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Following Tropical Storm Irene, Scientists Assess Damage in Flooded New York Communities

Researchers' work could help protect hard-hit areas, including Prattsville, in future disasters

Release Date: September 22, 2011

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A UB LESAM/MCEER site reconnaissance team visited flooded communities on Sept. 10 to collect images and document the extent of the disaster. From left, Ryan Mendieta, Alejandro Llaves, Zhihao Wang and Graham Hayes.

Chris Renschler and a team of geographers visited areas devastated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene to conduct a damage assessment that could help plan for future disasters.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the aftermath of heavy flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, University at Buffalo researchers are conducting a damage assessment that could help hard-hit communities in New York plan for future disasters.

On Sept. 10, geographers from UB's LESAM laboratory and MCEER research center visited populated areas within the Schoharie Creek watershed west of the Catskill Mountains to photograph damage and collect corresponding GPS coordinates.

The survey covered parts of Schoharie County and Greene County, including the town of Prattsville, N.Y., which was inundated by floodwaters.

The team is now combining its field site observations with hydrological data, aerial imagery and elevation data to determine the extent of the flooding and destruction.

Through data analysis and modeling, the scientists will be able to categorize the flood in the context of historical disasters. The information the researchers produce could help planners create more accurate watershed models and flood maps to better protect communities and infrastructure along Schoharie Creek from a future disaster.

"The goal of our assessment is to look back and see what happened in the past, what happened now and how we're going to do things in the future. While we're assessing this particular event, we're creating a baseline for this community to build a more resilient future," said Chris Renschler, LESAM director and MCEER investigator.

LESAM is UB's Landscape-Based Environmental System Analysis and Modeling laboratory, and MCEER is a UB national center of excellence formerly known as the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research.

Besides Renschler, members of the UB reconnaissance team included LESAM postdoctoral research scientist Graham Hayes and geography students Ryan Mendieta, Alejandro Llaves (an exchange student from the International Research Training Group on Semantic Integration of Geospatial Information) and Zhihao Wang.

"We each came away with a deeper awareness of the awesome power of moving water as well as renewed appreciation for the resiliency and kindness of people helping each other through such a tragic event," said Hayes, commenting on the experience. "We look forward to sharing the results of our mapping efforts and analytical models with these communities."

The visit to Prattsville was arranged by the Information Products Laboratory for Emergency Response (IPLER), a National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation project headed by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and UB.

Renschler is a co-principal investigator of the project, whose activities include developing technologies that can provide emergency responders with real-time flood and fire maps during disasters.

The aerial imagery and elevation data the UB team is using to assess damage along Schoharie Creek was collected by IPLER collaborators from RIT and Kucera International, a private company that provides aerial mapping and geomatic services.

Tools the flight crew used to gather data included a four-camera system that combines high-resolution color with infrared imaging, and a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) sensor, which uses laser pulses to make precision elevation measurements. These systems are the same ones the team used to gather data following the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Both LESAM and MCEER have been active in assessing damage and conducting research following past disasters. LESAM team members helped map damage after the 2010 Haiti quake, and MCEER researchers have conducted damage assessments and related research after events including Hurricane Katrina and recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Related Stories:

Following Tropical Storm Irene, RIT Conducts Flood Mapping of Hard-Hit Areas in New York: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/riot-rcf090111.php

LESAM Geographers Help Map Devastation in Haiti: http://www.buffalo.edu/news/10935

Related Links:

About LESAM: http://lesami.geog.buffalo.edu/lesam

About MCEER: http://mceer.buffalo.edu/

About IPLER's research on flood disaster management: http://ipler.cis.rit.edu/flood

About the International Research Training Group on Semantic Integration of Geospatial Information: http://irtg-sigi.uni-muenster.de/

Media Contact Information

Charlotte Hsu
Director of News Content, Architecture and Regional Planning, Sciences
Tel: 716-645-4655
chsu22@buffalo.edu
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