ODU researchers awarded $ 1 million to develop software for faster storm recovery

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SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Researchers at a local university are taking another step to ensure some Hampton Roads residents return home faster following natural disasters.

Earlier this month, Old Dominion University announced that researchers at its Virginia Center for Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation and School of Public Service had received $ 1 million under CIVIC Innovation Challenge.

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

The project will create management software for RECOVER Hampton Roads, an organization that strives to get people home faster.

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

“Recovery is very uneven in populations,” said Dr Joshua Behr, ODU research professor. “Some of the displaced will remain for 24, 36 or 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 to neighborhoods and households that will have long commute times,” Behr said.

The professor-researcher says that these are generally low-income households as well as medically vulnerable people.

While Hampton Roads is one of the most vulnerable areas in the country due to rising sea levels and hurricanes, the inspiration behind the project came from the simulation of Hurricane Sandy and Katrina in the region.

“We looked at the damage, where it occurred, where the deaths would occur and where displacement would be likely to occur,” Behr said. “It was a moment of awakening the eyes. We called her ‘Sandtrina’.

Behr says there are many reasons that can delay families returning to their homes, such as finances, disruption of medical routines, tough battles with city permits, and trauma from storms.

The displacement can have multigenerational impacts, according to Behr, whose relatives in New Orleans have known about Katrina.

“We have had a huge impact on our family. We have had a lot of houses that have been lost. Many family members have been moved to Baton Rouge, Houston, Texas, ”he said. “We dispersed them. A family that was in the same community for many generations suddenly dispersed in a large area – divorce, death in Katrina’s family. It was a direct impact. “

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

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

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