climate

    The federal government’s National Climate Assessment, released in May, detailed the region-by-region effects which includes water shortages, sea-level rise, and more frequent wildfires. Most American cities fall short on climate change preparation when compared to several major cities around the world. A survey conducted by MIT reported that globally, “the U.S. has the lowest percentage of cities engaged in (climate change) assessments and planning.” Seattle has decided it needs to act, and act now, to make itself more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

  • GridMicrogrids offer cities resiliency, reliability, accessibility

    A majority of the world’s population now lives in cities, which consume 75 percent of the world’s resources and emit most of its greenhouse gases. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, an additional three billion people will move into these dense, resource-intense urban environments. The focus in cities like New York or New Orleans is on building infrastructure to make cities more resilient when faced with extreme weather or natural disasters — by providing backup power during outages, as well as helping to ease systems back online as outages end. Microgrid researchers are taking up this challenge by developing an energy solution with the potential to strengthen all three critical factors of energy in a livable city: resiliency, reliability and accessibility.

  • First responseFirefighters mull using drones in fighting wildfires

    Federal wildland firefighting officials are exploring the deployment of drones to assist in surveillance and reconnaissance missions during a wildfire. Drones sent to survey fire patterns during a wildfire could help keep firefighters out of risky situations by providing real-time information to officials on the ground. Few wildfire officials have used drones in the line of duty, and managers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management(BLM) and U.S. Forest Servicesay that while the technology has potential, agencies do not have the budget and have not developed protocols to integrate drones into regular firefighting operations.

  • Public alert systemsStates choose different paths to deploying public alert systems

    Thanks to systems such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), the technology which allows governments to notify residents quickly of an emergency is becoming increasingly cheaper and more effective. Because of this, states are choosing different and unique paths toward deploying such systems within their infrastructure. States are choosing between giving local governments the lead on alert systems or providing extensive state-wide oversight.