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College of Arts & Sciences
Hazards & Vulnerability Research Institute

Research, Education and Applications Solution Network (REASoN)

Development of Remote Sensing-assisted Natural and Technological Hazards Decision Support Systems

Lead Investigator: Dr. Susan Cutter

This multi-year project is designed to improve the quality and usefulness of remote sensing-derived and other geospatial information in emergency response cycle (rescue, relief, recovery, mitigation, and preparedness). Three projects will involve the development of new spatial decision support systems related to natural and technological hazards, while a fourth project conducts education and technology transfer of products and services derived from them. The University of South Carolina REASoN project consists of four separate but interlinked sub-projects:

  1. Spatial Modeling of Human Risk and Vulnerability to Hazards (Susan L. Cutter, Ph.D.)
  2. Remote Sensing Hazards Guidance System (Michael E. Hodgson, Ph.D.)
  3. Remote Sensing-Assisted Hazardous Waste Site Monitoring Decision Support System (John R. Jensen, Ph.D.)
  4. Education and Technology Transfer of Products and Services (David J. Cowen, Ph.D.)

To view other REASoN projects click here.


Spatial Modeling of Human Risk and Vulnerability to Hazards

  1. Improved estimates of populations at risk
    This task addresses the redistribution of population counts below existing enumeration units such as Census blocks. The goal is to achieve population estimates per buildings, which are adjusted for diurnal as well as seasonal variations. The initial study area was Graniteville (Aiken County, SC). The site of Graniteville serves as case study for improved diurnal population estimates whereas the second site is anticipated to be more suited for improved seasonal population estimates.

    Results: Mitchell, J. T., S.L. Cutter, and A. S. Edmonds, 2007. "Improving shadow evacuation management: Case study of the Graniteville, South Carolina chlorine spill," Journal of Emergency Management 5(1): 28-34.

  2. Enhanced delineation of flood hazard areas
    This task provides options for estimating 100-year floodplains whenever detailed hydrologic and hydraulic information as well as digital floodplain maps such as Q3 or DFIRMs are not available. Two floodplain- modeling approaches were demonstrated: USGS’s Stream Flow Model (SFM 3.3) and FEMA’s Natural Hazard Loss Estimation software (HAZUS-MH). The approaches were evaluated by spatially comparing their modeled outputs to Q3 flood data and when available, DFIRMs. The study area comprised the South Carolina counties of Greenville, Lexington and Beaufort (Figure). The accuracy of the modeled flood zones was assessed through the use of error matrices, Kappa analysis, and the percentage of overlap between modeled floodplain and Q3/DFIRM floodplain.

    ResultsGall, M., B. J. Boruff, and S. L. Cutter, 2007. "Assessing flood hazard zones in the absence of digital floodplain maps: A comparison of alternative approaches,” Natural Hazards Review 8 (1): 1-21.

  3. More Refined estimates of the drought hazard
    This task will produce hindcasts of the geographic extent of droughts, the duration, and its overall impact. Remotely sensed imagery as well as specialized algorithms will be used to assess vegetation stress and determine the spatial extent of the meteorological drought.


  4. Vulnerability prediction and visualization
    As part of the mitigation planning process, state and local governments are required to complete risk and vulnerability assessments including the preparation of advisory maps of the location of hazard zones, previous occurrences, and probability of future events of natural hazards. Yet, few local communities have the capacity to undertake such assessments, largely due to technical, resource, and data constraints. The purpose of this task is to visualize and communicate biophysical and social vulnerability information to enable informed vulnerability assessments.

    We have developed a GIS-based methodology for conducting hazard vulnerability assessments that incorporates both biophysical vulnerability and social vulnerability indicators (Cutter et al. 2000). This methodology is the accepted template for counties in South Carolina for conducting such hazards assessments. It provides the initial core of the hazard vulnerability SDSS framework.

    The interactive expert mapping system builds upon the ArcGIS Server application implemented for South Carolina's Emergency Management Division. 
    SDSS Flowchart

    Tate E., S.L. Cutter, and M. Berry, 2010. "Integrated multihazard mapping." Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 37(4): 646–663.