Experiencing firsthand many of the difficulties that followed Hurricane Ike, Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan and a dozen other professors from across the Cullen College of Engineering and other UH colleges are pooling their expertise to research recovery protocols to ensure modern conveniences are restored more quickly after future such natural disasters.
The Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology (THC-IT) is a university-industry consortium, working with federal, state and local agencies, as well as other university affiliates, to coordinate efforts before, during and after a hurricane in the region.
"We are striving to be a world-class testing and research facility that develops hurricane protection products and systems, as well as repair technologies to mitigate the losses, both on and offshore," said Vipulanandan, a professor of civil engineering and the center's director. "We also will serve as an educational forum for preparedness and emergency planning and response, developing approaches for industries, businesses and communities to recover rapidly in the wake of a disaster."
The first order of business after ‘Ike' is a survey Vipulanandan has been circulating that captures individual experiences to help analyze how quickly recovery has been felt and the extent of damages suffered by the city and county. Since the survey sample is not random, Vipulanandan has opened it up to include anyone affected by Hurricane Ike and can be found at http://www.egr.uh.edu/hurricane/files/assessment.pdf. Respondents can mail, e-mail, fax or hand deliver their completed questionnaires, which are being distributed across the affected region with the help of community volunteers and professional societies, as well as UH alumni, students and friends.
Survey questions range from harvesting broad details about home location, type of structure, insurance coverage, home value, estimated cost of damages and types of damage sustained to specifics about preparation and recovery. The questionnaire allows those affected to recount their now prophetic preparatory steps, such as filling up gas tanks, trimming trees in advance, stocking up on rations and providing shelter for pets, as well as how they fared with such post-storm comforts as loss of cable, cell phones, power and running water. The survey concludes by measuring perceptions of transportation issues and work place effects and provides respondents an area to add their own comments and lessons learned.
The survey is just the first step to developing procedures for faster recovery. UH professors also are networking with local, state and federal agencies to refine current practices, such as preparedness, damage mitigation, evacuation and rapid recovery, and synchronize them across agencies.
Not only will these efforts translate to improved recovery protocols, but also to the development of proprietary new "smart materials" for use in hurricane protection and mitigation systems. These smart materials are known for their ability to change their properties in a controllable manner in response to their environment. The center's researchers also plan to create test facilities and standards to evaluate these new products.
"We will focus on developing new methods for speedy recovery of the public and private sectors after a hurricane," he said. "Studies will focus on developing materials and technologies for rapidly repairing everything from houses to complex civil infrastructures."
In the few short months since they started up the center this summer, THC-IT researchers have begun to develop damage-reduction tools. Smart materials are being tested for various monitoring applications and coastal protection. Additional technologies will address preparation challenges, such as anchoring dwellings, pipelines and offshore structures, as well as remotely monitoring bridge stability with high-tech sensors. Vipulanandan and his colleagues also are working on generating an apparatus to protect against storm surge by doubling the size of the Galveston seawall with the flip of a switch.
"Hurricane mitigation must continue to evolve by including not just a wide range of damage-reduction tools, but also new methods of data collection and continued social and behavioral research. Improved communication technology, computer modeling, simulation and visualization are of key importance, as well," Vipulanandan said. "Effective mitigation can only be achieved through increased research, vulnerability assessments, education and outreach to build a solid foundation for policy making and building practices."
As part of that, these professors also are striving to educate the community about hurricanes through workshops and literature on the THC-IT Web site at www.egr.uh.edu/hurricane.
As the area continues to recover, these researchers are doing what they can to learn about how Texas weathered Ike. This knowledge, Vipulanandan said, will jump-start partnerships among professionals from various universities and industries across the Gulf Coast region.
About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas' premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 36,000 students.
About the Cullen College of Engineering
The Cullen College of Engineering at UH has produced five U.S. astronauts, 10 members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top 10 nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.
To receive UH science news via e-mail, visit http://www.uh.edu/news-events/mailing-lists/sciencelistserv.php.