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UH Researchers Part of $1.25 Million SSPEED Center Study on Ike

By: 

Erin D. McKenzie
Rifai
Rifai

Hanadi Rifai hopes to leave behind some of the discomforts area residents experienced last year after Hurricane Ike should another big storm pass through Houston.

A civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of Houston, Rifai and Thomas Colbert, an associate professor from UH’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture, were awarded roughly $150,000 to look not only at urban planning and redevelopment of the Gulf coastline, but also practices industry can adopt to better protect critical infrastructure in the Greater Houston area.

The funding is part of a larger two-year, $1.25 million grant from the Houston Endowment given to researchers from the center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED), a multi-institutional collaboration formed in 2007.

“I think there was a lot to be learned from Ike that can help better prepare the area next time,” said Rifai, who is co-director of the SSPEED Center, a partnership between Texas Southern University, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Rice University and the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

The September 2008 storm left millions without power, destroyed oil production platforms in the Gulf, flooded roads and left thousands without running water. Overall, the storm wrought damage in the billions, making it one of the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history.

“A lot of wastewater plants were not prepared for what happened with Ike; their emergency systems didn’t work and their power systems didn’t work,” Rifai said, noting she will develop Geographic Information System (GIS) databases to interpret some of the data given to them detailing failures associated with the storm. “What we are going to do is develop ways to identify where the vulnerabilities are in those systems and offer our recommendations.”

Rifai is one of a dozen SSPEED researchers who plan to compile data on the lessons learned from the storm and make recommendations to local officials and the public on how to better prepare and sustain the area in the future. Backed with the grant support, these researchers will examine everything from improvements in storm evacuation planning and education to methods for better predicting the impact of an oncoming storm.

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