November 28, 2016
From coastal Cape May to the Hudson waterfront to communities miles from ocean or river, when storms churn up the East Coast individuals, organizations, communities and government offices in New Jersey prepare as best they can for the worst they face.
Sometimes, that’s just not good enough. Sometimes, there’s no way to know what that “worst” will be.
Dr. Rouzbeh Nazari is changing that. Working under an $800,000 grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering in the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering at Rowan University is developing a resiliency hub for the state.
Battling extreme weather
In brief, the hub will feature hydrodynamic mapping of all of New Jersey, enabling municipalities and others to assess the impact extreme weather will have on their locations, weather like the 2012 Hurricane Sandy and the June 2015 storm that devastated parts of South Jersey.
Nazari and his team will collect data for an advanced computer model that will help users to prepare for bad weather and develop responses to it. The data, including some gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles commonly referred to as drones, will include such details as the baseline of the ocean and river levels and topographical statistics for every inch of the Garden State.
“Often today we are working from outdated FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) flood projection paper maps,” Nazari said. “Our web-based initiative will allow users to zoom into specific neighborhoods, individual blocks.”
He added, “This will allow the State to adequately plan ahead, to match its resiliency plans to updated information, to know where to dedicate resources – whether it’s bringing in pumps or shoring up flood walls or adding to sand dunes.”
Nazari is teaming with six other civil and environmental engineering professors, a sociology and anthropology professor, a geography and environment professor, the director of Rowan’s Virtual Reality Center and undergraduate and graduate students as well as collaborating with representatives from the Atlantic County Utility Authority, Atlantic County, Cape May County Emergency Management Center, Cape Atlantic Conservation District, South Jersey Land and Water Trust, Camden County Soil and Conservation District, Parkside Business and Community Partnership and Federal Aviation Administration.
Virtual reality critical
Rowan’s VR Center, located at the South Jersey Technology Park, will play a pivotal role in the project. The VR Center provides an interactive environment to visualize data and simulate real-world situations, and it can be used for planning, education, training and prevention programs. In the VR Center, researchers and others can bring together data from multiple sources – overlapping topographic, emergency service, shelter and other disaster-related information.
Users of the web-based computer model will be able to plug in numerous variables and run a simulation as to possible outcomes – variables that include land geography, ocean bathometry, wind speed, wind direction, ocean surface temperature, land type, land cover and rainfall intensity – as part of their decision-making process.
The tool also will enable them to assess prevention recommendations, such as mitigating flooding by rain gardens, detention/retention basins, soil embankments and more.
Helpful for towns, more
The website will go live in approximately 18 months. The end product will be user-friendly, enabling, for instance, a town’s emergency management officer to assess potential hot spots, evaluate the likelihood of flooding and predict damage in order to decide what to do before a storm or other event strikes.
Nazari said his team’s goal is to help the State in three stages: before, during and after a major weather event. Rowan will host and maintain the website for 10 years.
“The project proposed by Rowan was one of three grant awards chosen from among proposals submitted from major universities throughout the nation. Communities that use Rowan’s computer model will have the best available information for decision-making in the event of another major storm. We believe the additional preparedness that will result from this project will have a dramatic state-wide impact on reducing potential losses from future storms,” said Charles Richman, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.