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USGS and Disaster Response

The US Geological Survey (USGS) has a broad program in Southern California monitoring natural disasters. USGS is also providing light detection and ranging (LIDAR) for the nation, and making all of the data available from that.

Transcript

Susan Kamei:  
I’m Susan Kamei, the managing director of the USC Spatial Sciences Institute. It’s exciting day for us today at our 2017 Geospatial Summit. We’ve got a full house inside, and a great program and very pleased that one of our speakers today is Dr. Kenneth Hudnut with the US Geological Survey. Welcome Ken.

Dr. Hudnut: 
Thanks very much. Pleasure to be here.

Susan Kamei:
Dr. Hudnut is the science adviser for risk reduction and I thought I’d kick things off by letting him describe what he does and what the role of USGS is here in Southern California.

Dr. Hudnut:
Thanks, and we have a broad program in Southern California, but the main purpose for our office in Pasadena is to do all the earthquake monitoring, and we do that collaboratively with Cal Tech. USGS has a very broad role that includes geospatial, which is the topic for today, but what I do is actually, we emphasize working with partners to actually accomplish risk reduction. We’re trying to improve societal resiliency by working through partnerships. For example, with Mayor Garcetti and his staff here in Los Angeles.

Susan Kamei:       
Great, thanks very much. Last year we were fortunate to have your colleague out from Missouri and in the role of the Spatial Sciences Institute, being a center for academic excellence as designated by the USGS and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. One of the important things for us as the institute with this designation, is to be now on the ground, with the kind of collaborations that would be possible under this designation and se we’ve been talking a lot about some of the work that you with Mayor Garcetti’s office in risk reduction and share some of the ideas that we have for that?

Dr. Hudnut:   
One big emphasis right now that we’re working on is we’re looking at the catastrophic earthquake scenarios. For example, a big one on the San Andreas fault and in particular one of the repercussions there is the fire following earthquakes. So 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a lot of the damage, a lot of the real problems caused were related with the fire following the earthquake. Here in Los Angeles we would anticipate we would have some kind of similar problems, so we have a lot of work already going on with the city of Los Angeles Emergency Management Department and some of the interns said they’ve drawn from USCSSI and so that’s been a good collaboration and partnership already. We’re actually undergoing a new data assimilation process right now, looking specifically at fire following earthquake issues. That is work in progress and it’s a big priority for the mayor’s office. Another thing that we’ve been working with the mayor’s office on, is just overall looking at supply chain issues. That’s been part of the partnership as well.

Susan Kamei:         
One of the great resources that the USGS provides is data and you’re going to be talking today about some available new data.

Dr. Hudnut:           
Right, so even though my background is in the earthquake program at USGS, as I said it’s a very broad organization and we have what’s called the national map, so we have responsibility. Used to be we would print the topographic maps and so people would go hiking and they’d go buy a USGS topo map. Nowadays, that’s all done digitally. All that delivery is through the national map interface online, and so you can create custom maps and things like that. For things like disaster response, we can create maps in large quantities rapidly and print them out for use by first responders, but this is part of the responsibility that USGS does have for the nation. Our new program, what we’re doing now is we’re getting LIDAR for the nation, which means high resolution topographic data like the topo maps of old. But how we do it nowadays is with airborne LIDAR so we fly an aircraft and shoot a laser at the ground and bounce it off the ground surface.

This is done at a repetition rate of 700,000 pulses per second, some of the instruments now being flown. We’re doing LIDAR for the nation and we’re making all of the data available from that. It’s a program called 3DEP, so I’ll be talking about that today because we’re excited because the data set has just been collected along the entire west coast of the US and that had made it through our quality assurance checks and so that data set will be delivered through a web interface and I’m going to be telling people here about how they can go get the data. It’s a great new data set, it’s one of many data sets along the west coast. We actually started doing this in partnership with the Army Corps and NOAH back in the late 1990s as a baseline data set.

There’s been a lot of change along the coast and as that change takes place, you can see the bluffs eroding back, you can see the movement of the sand along the coast. All the changes that occur, and there are a lot of changes along the coast and you can capture that with imagery through time. One of the big challenges, what we’re working on in the research and development arena is how to take the difference between one data set and the next, and so we’re very excited because this new data set was collected just after this very recent El Niño year that we had. There was a lot of change along the coast during that year, because where the coast and humans intersect, where you have population centers, where you have ports, those are also places that are extremely important for the economy.

People may not realize, but the ports of LA and Long Beach here for example, and also up north, the ports are really where the economic drivers are. So much of the trade relies on good functioning of the ports. We look at the natural hazards and potential impacts to the ports, and to the infrastructure along the coastlines. A lot of our infrastructure that’s built is very close to sea level. We need to understand the relative sea level and change of the coastline through time in order to really have a good picture of what to be concerned with in terms of coastal changes, how that may impact our infrastructure and what engineering work needs to be done and other resilience efforts to try to adapt and accommodate those anticipated changes.

For disaster response, that’s another whole use that we have for imagery. Again, it’s so important to get good imagery beforehand, and then again rapidly after a disaster strikes and then look at the changes. It’s like a before and after image and that’s how we do for disaster response as well. It’s incredibly valuable as a tool for looking at what has happened and then oftentimes we use that imagery before and after, and then forecast the changes post disaster and help support the recovery efforts that way.

Susan Kamei:  
Tell us a little bit about how you got into the field, what would be your advice for students now, starting out and looking ahead in what their opportunities might be.

Dr. Hudnut:            
For me, I was inspired, it may sound strange, but by the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s and it turns out a lot of my colleagues in my field were also inspired by that one event. It was of course, a cataclysmic event, had far-reaching impacts, but for me what excited me, what drew me in was that it was an intersection between societally relevant problems and natural hazards and so it was a way to use geology to do something that mattered to people. My career with USGS has been all about that, and so glad to be able to do that, you need to have that earth science insight when a disaster strikes to understand what’s going on and be able to forecast what’s next. People really need that information whether it’s the State Department after the big earthquake in Nepal, or whether it’s the … trying to figure out what might be the next big earthquake. We did this after the earthquake in Haiti as well.

Susan Kamei:          
Great, thank you. We’re just so grateful to have you local here, a resource to the Spatial Sciences Institute. We’ve really enjoyed the connections that we’ve already got in motion and we have lots of plans for more collaboration into the future. So just really appreciate you being here today at the Geospatial Summit. Thank you all for joining us today.