Rutgers University

Empowering Hurricane Readiness and Response in the Caribbean

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Caribbean nations are vulnerable to hurricanes (3,055 deaths from Hurricane Maria alone) due to their location, size, and limited GDPs. Warming and rising oceans will create more frequent and intense hurricanes, putting even more lives and livelihoods at risk. Our team will scale-up proven solutions at three leverage points in the Caribbean’s hurricane response chain:1. Expand regional ocean observations to capture targeted time-critical datademonstrated to improve regional hurricane intensity forecasts.2. Use modern technology tools to generate hurricane impact maps sorted by intensity.3. Provide government education and community training supportinglocal preparedness, response, and recovery. Hurricane-ready communities will better survive these increasingly violent storms. Education programs/training exercises, combined with robust early-warning systems, will enable communities at risk to respond and save lives as hurricanes hit. Greater knowledge of the potential impacts will enable small nations to improve their resiliency and provide a model for island nations worldwide.

Problem Statement

Forty-five million Caribbean island residents face the seasonal threat of massive destruction and loss of life due to hurricanes fueled by the same tropical waters that sustain their tourism-based economies. Slow recovery from devastating storms increases death tolls and negatively impacts communities for years.Once a hurricane track is established, the evacuate vs. shelter-in-place decision hinges on intensity. Over the last 25 years, hurricane track forecast accuracy has increased dramatically, while hurricane intensity forecast improvements have lagged. The ocean holds the heat that fuels hurricanes, with warmer oceans producing more intense storms. The Caribbean Warm Pool is a documented hotspot for rapid intensification of the most devastating storms. But the heat content of the Caribbean is not regularly measured, amplifying the intensity forecast uncertainty.Which communities are threatened for specific hurricane intensities are determined based on storm surge models that simulate flooding over a Digital Elevation Map (DEM). LIDAR-based DEMs typically used in the US are expensive, and existing satellite-based DEMs are biased high by the tree canopy. As a result, no comprehensive maps to identify vulnerable areas for different hurricane intensities currently exist for the Caribbean.Lastly, Caribbean communities and building codes often account for the direct impacts of hurricane winds, but insufficiently incorporate the potential impacts of storm-driven flooding into these plans. Local governments must have enhanced information and technology that will enable better planning and resiliency for their most vulnerable communities. Simultaneously, vulnerable communities must have better access to best practices for responses to potential hurricane threats.

Solution Overview

Our solution empowers Caribbean people to better prepare and respond before, during, and after the inevitable hurricanes. It fills gaps at the three key leverage points required for a robust end-to-end hurricane preparedness response chain:(1) Ocean observing technology centers and training programs for local operators will be established to collect time-critical data required to monitor ocean heat content and improve hurricane intensity forecasts; (2) New satellite data proven capable of penetrating tree canopies for true ground level elevations will enable Caribbean-wide expansion of the inundation maps proven in Hispaniola; and(3) The heralded program that already established Tsunami-Ready communities throughout the Caribbean will be expanded with cultural sensitivity in local languages to include hurricane-ready education and training as part of an all-coastal-hazards approach.We will measure success by tracking quantitative output metrics (e.g., number of systems deployed, maps generated, communities visited), as well as qualitative outcomes including improvements in evacuation and recovery planning. Five-year impacts include a firmly established and regionally shared ocean observing capacity capable of being sustained within UNESCO’s Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). Through improved technology, and government and community education, Caribbean stakeholders will be prepared to accurately predict flooding, and create and refine plans to protect lives during and after hurricane events. Sustained ocean observing will improve hurricane forecasts across the entire currently-underserved region for years to come. The most vulnerable populations will receive the education and training they need for emergency response that will save lives and increase the sustainability of their communities.

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