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Supplemental Funds at USGS: A Sound Investment to Support Community Preparedness for the 2021 Hurricane Season

Completed 2018 and 2019 Supplemental Appropriations activities are being used to prepare for the 2021 Hurricane season in Puerto Rico and the Southeastern United States. 

Hurricane MARIA
Hurricane MARIA

Much of the USGS supplemental funding has been applied to upgrading/redistributing various gage networks, providing landslide susceptibility data, modelling coastal resiliency, publishing lidar data, and upgrading seismic monitoring. These data are being used by local decisions makers to plan and protect for the future.  If storms track to these areas in 2021, additional real-time remote data on flooding, landslides, and earthquakes will be generated.   


Stream and rain gage networks 

In Puerto Rico, 83 repaired streamflow network gages damaged during Hurricane Maria in 2017 are prepared to transmit data for the 2021 Hurricane Season. Updated stream gage discharge ratings are in use by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) for flood warning. Stream conditions that were significantly changed by the record flooding from Hurricane Maria have been updated, which allows for better levee and bridge infrastructure planning to improve resiliency on the island. The rain gage network in Puerto Rico, which provides a blanket of coverage over all major river basins, includes 33 new rain gages installed as part of USGS supplemental funding that are ready to be used by water managers for upcoming storm events. The storm response planning of Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will use USGS precipitation data to aid in flood forecasting, flood mitigation, and post-storm disaster declaration determination. 

USGS is using cost savings from these projects to address additional Puerto Rican needs, e.g. drinking water vulnerability for local communities.  Aquifers, which are the primary backup water supplies for the south coast of Puerto Rico, are suffering from reduced recharged and increased salinization, conditions that were magnified after Hurricane Maria’s storm surge. USGS in collaboration with Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural and Environmental Resources will be initiating a salinity monitoring network to promote aquifer protection and ultimately create a sustainable surface water supply system for residents.  




Landslide Hazard Assessment and Risk Communication 

Hurricane Maria generated >70,000 landslides in Puerto Rico in 2017. In response, the USGS collected data and conducted studies to support the development of an island-wide landslide susceptibility map and state-of-the-art hazard assessments for several high-risk areas. The susceptibility map, developed cooperatively with the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and published in Spanish and English, is being used by emergency management and the Puerto Rico Planning Board to guide response planning and other mitigation strategies. The targeted hazard assessments rely on post-Maria lidar data and advanced models of landslide mobility and depict not only where landslides may begin, but where they travel and leave deposits. These assessments will provide a means to evaluate potential impact and risk.    

Landslide risk-communication efforts have centered around the Landslide Guide for Residents of Puerto Rico, which was created through a USGS partnership with the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. The guide provides an overview of landslides in Puerto Rico and describes warning signs and protective actions for residents in landslide-prone areas. The content is graphically intensive to reach the broadest possible audience and was developed in Spanish and then translated English. The project team is working with risk communication experts and stakeholders in Puerto Rico, including the National Weather Service, the Puerto Rico Planning Board, a trusted local weather forecaster, university partners, FEMA, a local science museum, and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network. The project aims to increase awareness of landslide hazards and to share preparedness strategies and other actions that can reduce landslide risk if storms hit Puerto Rico in 2021. 


Coastal Assessments   

With supplemental funding, USGS has updated models forecasting hurricane-induced coastal change hazards for the Southeastern United States. These models provide the most up-to-date assessment of the total water level elevation due to waves, tides, and surge as well as coastal erosion probabilities due to hurricanes that threaten the U.S.’s southeastern coastlines this season. These forecasts will be used by local officials and emergency management offices and Federal agencies (e.g. NOAA, USGS, NPS) to inform pre- and post-storm decisions related to safety and property damage.  In addition, new rapid-response mapping techniques for evaluating coastal impacts generate and distribute maps to stakeholders within hours to facilitate response activities. 

USGS has partnered with the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez to better forecast flooding along coral reef fringed coasts. Model results demonstrate that storm damage to the coral reefs off Florida and Puerto Rico increased coastal flooding hazards in socioeconomic terms, and that coral reef restoration could reduce those hazards. These data are influencing post-storm restoration strategies by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, FEMA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 


Seismic Network 

In preparation for possible impacts by the 2021 hurricane season, the USGS is coordinating with Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) personnel to ensure continuity of operations in Puerto Rico.  In response to damage related to Hurricane Maria, the USGS and PRSN have upgraded and hardened 16 seismic stations across Puerto Rico. Upgrades include wind resistant civil works, robust and autonomous power systems, new sensor systems and satellite communications that enable independent data transmission to the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) if telecommunication is lost on Puerto Rico. The benefits of these upgrades and resulting continuous data transmission were demonstrated during the January 2020 earthquake sequence in southwestern Puerto Rico. The data from these upgraded systems are shared in real-time among PRSN, USGS, and the NOAA tsunami warning system to assist in minimizing risks to human life and property. In addition, the USGS has upgraded 54 PRSN strong motion stations with real-time telemetry using cellar modems and set up the AQMS earthquake monitoring software for PRSN seismologists to analyze and catalog earthquakes. 

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