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Why Hurricanes?

Every year, thousands of lives are lost around the world as communities are devastated by natural disasters; in our increasingly interconnected society, the effects of these events can ripple regionally and even globally. Particularly, in the case of hurricanes, the risk of such devastation continues to escalate with increased hurricane intensity, size, and frequency coupled with sustained population shifts toward coastal areas -- as of 2003, 53% of the United States population was living in coastal counties, and it is estimated that the U.S. coastal population will increase by another 12 million by 2015. Vulnerability of these populations to hurricane-induced wave and surge effects are particularly noteworthy, considering that much of the densely populated Atlantic and Gulf Coasts lie less than 3 m above mean sea level. These vulnerabilities have been repeatedly underscored by events such as Hurricane Katrina, which remains the most destructive disaster in US history with total property damage estimated at over $100 billion, while claiming a priceless 1,800 lives.

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More recently, in October 2012, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the northeastern region of the United States resulting in damage estimates of over $50 billion, affecting 650,000 homes, claiming over 100 lives, and leaving about 8.5 million people without power for weeks (Blake et al. 2013). Superstorm Sandy was a prime example of how even a comparatively modest storm, when striking a densely populated region, can generate significant damage. These disasters provide clear motivation for continued research into enhancing hurricane risk assessment to ensure that the models used capture the effects of climate change and hurricane frequency and intensity, but also the effects of secondary hazards like waves, storm surge and inland flooding on built infrastructure. This powerful motivator is being seized by teams of researchers across the country, enabling our collective knowledge of hurricane hazards and their impacts to rapidly evolve. Sadly, these distributed intellectual and computational resources are often not effectively coordinated and leveraged in current approaches to risk assessment. The question then becomes, “how can these advances be more effectively harnessed?” CyberEye represents a new approach to answering this question.