storm surge (Erik K. Smith/

Better hurricane management

Emergency managers have a range of resources at their disposal to make preparations for major storms.

The HURREVAC decision-support platform has been used for years by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Hurricane Program and the Army Corps of Engineers for hurricane evacuation planning.  In 2014, FEMA asked Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate to create a web-based version of HURREVAC called HV-X (for eXtendedand to update the platform with visualizations and mobile access.

DHS S&T and MIT Lincoln Laboratory are working with around 1,000 emergency managers to test  the HV-X platform and iron out any issues before it becomes the standard system of operation in 2019.

“After we did our homework and took a year to study the HURREVAC process, we started to go through working groups, structured user interviews and cognitive walkthroughs to understand the user process,” Darren Wilson, program manager of S&T’s First Responder Group, told GCN.  “Once we saw where the high-priority capability gaps were, we leveraged the expertise that MIT Lincoln Laboratories has in trying to innovate.”

For continuity with HURREVAC, MIT Lincoln Laboratory and DHS S&T decided to give HV-X a similar interface and add capabilities such as embedded training, storm simulation capabilities, transportation analysis and ways to measure capabilities in road networks and critical infrastructure.

After the S&T version of HURREVAC was developed, the project was transferred over to contractor Sea Island Software, which will be responsible for operating HV-X and making updates to the system.

HV-X system is designed to help emergency managers who do not have skills as meteorologists, according to, MIT Lincoln Laboratories' research scientist Robert Hallowell.

Radar and satellite weather information feeding HV-X comes from the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center. The U.S. Geological Survey provides tide and stream gauge information from its sensors. Information on evacuation times comes from studies that have been conducted over the years.

“We want to be able to give emergency managers the ability to take some of these text-based products and different weather information and be able to visualize the information to reduce the uncertainty in their decision making,” Hallowell said.

HV-X uses a web-based, thin client architecture to increase ease of use, data collaboration and access from mobile devices. Open source geospatial data sharing services maximize the amount of available data and make it easier to integrate new data.

The entire HV-X system is built using open source tools such as GeoServer for importing and exporting map-based data, and open standard JavaScript to provide interactivity for different data points. 

With the system's storm surge explorer, users can see storm surge data, including risk areas  where water will reach its maximum height.  HV-X also incorporates evacuation zone-based analytics so users can better assess impacts and uncertainty for their areas. Users can also

interrogate hurricane evacuation studies -- reports that detail the time it takes to move people to safety -- and use sub-models of the studies in HV-X. 

To help users train on the system and practice evacuations, HV-X includes gaming capabilities such as new simulations that let users plan responses and evacuations for a hurricane they've never seen.

Going forward, Hallowell said there is ongoing work to allow emergency managers to trigger evacuation alerts using the system and another dashboard to help plan feeding and housing of evacuees.

In Pearland, Texas, Emergency Management Coordinator Peter Martin uses HURREVAC "to make decisions on evacuations and how long it will take make an effective evacuation decision in order to get people out of harm’s way,” he told GCN.  The city plans to use the HV-X platform when it becomes fully operational next year.

Pearland also uses a variety of other tools for hurricane response management.

To alert residents about weather events, Pearland uses Everbridge's subscription-based alert system where residents can sign up to get text messages, calls or emails about weather emergencies.  It allows emergency managers to set up boundaries for alerts using geospatial technology. 

Pearland also uses WebEOC crisis management software to help with resource planning. WebEOC solutions allow emergency managers to connect with other local municipalities to get additional resources to help in times of crisis.

“WebEOC allows us to communicate with other partners throughout the region and it allows to push resource requests through the chain of command,” Martin said.

Three drones have been enlisted to help Pearland with situational awareness and disaster response.  Additionally, the city is in the process of modifying military surplus trucks so that they can operate in high water to help with hurricane rescue missions.

“We are always looking for ways to improve our response capabilities,” Martin said.  “We are partnering with the Texas Department of Transportation to install more cameras at significant intersections throughout the city” so officials can monitor evacuation routes to see how traffic is flowing. “It will help with our situational awareness in a disaster situation when you are starved for information,” he said.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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