LSU’s Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment interactive website system provides critical data during hurricanes

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 12:00pm

The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane Season began June 1, and it's expected to be an exceptionally busy year. There are tools, however, that can help mitigate a hurricane’s impact.

Drawing on the resources of LSU’s Center for Computation & Technology, or CCT, scientists at the LSU School of the Coast & Environment have developed the Coastal Emergency Risks Assessment, or CERA, interactive website system to visualize several parameters from the ADCIRC Coastal Circulation and Storm Surge Model during an active hurricane. These parameters include storm surge, wind speed, water inundation above ground and more.

The CERA interactive website system, established with support from the Louisiana Sea Grant and the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focuses on two areas – the Gulf of Mexico, at, and the Atlantic Coast at The system presents five-day forecasts and delivers the model results every six hours.

“This data can save lives,” said Robert Twilley, Louisiana Sea Grant executive director and one of the principal investigators with the CERA project. “It provides emergency responders with information on potential hot spots of coastal inundation and suggests where they may need to conduct search and rescue missions. Planners can look at it to determine where they need to stage relief operations. It also can be used in damage assessments.”

The CERA interactive website system is used by the National Hurricane Center, Weather Forecast Centers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the United States Coast Guard and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness in Louisiana.

“During a hurricane, Louisiana emergency managers meet every morning at the Governor’s Office, where they discuss the latest and most accurate model results shown on the CERA website,” said Carola Kaiser, IT consultant at CCT. “LSU CCT’s specialists ensure that all the servers and the network operate smoothly so that results from the model can be delivered quickly, which is the key.”

The ADCIRC Coastal Circulation and Storm Surge Model used by the CERA project is impressive because of its speed and detail. When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005, computer models used about 300,000 nodes and took four hours to run a storm surge simulation. During Hurricane Isaac, 1.1 million nodes were used on three different storm tracks, and the simulations were completed in two hours using a suite of high-performance computers.

A node is a unique location on the map where the computer makes physics calculations to determine how water levels will change during a storm. The more nodes used means more detail in forecasting water levels across the state’s complex coast. Louisiana’s deltaic coast includes an extensive levee system, navigation canals, ridges, highways and natural landscapes of wetlands and barrier islands. As such, it is important to utilize the greatest possible number of nodes to capture the intricate nature of how people live in this setting.

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