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podcastNOS Hurricane ResponseMaking Waves (audio podcast)

NOS Hurricane Response (pdf, 426 kb)

Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services

National Water Level Observation Network

Storm QuickLook

Integrated Ocean Observing System

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science

NOAA’s National Status and Trends Program

National Geodetic Survey

Emergency Response Imagery

NOAA Coastal Services Center

Office of Coast Survey

Navigation Response Teams

Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management

Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service: Responding to Hurricanes

August 26, 2011

A hurricane has just ravaged the coast. Homes are damaged or destroyed. Family members are searching for loved ones. Ports are closed due to unknown hazards in surrounding waterways. Damaged vessels and chemical containers are leaking potentially hazardous material into the water.

And in the background, without much bravado or fanfare, NOS has sprung in to action, working to get things moving again…responding in the aftermath of the storm.

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast of the U.S.

Rapid Hurricane Response

Following hurricanes, NOS is one of the key partners immediately responding with a range of activities.

Water-level Monitoring
Before, during, and after a storm, NOAA monitors and disseminates observations of water levels, currents, and weather information in real time via the National Water Level Observation Network and the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System. Collected real-time environmental information helps coastal authorities prepare for, mitigate, and respond to storm tides and coastal flooding. NOS also regularly updates Storm QuickLook, an online compilation of ocean and weather observations within a coastal area.

Ocean and Coastal Data
NOAA coordinates the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®). This federal, regional, and private-sector partnership provides ocean and coastal data and information to support preparation and response efforts and to inform forecasts and predictions ahead of hurricanes. IOOS data helps decision makers protect our safety, economy, and environment.

Navigational Surveys
Immediately following a hurricane, the Office of Coast Survey provides emergency hydrographic services for affected port areas. These services are performed by Navigation Response Teams. These mobile emergency response units use echo sounders to check for submerged obstructions that pose hazards to vessels, collect data to update nautical charts, and provide mapping support. The work of these teams is essential to speeding the re-opening of ports and waterways.

Aerial Photography Surveys
Just hours after a hurricane hits a coastal area, the National Geodetic Survey begins flying photo survey missions to assess storm damage. The data contained in these photos provide emergency and coastal managers with information needed to develop recovery strategies, facilitate search and rescue efforts, identify hazards to navigation and HAZMAT spills, locate errant vessels, and provide documentation necessary for damage assessment through the comparison of before and after imagery.

Hazardous Spill Response
After a hurricane, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific support to hazardous materials response efforts in coastal areas. The office surveys vessels or containers that may be leaking fuel, oil, or other hazardous materials; flies missions to identify and document spill sources; and uses computer models to predict spill movement and determine pollution threats. OR&R also provides guidance on marine debris and vessel salvage, conducts shoreline cleanup assessments, collects information to understand natural resource impacts from spills in affected areas, and works to assess and restore resources injured by spills.


Long-term Hurricane Response

The work of NOS ensues in the hours following a hurricane, but it doesn’t stop there. For weeks, months, even years after a hurricane has ravaged a coastal community, NOS continues its work.

Contamination Assessments
NOAA’s National Status and Trends (NS&T) Program, part of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, coordinates with multiple partners to develop strategies to assess the environmental impacts of contaminants in coastal and estuarine waters in the aftermath of hurricanes. Of special concern is assessing the risk to human health of eating fish and shellfish and ensuring seafood safety.

Maps and Data Analysis
Following a hurricane, the NOAA Coastal Services Center provides the satellite and aerial images needed to generate maps that help officials understand the long-term effects of the hurricane. These data products include pre-hurricane imagery and digital elevation data from a variety of sources; before and after imagery comparisons; and maps depicting ecological impacts, debris assessment, and wetlands loss along the coast. The Center may also conduct studies that focus on a storm’s economic impacts.

Long-term Recovery Planning
The NOAA Coastal Services Center and the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management provide assistance in long-term recovery planning in areas impacted by a hurricane. Staff may assist in the development of coastal project plans, coordinate with other federal and state organizations involved in recovery planning, and assist with the design and implementation of activities to involve local communities in planning for their own long-term recovery.