Ateam from the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake EngineeringResearch (MCEER, usually pronounced "Em-sear") began Sept. 6 to surveyMississippi coastal communities, collecting this and other informationand keying it to precise locations determined by GPS locators. Theinformation will be relayed daily to Cornell's Ithaca campus and addedto a Geographic Information System (GIS) database that will beaccessible on the Web through a map of the Mississippi Gulf coast.Initially, the team, which includes experts from the State Universityof New York at Buffalo, California Institute of Technology, TexasA&M University, the New York State Department of Transportation anda private company called Image Cat Inc., which specializes in satelliteimagery, will concentrate on the cities of Biloxi, Gulfport and LongBeach.
Arthur Lembo, a Cornell research associate in crop andsoil sciences, developed the database and Web site, similar to one hecreated in January to assist recovery workers following the devastatingtsunami in Sri Lanka. One of the things that helped, he said, was thatthe state of Mississippi had already made available online an extensivedatabase of geographic information about the state, including roads,schools, hospitals and other infrastructure. "It was there yesterdaywhen I went looking for it," Lembo said, noting that about half of U.S.states make such information available. As the MCEER team reports back,their information will be added to the Mississippi information alreadyin the Cornell GIS database.
To reconstruct a community followinga major disaster, you need details: What is the condition of keybuildings -- schools, firehouses, hospitals, government centers? Whichbridges are usable? What's the condition of the water and powersystems? Later, researchers will want to examine the same data to makerecommendations on how to make the infrastructure more resistant todamage in the future.
"What we're doing is interesting in that itgoes beyond engineering into the social and economic aspects of thecommunities. This helps to set policy and procedure for emergencyresponse and subsequent recovery of communities," said Thomas O'Rourke,the Thomas R. Briggs Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering,who heads Cornell's contingent in MCEER. "Once you put this into GIS,you can immediately combine the damage areas with the social anddemographic characteristics of what happened."
GIS systems arebased on a standard format for encoding information that is tied to aspatial location and can include everything from physical features of asite to demographics. A GIS database can supply the precise latitudeand longitude of a single family home and maybe even tell you who ownsit, along with the general economic status of the neighborhood. Datamade available in GIS format can be used to make maps, charts and otherpresentations, which often combine information from a variety ofsources. To create the Cornell site, Lembo used a commercial GISmap-making application called Manifold.
Users of the Cornell sitecan turn the various data sources on and off on a map displaying, forexample, hospital locations, roads, waterways or power lines. They mayclick through to high-resolution satellite images showing the degree ofinundation of an area, or digital photos and video taken by the MCEERteam of individual buildings, bridges and other key infrastructurecomponents. For the time being, Lembo said, the Web site will be madeavailable only to professionals, to minimize demand on the server.Eventually the site will be accessible through the Equipment link onCornell's Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) site,managed by David Ash, IT specialist in the School of Civil andEnvironmental Engineering.
MCEER is a consortium of universitiesfunded primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study waysto reduce infrastructure damage from earthquakes. NEES, also funded byNSF, is a network of laboratories contributing to the MCEER effort.O'Rourke and Harry Stewart, Cornell professor of civil andenvironmental engineering, are co-principal investigators for Cornell'sNEES lab. In recent times MCEER has expanded its scope to include othernatural and man-made disasters. "We are going to be learning from thehurricane but with applications to different natural hazards,"explained O'Rourke.
MCEER is also supported by New York state,the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Emergency ManagementAgency (FEMA), other state governments, academic institutions, foreigngovernments and private industry.
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