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December 9, 2013

On the road to resiliency: Researchers map Hurricane Sandy impact in New York City

Street-by-street view provides unprecedented detail of power and transit issues, revealing vulnerabilities

Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest of the 2012 hurricane season and is the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history! (Only the damage from 2005's Hurricane Katrina cost more.) While many scientists will be studying "Sandy" for years to come, some researchers are focused instead on how to make communities less vulnerable to such a storm.

University of Washington civil engineer Dorothy Reed and her team received a rapid grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how Hurricane Sandy affected the infrastructure of the New York metropolitan area, including the power and transit systems.

"I'm very interested in looking at what we can do as civil engineers to make the system more resilient," says Reed.

Reed and her team are creating highly detailed maps to construct a comprehensive street-by-street view of Sandy's devastation. They are plotting things like the locations of power substations and the number of customer outages per district, and overlaying that with schematics of the transit lines and a layer showing where the power failed. Then, they marry those maps with precise weather data from government agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the National Hurricane Center.

Reed says her team's work will help planners and engineers identify the city's vulnerabilities—and that's key to being better prepared.

The research is this episode was supported by NSF award #1316290, Rapid Research Grant (RAPID)/Collaborative Research: Collection of Perishable Hurricane Sandy Data on Weather-Related Damage to Urban Power and Transit Infrastructure. The RAPID funding mechanism is used for proposals having a severe urgency with regard to the availability of, or access to, data, facilities or specialized equipment, including quick response research on natural and other disasters.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.