Read about recent and ongoing projects through which Carolina centers and institutes make North Carolina a safer, healthier, better place to be.

Preparing for Natural Hazards and Disasters

The impacts from hurricane storm surge can devastate North Carolina coastal areas. Without effective preparation and evacuation plans, surges can level homes and businesses, cost billions of dollars, and kill thousands of people. Computer modeling can highlight areas that are vulnerable and need protection or insurance coverage. Storm-surge modeling can also help communities plan for evacuations of vulnerable areas and at-risk populations. Researchers at the Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters are helping North Carolina better prepare for severe storms such as hurricanes and tropical storms through advanced computing technology and collaboration with local and state emergency managers.

Developed by researchers at the Center for the Study of Natural Hazards and Disasters, the ADCIRC storm surge model predicts when, where and to what extent flooding will inundate a community with greater precision than other available models. The Renaissance Computing Institute supercomputers used to create these models, machines capable of many trillions of calculations per second, give North Carolina a unique local capability to forecast potential storm impacts well before they occur. RENCI also produces complex inland-weather models, which complement the storm-surge models and help weather forecasters and emergency managers predict severe weather and dangerous conditions.

Strengthening Communities

Many North Carolina communities, especially in the inner banks and mountain regions, and in any areas formerly dependent on furniture, textiles or tobacco manufacturing, are facing difficult economic times. Robbinsville, in Graham County, is a community like this: it now has just one major employer, and a one-mile highway bypass has pushed development out of the town’s center. The Graham Revitalization Economic Action Team (GREAT) and the Robbinsville Town Council asked the UNC Institute for the Environment’s Center for Sustainable Design (CSCD) to help develop a plan to revitalize the town and transform it into an attractive area for tourists, businesses and residents. In partnership with UNC’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the Asheville Design Center, CSCD researchers led the resulting project, which resulted in the Reimagining Robbinsville Revitalization Plan.

Increasing Child Literacy

Educators in six counties across North Carolina have been collaborating with the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute on the Targeted Reading Intervention webcam project. The TRI project uses a literacy coach, based at UNC, who provides real-time feedback by webcam to teachers working in 15-minute one-on-one sessions with students. With UNC’s Targeted Reading Intervention, struggling readers are gaining at the same rate as their peers.

Such rapid gains are atypical for struggling readers, according to UNC researchers that developed the Targeted Reading Intervention’s webcam approach. And the TRI is also less disruptive to classrooms than other interventions. The project has the potential to place the state’s teachers among the nation’s elite in early reading instruction, and not only because of its classroom effectiveness. The intervention is inexpensive. Rather than districts covering the costs of employing a reading specialist, hiring one-on-one tutors, buying a new curriculum, or paying the travel expenses of experts to remote rural areas – a part-time UNC graduate assistant can web-coach up to 12 teachers in a school.

Advancing Industry

REACH NC (Research, Engagement and Capabilities Hub of North Carolina) is a Web portal that enables businesses, researchers, economic development groups and others to easily tap into the experts and resources available through North Carolina higher education and research institutions. REACH NC currently contains over 8,900 expert profiles representing 19 North Carolina higher education and research institutions. UNC’s Renaissance Computing Institute developed the technical infrastructure and user interface for the project. A recent evaluation of REACH NC uncovered a number of successes. A solar panel production company, which recently brought 75 manufacturing jobs and 30 management positions to a manufacturing plant in Henderson, NC, used REACH NC to learn about energy experts and resources available in the state. The company’s president continues to use REACH NC as a tool in helping to determine whether expansion to new technologies or to other areas of the state is feasible. The evaluation also found that REACH NC saves time and effort for government officials, university researchers, economic development groups, and business professionals who want to know about the state’s research activities and the range of experts available to consult on an issue, collaborate on a large research funding proposal, or assist in solving a business problem.