ORNL technologies help hurricane responders

9/14/2017

First responders are using two Oak Ridge National Laboratory geospatial tools to support their work at the sites of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

An interactive ORNL web tool called Eagle-I is giving emergency response teams on the ground a bird’s-eye view of critical energy infrastructure in areas that have been hit by the two hurricanes.

The open-source tool monitors the electricity grid to report current outages and predicts which parts of the grid’s infrastructure could be vulnerable to outages.

“It’s not just electrical data,” said Aaron Myers, an ORNL geospatial systems architect. “We also have a wide variety of infrastructural data, so we can overlay storm tracks with flood zone data and see how many substations or transmission lines would be impacted.”

Myers works on the Eagle-I team with about 15 other people.

“It collects publicly available information into a single place where emergency responders and emergency operation centers can get the best estimate of customers without power at a given time,” he said.

Every 15 minutes, the tool scours utilities across the United States and Puerto Rico to update grid data as close to real-time as possible.

Myers’ team sends updates to the Federal Emergency Management Agency every hour.

“They’re using most of that to get updates of counties with highest numbers of customers without power,” Myers said. “They can see how power is affected over the course of the storm so they know where they need to put their resources first.” Myers said the tool is mobile, and responders can access it on their cell phones if they need to. The ORNL team hopes to take that mobility a step further and implement a way that power line workers and others can report outages and downed lines they see on the ground.

The project has been up and running since around 2010, and was used during Hurricane Matthew and Superstorm Sandy.

Another ORNL research project called LandScan collects population distribution data from U.S. census figures and high-resolution satellite images so first responders, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security can see how extreme weather events and other disasters affect particular regions.

Officials are using the technology in Texas and in Florida.

LandScan is a global population dataset that is updated yearly and can zoom down to an area spanning a single kilometer, allowing emergency management officials to see at-risk populations, estimate their displacement and prioritize services to where they are needed most.

The software provides a population count over 24 hours of a typical day, showing densities as people transition from work or school to their homes, and vice versa.

“So even before an impact, these folks are looking at how many people will be affected by say, a storm surge or if the hurricane changes direction or how much of the population lives in flood zones,” said LandScan co-developer Amy Rose.

“Not just at a county level and not even at a state level, but at the neighborhood level and even smaller,” Rose specified.

“So they can know ahead of time which neighborhoods that are really going to need the most help, in terms of evacuation, first response and in long term recovery efforts.”

LandScan contains structural data that is useful both during recovery and to analyze the potential economic impact.

During Hurricane Harvey, ORNL’s LandScan team provided population distribution data of the coastal counties of Texas, with continuous updates as conditions changed on the ground.

“There you had places where there was enough flooding to literally cover the tops of structures. So if you don’t see the structures, you might not think that people are or have been there at one time,” Rose said.

Rose said the detailed LandScan maps have helped first responders find people who need help. The technology was also in play during Hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by BRITTANY CROCKER

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