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    THURSDAY, JUNE 07, 2012
    Mayor Annise Parker, Rice University Unveil New Tool for Mapping Hurricane Hazard Threats
    Alex Wang
    alex@zzi.net



    Website brings key information to residents before a hurricane strikes


    HOUSTON - Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker and researchers from Rice University announced today a new tool aimed at keeping residents informed about their risk of hurricane and tropical storm impacts. The "Storm Risk Calculator" was developed through a partnership between the City of Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security (MOPSHS) and an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Rice University.


    This new web-based tool will help residents determine their level of danger from damaging winds, storm surge, inland flooding and power outages. The Storm Risk Calculator takes data from various sources and builds a picture of each resident's risk, based on the individual characteristics of their neighborhood.


    "The City continues to look for new and better ways to communicate important safety information to our residents." said Mayor Annise D. Parker, "Giving Houstonians the ability to see a realistic picture of their threat gives them a better understanding of what types of actions they should take to protect their families. This project also highlights how Houston continues to work with some of the incredible academic resources we have available in our City to help keep residents safe."


    In the wake of 2005's Hurricane Rita, over 2.5 million residents fled the Houston area, clogging roads and making evacuation from coastal areas nearly impossible. Rice University researchers surveyed thousands of evacuees to determine whether or not they had received specific information about the risk to their neighborhoods, and whether or not they chose to evacuate. Based on the survey, they developed a model which measures the hazards based on 17 different characteristics, including a home's elevation, age, roof composition and roof shape. An additional database of more than 40,000 electrical customers was used to measure the risk of power outages. Rainfall risk is estimated using models from Rice's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. The calculator uses the data to generate a map with an easy-to-use, color-coded grid, helping residents identify their neighborhood's level of risk.


    "During Rita and Ike, people who lived in areas not under evacuation orders had little to go on in making the decision whether to comply with the implied directive to shelter-in-place or to evacuate, " said Devika Subramanian, a professor of computer science at Rice who was part of the research team that developed the Storm Risk Calculator, "Our system provides estimates of risk of storm-surge and rainfall flooding, wind damage as well as power loss for more than 2300 neighborhood-sized blocks that cover all of Harris County. Now all residents in Harris County, including ones not in evacuation zones, are empowered with information to assist them in responding to a hurricane threat."


    Houston residents can visit risk.rtsnets.com and plug-in their address to find out their neighborhood's risk level.


    "When tropical systems threaten our City, Houston residents need to have access to the best information about their level of threat." said Dennis Storemski, Director of the Mayor's Office of Homeland Security & Public Safety, "The Storm Risk Calculator is intended to provide information they need about their actual risk level, empowering them to make better, more informed decisions before the next storm."


    The project was funded by a Regional Catastrophic Preparedness Grant Program (RCPGP) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the City of Houston Mayor's Office of Public Safety & Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, and Rice University's Faculty Initiative Fund.

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