ODU researchers granted $1M to develop software for quicker storm recovery


SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Researchers at a local university are one step closer to helping make sure some Hampton Roads residents return to their homes quicker following natural disasters.

Earlier this month, Old Dominion University announced researchers at its Virginia Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Center and School of Public Service were awarded $1 million through the CIVIC Innovation Challenge.

The money will be funded by the National Science Foundation in a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Energy.

The project will create management software for RECOVER Hampton Roads, an organization that works to get people back into their homes quicker.

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It was one of 17 projects chosen across the country to direct construction materials and volunteer labor following a storm to neighborhoods in need.

“Recovery is very uneven in populations,” said Dr. Joshua Behr, who is a research professor at ODU. “Some who are displaced will remain for 24, 36, even 48 months without permanent stable housing.”

Behr says the project is a partnership between the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

It will take 12 months to create the software.

“The software helps us track incoming volunteer labor and donated construction supplies and target those resources toward neighborhood and households that will have long displacement times,” Behr said.

The research professor says those tend to be lower-income households as well as those who are medically vulnerable.

While Hampton Roads is one of the most vulnerable areas in the country due to sea level rise and hurricanes, the inspiration behind the project came from running simulations of Hurricane Sandy and Katrina through the area.

“We looked at the damage, where it happened, where the deaths would happen and where the displacement would be likely to happen,” Behr said. “It was an eye awakening moment. We called it ‘Sandtrina.'”

Behr says a lot of reasons can cause delays for getting families back into their homes such as finances, disruption in medical routines, uphill battles with city permits and trauma experienced from storms.

Displacement can cause multigenerational impacts, according to Behr, whose relatives in New Orleans experienced Katrina.

“We had a tremendous impact upon our family. We had many homes that were lost. Many family members displaced all the way up to Baton Rouge, to Houston, Texas,” he said. “We had them scattered. A family that was in the same community for many generations all the sudden scattered across a wide field of area –divorce, death in the family from Katrina. It was a direct impact.”

Behr says New Orleans is still recovering from the devastating hurricane and they’re planning at VMASC to make sure Hampton Roads is ready.

“If we know this ahead of time, let’s plan this in blue skies today in anticipation of the storm. Let’s prepare for that punch that hits vulnerable and medically fragile populations,” he said.

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