Texas is Getting its First Storm Center

Texas is getting its first severe storm center. It will focus exclusively on predicting and planning for disaster caused by hurricanes and tropical storms. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports.

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The Severe Storm Prediction Education and Evacuation from Disaster Center, or SSPEED, will be based at Rice University. The center's director is Rice engineering professor Phil Bedient. He says the idea for the center began forming following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. At the time information about the affects of storms was coming only from Louisiana State University's storm research center. Bedient says he thought Texas needed it's own storm center, but even more than that, information from various experts in other institutions should be valuable to officials making critical decisions.

"We wanted to combine hurricane and storm surge experts, with inland flooding experts with transportation and evacuation experts. And, that's kind of how it grew."

Bedient says all the data gathered will be offered to officials in real time.

"We've been delivering real time radar rain fall predictions for flooding to the Texas Medical Center now for more then ten years. And the outgrowth of that activity combined with what we can learn from coastal surge models and from other sorts of real time transportation models, will allow us, I think, to just ramp up our abilities to not have a Rita experience repeat itself."

While the center will be based at Rice, at least six other Universities and the Houston-Galveston Area Council will be part of SSPEED and each will have a role to play. For example, LSU for storm surge modeling, the University of Houston for infrastructure assessment, Texas Southern University for evacuation planning. Bedient says here's how it will work. A customized warning will come into the storm center.

"We then take that information and roll it in to radar rainfall predictions. We then link that directly with the evacuation plan. We have transportation modelers who are working closely with us to monitor and model what's going on on the freeways. So, you are using available technologies in all of these different fields and they are simply brought up under one single umbrella organization. That information is then provided to emergency managers and planners and they are the ones who issue the alerts."

Bedient says while the storm center has been approved in Austin it still needs to be funded. It is looking for three million dollars a year for at least five years. He says the idea is to grow the center so it will be able to serve the entire Gulf Coast of Texas.

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