Jan. 26, 2010

Engineers to work on disaster risk management strategies

Two engineering faculty members have a $796,000 grant to help develop models for a regional natural disaster risk management system.

Linda Nozick and Thomas O'Rourke, both professors of civil and environmental engineering, received the award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They will collaborate with principal investigator Rachel Davidson of the University of Delaware on the three-year project to apply their new models in case studies; for example, earthquake risk in Los Angeles and hurricane risk in North Carolina.

Specifically, Nozick and O'Rourke plan to develop mathematical representations of strategic interactions between building owners and insurance companies in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Their research will help determine what regulations should be instituted and what subsidies based on income and/or exposure should be made available to homeowners.

From the perspective of government, the researchers say, there is the opportunity to control the consequences of natural disasters. That is because the rules requiring homeowners to purchase insurance and the terms that insurance must satisfy determine the environment in which insurance companies and homeowners make decisions.

Nozick and Davidson, in conjunction with other researchers, have developed a range of models to optimize the selection and mitigation of strategies for natural hazards.

Nozick specializes in large-scale optimization models for civil infrastructure systems, logistics and security, and has developed game theory models associated with operation of civil infrastructure systems.

O'Rourke, the Thomas R. Briggs Professor of Engineering, focuses his research in geotechnical engineering, earthquake engineering, geographic information technologies and database management. He is a member of the National Academies Committee for New Orleans Regional Hurricane Protection Projects, which provided oversight for the engineering and reconstruction of the New Orleans hurricane protection system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The project was among 27 selected out of 1,300 proposals to the NIST Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Program, awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and totaling more than $34 million.