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Date    11-16-05
Contact David Tisdale 601.266.4499


GULFPORT -- From its Visualization Lab at the Southern Miss John C. Stennis Space Center to its Department of Geography and Geology’s Geospatial Information Systems Application, the University of Southern Mississippi has the resources needed to revolutionize disaster awareness, preparedness and introduce smart growth strategies, said Joe Swaykos, M.A., director of the Center for Higher Learning (CHL) at the Southern Miss Stennis Space Center.

These projects are underway:

* Examining the ways in which new construction could survive another Katrina or a storm of even greater magnitude is a significant element, with respect to the recovery process, in the ongoing research into Katrina and its aftermath
* Using Lidar, an airborne laser device which measures elevation of the land along the coast, scientists can obtain a very detailed topographical relief map of the Gulf Coast.

“This information will allow decision makers (in the redevelopment process) to see what effects extreme weather would have on the land as it is now, which is certainly different than it was 10 weeks ago,” Swaykos said. “We want to help architects and others involved in the redevelopment process make smarter decisions and optimize the funding they have for redevelopment, and we have the technology and resources to do that,” he said.
* A collaborative effort between the Center for Higher Learning Visualization Laboratory and other Southern Miss scientists will include a storm surge model where different storm scenarios are examined, as well as what impact another flood or floods would have on the “new” post-Katrina coastline.

“We will take the data collections from the Department of Geography and overlay it on satellite images of the coast to recreate a sequence of events relating to the flooding from Katrina,” said Swaykos. The data provided would examine different levels of storm surge and its effects on the Gulf Coast.

“Our data on storm surge and flooding will be extremely valuable in building a post-Katrina database here at Southern Miss that can be used by everyone working on Katrina recovery and redevelopment,” said Dr. Clifton Dixon, chair of the Southern Miss Department of Geography and Geology. “Already, insurance underwriters are accessing the data, as well as contractors removing debris, and economic planning commissions. Ideally the data should be a part of the information foundation used within the governor’s commission.”

Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, faculty from the Department of Geography and Geology began working on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and spent the next two months focused upon collecting perishable data. New data from the research being conducted on the coast will be gathered, archived, shared, visualized and used for simulation of natural and man-made disasters and recovery. This is accomplished using local knowledge and expertise resident among collaborating agencies – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security, Army Corps of Engineers and other universities.

Tish Williams, Hancock County chamber of commerce director, is one of many coast leaders looking to Southern Miss for assistance in the area’s redevelopment. “Southern Miss and the CHL at the Southern Miss Stennis Space Center have excellent faculty experts and resources that state and local officials should utilize in their recovery and rebuilding efforts along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

“We want to bring the strengths of Southern Miss to bear on the reduction of economic risk resulting from the natural and man-made disasters in coastal areas,” Swaykos said.

About The University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss, with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at

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Last updated: 12/23/05

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