S&T Snapshot: Newly Transitioned Hurricane Decision Support Platform Gives Emergency Managers More Capabilities

On October 1, 2016, Hurricane Matthew became the first category five storm in the Atlantic Ocean in nearly a decade when Hurricane Felix blew through with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. As a result of Matthew, 47 Americans died. Damages in excess of 10 billion dollars made it the most expensive storm since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Matthew damaged homes and infrastructure from the Caribbean to the Canadian Maritimes. Domestic response to the hurricane included widespread evacuations. Extensive areas of the coast were evacuated because of predicted high wind speeds and flooding, especially in Jacksonville, Florida. One million Floridians lost power as the storm passed to the east, with more than 400,000 losing power in Georgia, North and South Carolina. Widespread torrential rains and flooding spread inland in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Hurricane Matthew was one of the first operational uses of The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) HURREVAC-eXtended (HV-X) platform. The HV-X platform integrates forecast and planning data to provide emergency managers decision support tools for use in advance of and during tropical weather. Development began in 2013 and since then, S&T identified the need for a comprehensive hurricane decision platform that encompassed all phases of planning and evacuations. Collaborating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) via the National Hurricane Program (NHP) Technology Modernization initiative, DHS S&T worked to streamline the currently available HURREVAC storm tracking and decision platform. The result of this collaboration is HV-X.

“Timely access to accurate information for emergency managers can help improve a community’s response to a hurricane, potentially saving lives and resources community,” said S&T Program Manager Darren Wilson. “By improving visualization of weather data and information, an Emergency Manager can review the various data sources more efficiently, and HV-X gives emergency managers more tools and capabilities to support their recommendations and decision making.”

The ultimate goal of modernizing the NHP is to provide emergency managers a platform like HV-X that enables timely and accurate evacuation decision making information. DHS S&T also partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL) to develop “cascading” interfaces. These interfaces can be layered onto one another, allowing emergency managers to better see and use a variety of sources like forecasts, storm tracking, satellite and radar images, etc., when making decisions. Data analytics are used to provide impact assessments based on the emergency managers’ local evacuation zones. In addition, embedded training capabilities using simulated storm tracks and forecasts provide guidance and feedback, letting emergency managers improve preparedness.

The new ability to layer disparate information sources gives emergency managers a better operational picture. In the case of Hurricane Matthew, flooding was so widespread that several feet of standing water was reported as far as 40 miles away from the storm’s center. HV-X incorporates flood reports and shelter alerts that will allow emergency managers to make the best recommendations for evacuation plans. Traffic forecasting tools incorporated in HV-X like DHS S&T’s Real Time Evacuation Planning Model (RtePM) estimates the time required to evacuate a specific area. The ability for emergency managers to properly assess how long it can take people to evacuate to a safe, dry area could ultimately save lives.

End-user input was crucial in developing HV-X. S&T conducted more than 50 interviews with federal, state, and local stakeholders to define what would be most beneficial on the platform. As development continued, DHS S&T solicited further feedback through nationwide user group meetings of emergency managers from FEMA and the National Hurricane Center. A beta version of HV-X was released in July 2016, with 10 updates since. More than 200 registered users of the current functional prototype HV-X will also provide suggestions for improvements to further refine the platform. A fully operational system is scheduled to go live to the operational community in May 2018.

“The new evolution to HURREVAC will be successful in real operations across hurricane-prone regions because DHS S&T listened to what emergency managers needed, first and foremost,” said FEMA Director of Planning and Exercises, Response Directorate Josh Dozor. “This program has capitalized on subject matter expertise and created a platform that will help our operators make the difficult decisions needed to save lives.”

Unlike past systems, HV-X is designed for constant upgrading from third-party developers. Whereas older versions of HURREVAC couldn’t be upgraded easily or used on a variety of computers, HV-X is an open-source solution that invites innovation and can be used on tablets, smartphones or non-PC interfaces, said Wilson.

“Partnering with S&T has resulted in the identification and development of innovative solutions to address the National Hurricane Program’s technology gaps,” said Program Manager for the National Hurricane Program in FEMA Headquarters Response Directorate Christopher Penney. “Moving forward, we will have an increased capability to efficiently and effectively support the critical hurricane evacuation and response decisions made by our stakeholders in the emergency management community.”

Version 1.0 of HVX was officially transitioned to FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on May 1, 2017 and a full day of training on HVX was held at the 31st Annual Florida Governor’s Hurricane Conference on May 17, 2017 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Developing HV-X will help emergency managers make the best decisions in response to a Hurricane. By being able to look at multiple sources of information and have a better understanding of a storm’s predicted or sustained impact, emergency managers can make faster and more accurate decisions.

For more information, contact first.responder@dhs.gov.