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Putting natural disasters under a microscope

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(WVVA) - 2020 has been riddled with natural disasters, in addition to the pandemic. There has been flooding, hurricanes, wildfires and even earthquakes. Nowhere on the planet seems to be immune and the Two Virginias has also taken some hits.

One of the biggest academic hubs in this region is putting natural disasters under a microscope. An expert team at Virginia Tech made up of faculty, students and extension agents have come together into one graduate program.

That program will be studying flooding across Southwest Virginia. The group is compiled of engineers, geoscientists, urban planners, biologists and wildlife conservation students.

The graduate program is called Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM). It focuses on not just mitigating infrastructures for natural disasters, but also connecting with communities in a crisis.

"We come there and help the community to improve, but we realize now that it is much more sustainable to work with the community and in the community to understand the problems that they have, because it is not just the flooding, there is a whole slew of social economic issues associated with every natural hazard that we need to better understand in order to find solutions that are sustainable and actually have a net positive outcome afterwards."

Robert Weiss, Director of DRRM

Bluefield, VA is a community that has battled flooding for years. Jack Asbury Square was created to mitigate the flooding here. The mitigation didn't just fix the flooding issues. It improved the community, making room for a veterans memorial, a Tazewell County visitors center and a farmers market shelter.

According to Tazewell County Virginia Tech Extension Agent John Blankenship, who focuses agriculture and natural resources, told WVVA that this type of community buildup is what they hope this program will teach.

"We want these programs not only to focus on the natural disaster such as flooding, we want it to also encompass the town, like here in this area where there has been parks develop where we didn't have those before. There has been parking allowed in areas that wasn't available for parking before."

John Blankenship, Virginia Tech Extension Agent

The goal of the team is the same, but some students tell us they joined the program for different reasons. WVVA spoke with Civil Engineering student Luis Zambrano and Fishers and Wildlife Conservation student Mikayla Call.

"I am from Ecuador and just before I came here, we had a huge earthquake there in the region where i live. I was part of the team that went to the very first and was inspecting structure safety. And you don't only do that, but you also find the people around you, which is having all this trouble."

Luis Zambrano, DRRM Graduate Student

"I recognized that if I ended up working in a coastal setting. I am going to be dealing with these natural hazards and so are other people. And so I was really interested in being able to learn about coastal systems from people who are not wildlife biologist. Learning about from the prospective of an engineer or learning about it from a perspective of someone who does policy and planning."

Mikayla Call, DRRM Graduate Student

For more information about the program, click here.

Brandon Lawson

Weekend Meteorologist

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