4.2 Batten Down the Hatches - Education on Major Storms and Community Resilience

Friday, 12 June 2015: 10:45 AM
303 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Lisa A. Doner, Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH; and P. Stapleton and L. Motola

Extreme storms have major impacts on the communities that lay in their path. Many climate models predict increased frequency of heavy rains and icing events, freak storms and severe weather as a result of ongoing climate changes. In many locales, risk factors for such economically damaging events are no longer accurately predicted by historical trend analyses. In addition, variables such as time of year, tidal conditions and temperature can enhance the severity of a storm's impact. The ability for individual communities to respond to major storms, and to exhibit long-term resilience to extreme events, has always depended on their capabilities in risk assessment, management and preparedness. But, because of the rapid pace of changes within the global climate system, preparedness for future risks now also depends on understanding that old paradigms about risk may no longer apply. New risk models must take into account complex and incompletely identified earth system feedbacks. Community resilience, therefore, increasingly depends on adapting to an uncertain level of risk from weather extremes and on individual awareness of both risks and adaptation strategies. To partially address these needs, we've teamed up with NSF's InTeGrate Program to develop an educational module that prepares individuals across a wide variety of disciplinary training for storm risk uncertainty. Our overall aim is to create a well-informed citizenry of potential risks, effective mitigation and response strategies to major storm events, thus reducing individual and community demand for emergency measures. Our collaborative team comes from highly diverse disciplinary backgrounds, including paleoclimatology and water resources, metropolitan protection and emergency management, and agricultural biotechnology regulation risk assessment and management. We've found common ground between our disciplines in order to create crossdisciplinary learning and training activities that focus on enhancing social resilience to major winter and tropical storms. The resulting academic module is crafted in a way that instructors in any region can apply it to their own locale. It can, with some minor changes, be adapted globally. This collaborative effort, the outcome of a 2014 SERC workshop on Risk and Resilience, demonstrates the effectiveness of such integrative activities for catalyzing action and synergy across disciplines, to create products that enhance national resilience to climate change. The educational product will be tested at three different institutions (Worcester Polytecnic Institute, Plymouth State University and the Metropolitan College of New York) and is expected to be available through Creative Commons license in 2016. Components of the module include data and products from NOAA, NASA and the USGS that are related to specific events of national importance (Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy and the winter Superstorms of 1993 and 2014). This includes oceanographic, hydrographic and topographic data, such as coastal and inland floodplain maps and flood zones, and meteorological records from NOAA and the National Weather Service. Our focus is on extreme events such as the winter storms that generated record snowfalls as far south as Alabama and created crisis conditions that most southern states were ill prepared to handle. We examine how cumulative, high-magnitude snow events can cripple normal activities even in northern cities like Boston. We explore post-event consequences, such as the catastrophic flooding during subsequent snowmelt of the 1993 Superstorm, using data available from USGS hydrographic websites. The module also examines climate change-related seasonality in frequency and intensity of Nor'easters or “snowicanes” and tropical storms. Recent events suggest that storm seasons are extending beyond the traditional period of Jun-Nov for tropical storms and Oct-Apr for winter storms. Using online mapping and analysis tools, these kinds of data can be combined with maps of local topography, transportation systems, and locations of critical infrastructure to show exactly how and why communities not traditionally concerned with major storms may be more severely impacted now and in the future. In the module, students learn to apply this information in a hazard vulnerability assessment and to create an improved Hazard mitigation plan for their local communities.
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