P!NPartners: Center for the Study of Natural Hazards & Disasters

The Center for the Study of Natural Hazards & Disasters at UNC-Chapel Hill (UNC Hazards Center) is a PLAN!T NOW partner and leading source of research on the impacts of disasters. For more information on the Center, visit http://hazardscenter.unc.edu.

Background
Established in 2008 as a research center headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the UNC Hazards Center

  • Advances the understanding of hazards resilience through rigorous interdisciplinary research
  • Creating translational models that move knowledge into practice
  • Developing education, extension and training methods reflecting the diversity and needs of target audiences

With a major grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the UNC Hazards Center also administers the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence (DIEM), a coalition of principal investigators located at 19 institutions throughout the United States. DIEM partners are pursuing innovative projects in disciplines as diverse as engineering, planning, coastal modeling, psychology and economics, as well as projects in other fields that have direct bearing on the policy and practice of hazards management.

The UNC Hazards Center got off to a busy start in 2011, hosting speakers and workshops, initiating new projects and launching a summer internship program, all while continuing to pursue an intense research agenda with our many colleagues and partners.

Speakers, Workshops, and Other Events
The Hazards Center hosted several exciting events during the spring of 2011. In February, Hajo Eicken, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, spoke about environmental and socio-economic changes occurring along Alaska’s Arctic coastline.

In March, the Center participated in the 5th Annual DHS Summit, a three-day science conference held in Washington, D.C. A panel of DIEM researchers explored the performance of transportation systems in the face of natural hazards, the resilience of systems and supply chains and techniques to improve evacuations by using more sophisticated simulation tools.

In April, DIEM sponsored a three-day training workshop dubbed the “ADCIRC Boot Camp,” designed to expand the community of researchers using ADCIRC, an advanced computer program that models and displays coastal circulation. The workshop emphasized coastal hazards applications such as storm surge and inundation. Thirty-eight participants joined the Boot Camp, including university faculty, staff and students, federal laboratory employees and individuals from private sector firms.

Applied Research and Educational Activities
Over the past year, the Hazards Center led an evaluation of state disaster recovery plans. The study identified best practices in recovery planning which were presented to the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management (NCEM) to provide guidance regarding the recovery effort following the April tornadoes which caused two deaths and led to $215 million in damage in central North Carolina. The Center will continue working with NCEM over the next year to develop an enhanced recovery plan for future disasters based on the study findings.

In addition to hazards research, the Center has been working with education specialists to develop instructional products to support teachers and enhance curricula in grades K-12. In 2011, the Center helped develop a “science kit” to translate complex science topics, such as coastal storm surge modeling, into web-based materials that provide a fun, interactive way for middle school students to learn about natural hazards.

Future Activities
Looking ahead, the Center will continue to expand the scope and application of ongoing research, develop new research activities in critical areas, and adapt the direction of research as dictated by critical events, including major disasters such as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the flooding of the Mississippi River, and the recent spate of wildfires throughout the West and Southeast. We look forward to an exciting year as the Center continues to mature, evolve and expand our understanding of hazards and disasters and how to apply findings in practice.