Hurricane Irma was one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history. When it made landfall in September 2017, it brought damaging winds, torrential rain, powerful storm surges and flooding to much of Florida. Nearly 7 million people were without power. NOAA lists it as the fifth-costliest U.S. hurricane.
Two weeks after the storm, Melissa Landon, a University of Maine associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, was on the ground in Florida, surveying the damage in some of the hardest hit areas.
Landon was a member of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Geotechnical Extreme Events and Reconnaissance (GEER) Association team deployed to northern Florida. GEER dispatches rapid-response teams of scientists and engineers who volunteer to go to areas affected by extreme environmental events, such as tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Geotechnical engineers perform forensic investigations to understand the conditions that led to infrastructure damage or failure, and provide solutions for repair or improvement.
In the weeks following Irma, two GEER teams were dispatched to Florida. Landon and colleagues from the University of North Florida and West Virginia University co-led the group investigating the geotechnical impacts of the hurricane’s intense rainfall, storm surge and resulting flooding in the northern and eastern parts of the state.
Repairing washed-out roads, bridges and levees can be a crucial step toward the recovery efforts after a major storm. As a result, much of the damaged infrastructure is repaired or replaced as quickly as possible by crews on the ground focused on restoration.
GEER’s mission is to investigate and document damage and failures — without slowing down recovery efforts. The hope is that the collected data will improve engineering standards and inform the future planning, design, construction and risk assessment of new infrastructure in places that are prone to extreme events.