From his driver’s seat, University of Houston Professor Cumaraswamy Vipulanandan has a clear view of exactly how the city is adjusting, now two weeks after Hurricane Ike’s landfall.
Through his car window, there’s nothing but a sea of red taillights waiting turns at one of several hundred darkened intersections. Minutes in gridlock only bring Vipulanandan small advancements – closer to the loud growl of a generator, and the remnants of a billboard advertisement for sport utility vehicles wavering in the wind to its low melody.
Although the Greater Houston area of close to five million is still moving, recovery from Ike’s blow is sluggish.
For Vipulanandan, experiencing life in Ike’s aftermath has only further solidified plans to alleviate the discomforts felt if a storm of Ike’s magnitude should again strike the Gulf Coast.
At the Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology, where Vipulanandan is the director, he and a dozen professors from across the Cullen College of Engineering and other UH colleges are pooling their expertise to research recovery protocols that could ensure the modern conveniences, for which we have grown so accustomed, are restored more quickly.
Surveys, detailing individual experiences in the wake of Ike, distributed throughout the last few weeks will help these professors analyze how quickly recovery was felt and the extent of damage, by both city and county.The survey, Vipulanandan said, is just the first step to developing these protocols for faster recovery. UH professors also are networking with local, state and federal agencies in an effort to possibly refine current practices, and synchronize them across agencies.
These efforts are the start, not only of research related to improved recovery protocols, but the development of new smart materials for use in hurricane protection and mitigation systems as well as the creation of test facilities and standards to evaluate these new products, Vipulanandan said.
“Hurricane mitigation must continue to evolve by including not only a wide range of damage reduction tools, but also new methods of data collection, continued social and behavioral research as well as improved communication technology, computer modeling, simulation and visualization,” 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.”
In the few short months since its summer start, professors at the Texas Hurricane Center are beginning work to develop some of these damage reduction tools. Their technologies will run the gamut – helping with preparation challenges such as anchoring dwellings, pipelines and offshore structures; remotely monitoring bridge stability with high-tech sensors; and the generation of an apparatus protecting against storm surge by doubling seawall size with the flip of a switch.
“We will focus on developing protocols for speedy recovery of the public and private sectors after a hurricane,” he said. “Also, studies will focus on developing repair materials and technologies for rapidly repairing houses to complex civil infrastructures.”
Beyond this research, these professors are striving to educate the community about hurricanes through workshops and literature on the Texas Hurricane Center Web site, www.egr.uh.edu/hurricane, launched earlier this month.
For now, as the area continues to recover, researchers are doing what they can to learn about how Texas weathered Ike. This knowledge, Vipulanandan said, will jumpstart work that, in time, will partner professionals from universities and industries across the Gulf Coast region.