New Website Is Assisting Natural Hazard Researchers By Design

Mechanical and civil engineering professor Jean-Paul Pinelli is collaborating with researchers from the University of Texas Austin, the Texas Advanced Computer Center, UCLA and Rice University on DesignSafe, a web-based research platform that enables transformative research to protect human life and reduce damage during hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural hazard events.

The goal of DesignSafe is to allow hazard scientists, social scientists and engineers to access and process natural hazard data, thus allowing them to develop procedures and models that will better safeguard structures, the environment, and human communities in areas prone to destructive natural events. It does this by providing researchers with a platform to share and publish data. It allows for research workflows from inception to conclusion, enhanced with access to high-performance computing and cloud-based tools that support analysis, visualization and integration of large data sets.

The project started five years ago when the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI) in response to the growing impact of natural disasters, including wind and hurricane damage.  DesignSafe is the cyber-infrastructure component of NHERI, and it was so successful that NSF recently renewed the grant for five more years. Pinelli represents the interests of the wind engineering community in the DesignSafe team, in recognition of his extensive research in wind risk modeling, mitigation and field instrumentation.

“I am excited that Florida Tech is a key player in this development effort, which is revolutionizing the way natural hazard scientists and engineers operate,” Pinelli said.

DesignSafe provides resources that were unthinkable a short while ago, including the capacity to store and manipulate in the cloud massive data sets, which is critical in this era of big data and artificial intelligence. This leads to avenues for collaboration, data publication and sharing among researchers worldwide.

“Data sets are becoming larger and larger. For example, when we go in the field to gather hurricane data, we might be recording for three days with 100 sensors, collecting data at 10 samples a second, and it becomes impractical to move these data sets around.  DesignSafe is the solution for the storage, processing and sharing of these data.”

With the complexity of natural hazard risk analyses, which might involve multi-hazards and interdisciplinary investigations, combinations of diverse software tools are necessary to integrate data from distinct sources. For example, multi-hazard data objects may include sensor data of structural response resulting from combined surge and wave loading, animation files of simulated tsunami waves, and pictures of bridge and building damage from field reconnaissance of combined wind and surge events. DesignSafe allows users to complete any number of data functions within the platform seamlessly. In DesignSafe, users can store, process, share, find and reuse relevant data published on the platform, combine it with data from external open sources, analyze it with the suite of tools available on the research workbench, and finally curate and publish. DesignSafe has over 150 TB of user data, with about 10 TB published.

Currently, there are some 5,000 users, spanning researchers, nongovernmental organizations, government, and practitioners. Although most of these participants are from the United States, DesignSafe also has users from 90 different countries.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be part of part of the DesignSafe team and to make a reality the vision of providing this cloud platform where researchers can do all their work from start to finish,” Pinelli said. “The resulting acceleration of knowledge transfer will result in more resilient and sustainable communities.”

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