P!Nterview: Technology and taking the long view

P!Nterview: Technology and taking the long view

HAZUS Engineer and Project Manager Frank Lavelle explains how the hurricane model helps cities and major institutions create long-terms plans to protect themselves from the dangers of severe storms.

Q: What aspects of severe storms is the HAZUS Hurricane Model best at predicting?
A: The current Hurricane Model focuses on the wind field and wind damage produced by a hurricane. The model predicts wind damage to all types of building occupancies and construction, but it best predicts damage to residential buildings. The model includes damage due to direct wind pressures and windborne debris, and water damage due to rainfall entering the buildings through damaged areas of the roof or through damaged windows or doors.

Q: The HAZUS Hurricane Model was initially released in 2004. What have been the most significant changes to the model over time?
A: Within the past six years, we’ve added mitigation analysis. This allows users to run through “What if” scenarios like: “What if all the houses in our state or county had shutters or hurricane straps?” This helps users predict damage and loss and run cost-benefit analyses to determine the best ways to prevent both.

Q: Share examples of some of the most practical applications of HAZUS.
A: Cost-benefit analyses represent some of the most common uses of HAZUS. HAZUS wind hazard and building vulnerability data are used in the FEMA Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) tool kit (available to municipalities nationwide). It helps them apply for grants to retrofit homes, for example, to withstand severe weather.

In addition, all communities create hazard mitigation plans. Those in hurricane zones that use HAZUS are able to quantify their risks and can compare damage caused by different types of storms to determine the greatest dangers in their communities, and thus, the most relevant mitigation strategies. For instance, HAZUS can predict how many homes and other buildings will be destroyed by a Category 3 hurricane. These predictions allow government groups to plan for such devastation by building emergency shelters or taking other precautions to mitigate homelessness caused by hurricanes.

Q: What are some of the latest advancements in hurricane/severe storm HAZUS

A: The main advancement we’re working on is a storm surge model that will link the hurricane and the coastal flood models together. The user will be able to plot the storm track to ask the model to predict the coastal storm surge in each tracking scenario. The new model will produce a combined wind and flood loss estimate, which means we avoid “double counting” homes that are exposed to both wind and flood damage in risk assessments. This new storm surge model is expected to be released in time for the 2011 hurricane season.