Tools for Building Disaster Resilient Communities

By Eli Walton

As a student in Connecticut, I witnessed first-hand the effects of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy and “Winter Storm Nemo,” the February 2013 blizzard. Downed trees and branches littered streets and green space, record snowfall rendered roadways impassable for residents and emergency services, and hundreds of thousands of people were left without power, sometimes for weeks. Having experienced these impacts, I am grateful to be part of EPA’s efforts to help communities better mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from events like these.

Disaster responders in hazmat suits clean up

EPA Responds to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.

Disasters—whether a hurricane, oil spill, or contamination event—can strike at any time, at any place, and can have devastating consequences for human health and the environment. They may make existing problems worse, like when the Joplin, Missouri tornado exposed people to toxic waste lingering from Joplin’s mining days. They also may create new environmental hazards, like when mold plagued homes and businesses flooded by Hurricane Sandy. While not all disasters can be prevented, the potential harms and risks they pose can be mitigated with the right tools and actions.

Researchers and scientists in EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program, along with collaborators across the Agency, are constantly developing and refining new tools for decision-makers. These tools, compiled in this inventory, serve a variety of purposes, including cleaning up contamination, managing waste and debris, and modeling watersheds. Individually, these tools address different issues that may arise when preparing for or responding to an event. Altogether, they can help communities become more resilient to disasters.

An American flag hangs above wreckage from a tornado.

Wreckage following a 2013 Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

For example, the Incident Waste Assessment & Tonnage Estimator (I-WASTE) can help with disaster preparedness and planning by identifying appropriate waste disposal technologies and facilities before they are needed. The Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool (CBWR) can help with emergency planning for an event that may affect water resources and can be used by utilities, officials, and concerned citizens alike. When environmental contamination arises, the Aggregated Computational Toxicology Online Resource (ACTOR) can be used to inform decisions based on chemical toxicity and the potential health effects of chemical exposures in the environment.

The tools in this inventory are just a sample of EPA’s resources, and much more work is underway across the Agency and with collaborators to help strengthen both individual and community disaster resilience.

About the Author: Eli Walton is a Student Services Contractor with the National Homeland Security Research Center in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Technology for Community Resiliency

By Paul Lemieux

This week I was honored to participate in the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day. From finding an open gas station to finding a safe place to sleep at night following a disaster or finding a vehicle you can rent by the hour, participants shared a variety of amazing technology applications to help make communities more resilient in the aftermath of disaster.

Me giving a presentation on I-WASTE at the White House's Old Executive Office Building.

Paul giving a presentation on I-WASTE at the White House’s Old Executive Office Building.

While there were some great private sector tools from big innovators like Airbnb, Google, Microsoft, SeeClickFix, and TaskRabbit there were just as many amazing tools from government innovators, too.

An example of some of the government tools highlighted during the demo:

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced GeoQ, a tool that crowdsources geo-tagged photos of disaster-affected areas to assess damage over large regions. Developed in coordination with NGA, the Presidential Innovation Fellow Program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and other disaster analysts, GeoQ improves the speed and quality of disaster-related data coordination by using a data crowd-sharing framework. Programmers can use the existing services and add features to customize the GeoQ code for their own community.

The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) highlighted ShakeMap and other post-earthquake information tools that offer rapid situational awareness for disaster response and recovery. Using data from seismic monitoring systems maintained by USGS and its state and university partners, ShakeMap provides a rapid graphical estimate of ground shaking in an affected region on the web within minutes of an event. The maps and underlying data, which can be downloaded in numerous formats for use in GIS and other applications, are also the basis for ShakeCast—which enables emergency managers at a growing number of companies, response organizations, and local governments to automatically receive USGS shaking data and generate their own customized impact alerts for their facilities.

And I showcased EPA’s I-WASTE, a flexible, web-based, planning and decision-making tool to address disaster waste management issues. I-WASTE offers emergency responders, industry representatives, and responsible officials reliable information on waste characterization, treatment, and disposal options, as well as guidance on how to incorporate waste management into planning and response for natural disasters, terrorist attacks and animal disease outbreaks.

It is clear that there are a number of public and private organizations working together with individuals and communities around the country to ensure that together we are prepared and ready to respond to the next disaster we might face.

Watch a video of how I-WASTE can help your community, embedded below, or go to http://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/homeland/clean-up.htm

Paul Lemieux, Ph.D. works on issues related to clean up after chemical/biological/radiological attacks and foreign animal disease outbreaks. Paul has also been working to develop computer-based decision support tools to aid decision makers in responding to wide-area contamination incidents. He is the Associate Division Director of the Decontamination and Consequence Management Division of U.S. EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.