S102 Multi-dimensional Analysis of Hurricane Impacts in the Caribbean using GIS

Sunday, 22 January 2017
4E (Washington State Convention Center )
Karen M. Montes-Berríos, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, San Juan, PR; and I. Olivieri Ortiz

Along with the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean holds the highest threat for environmental hazards such as hurricanes. However, Puerto Rico and the United States’ Virgin Islands have not received the impact of a major hurricane in approximately 16 years when Hurricane Georges arrived as a strong Category 3 hurricane in the Saffir-Simpson Wind scale. With Georges and multiple hurricanes before, it proved to teach a whole generation on how to effectively prepare for a hurricane event. With almost two decades since Georges, the islands have added new infrastructure, new building codes and regulations but most importantly, a new generation that does not know how to prepare themselves for a hurricane. While there are different studies involving geographic information systems (GIS) with hurricanes, there has not been a study with the deadliest hurricane in this particular area: Hurricane Okeechobee, or better known in these islands as Hurricane San Felipe, who impacted the area in 1928.  Studies of this nature can help emergency management officials prepare their current population for storms similar to what San Felipe did in the area. The storm was traced with the use of GIS technologies with current building shapefiles in order to achieve a modern spatial view of what a storm as powerful as San Felipe can do in current times.  The objectives with this study are to (1) observe if modern infrastructure in these islands is strong enough to sustain a strong Category 5 hurricane, (2) identify vulnerable areas to powerful storms and (3) evaluate if emergency manager’s plan in those vulnerable areas can prove effective to a Category 5 hurricane. After tracking San Felipe with an up-to-date shapefile containing buildings, public and private spaces in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, it was observed that areas extremely close to impact are concentrated in the tourism industry. Deep impacts in touristic spaces may bring an economic setback neither islands are prepared for. However, the importance of this study is key not only to prepare a new generation for a storm as powerful as San Felipe, but also to give a reminder to the older generations that even though a storm hasn’t been in the area for 18 years; it’s still a vulnerable area where a hurricane can take up by surprise.
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