New Orleans houses are swamped by floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina.
Credit: Liz Roll
In the year since Hurricane Katrina struck the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, researchers and engineers have examined the full breadth of the storm's aftermath--from levee failures and ecosystem damage to weather predictions and human responses in the midst of catastrophe.
As per a FEMA report, more than 1,300 people lost their lives in Louisiana and Mississippi alone; 450,000 were displaced. Total economic losses exceeded an estimated $125 billion, including homes, universities, bridges and other infrastructure--and some 350,000 vehicles and 2,400 ships.
Some scientists arrived on the scene immediately to collect critical clues before they were lost to rescue and clean-up operations--and time. Other research took place in distant laboratories, where researchers plugged numbers into computer models or built search robots. The researchers and engineers all sought to understand exactly how the destruction happened, if and when it could happen again, and especially, how to prevent such carnage in the future.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) supported a number of of the studies under its Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGER) program. Eventhough the program was created to support small-scale, exploratory, high-risk research of all kinds, it has proved to be particularly well-suited for rapid-response situations because SGER requests can be processed and approved more quickly than other research proposals. Indeed, NSF has previously used the SGER program to field research teams in the aftermaths of both the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
Investigators supported under the SGER program often join other NSF-supported researchers who have been in the field for some time.
Posted by: Edwin Source