Improved hurricane models could save lives, money

August 14, 2015

The 2005 Atlantic Coast hurricane season was the most devastating to the region in recorded history, with Hurricane Katrina alone causing catastrophic damage. Despite sophisticated storm tracking and warning systems, the predictions on the season's storms missed the mark with tragic consequences — an estimated 3,913 deaths and more than $159 billion in property damage.

With all of the ways that information is circulated — TV, radio, social media, word of mouth — getting the right message to the right people at the right time can be a logistical nightmare. Satellite image of Hurricane Irene. Each hurricane season brings varying levels of storms and destruction. The 2005 Atlantic Coast hurricane season was the most devastating to the region in recorded history, and in 2011 Hurricane Irene (pictured) was the 10th billion-dollar disaster to occur that year. Download Full Image

“What sounds like a relatively straightforward process — assess, predict, inform the public — is actually complicated by all the different ways information is spread and what the people choose to heed or ignore,” said complex adaptive systems modeler Michael Barton, an archaeologist in the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

The way such information flows is beyond intuitive comprehension.

“But computational science provides us with powerful tools to model and simulate how people react to hurricane warnings,” he explained. “We also have the data of what actually happened in past storms that we can use to test and improve the models.”

As the lead ASU investigator, Barton is working on a project aimed at preparing the nation for natural disasters. The Communicating Hazard Information in the Modern Environment (CHIME) project, funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to better understand how people respond to these types of warnings.

According to Josh Watts, another ASU archaeologist on the project, hurricanes are typically categorized based on wind speed, but much of the damage is caused by flooding from the storm surge.

Wind speed alone does not predict the storm surge, so a Category 3 hurricane can be a really windy day or a massive flood, depending on the way the tides, wind and landfall all come together, Watts said.

“We’re working on new models to both predict the storm surge and provide accurate warnings for evacuation planning,” he said.

The team, which is led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and includes researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, is sifting through data that at first glance resembles a tangled ball of string.

“We are not just looking at the networks, but also the quality of the information and its impact,” Barton said. “What kinds of messages work for what kinds of people? Who relies on social media or looks to their neighbors? What roles do past or recent experience play? How do news agencies figure out which information to broadcast? You don’t want to cause massive panic every time there is a storm and have millions evacuating who are not in danger.

“It’s complicated, but not impossible to figure out using the kinds of complex adaptive systems models we are perfecting at ASU,” Barton said.

He laughed about scientists in the desert working on hurricane issues.

“It probably sounds strange that archaeologists from Arizona State University got a big grant to study hurricanes in Florida,” he admitted. “But the fact is, we have some of the best expertise in the country for modeling complex social behavior.”

Learn more about Complex Adaptive Systems science at ASU at Learn more about the CHIME project here.

This story originally appeared in CLAS Magazine, Spring/Summer 2015.

ASU welcomes international journalists for Humphrey Fellowship Program

August 14, 2015

A multimedia journalist from Nepal, a television executive from the Philippines and a public-relations expert from Russia are among the nine global journalists and communicators selected for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Humphrey Fellowship Program at Cronkite brings mid-career professionals to study journalism and receive leadership training and develop connections with media organizations across the country. The program is an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and is administered by the Institute of International Education. Nine global journalists and communicators are participating in the Humphrey Fellowship Program at ASU's Cronkite School. Download Full Image

The fellows represent a variety of communications disciplines, ranging from broadcast television to public relations. They are from Benin, Bhutan, Gabon, Latvia, Moldova, Montenegro, Nepal, the Philippines and Russia.

Rajneesh Bhandari, a journalist from Nepal, is participating in the program to advance his investigative reporting and multimedia storytelling skills to report on deep-rooted issues in his country such as human-rights violations and corruption.

“One thing that sets the Humphrey Fellowship Program apart from all other kinds is that I can design my individual program plan based on my interests and requirements,” he said. “The program fits really well with my interests because I want to hone my skills, develop a larger network, and at the same time want to do something substantial in the journalism sector in Nepal.”

This year marks the sixth time the Cronkite School has held the 10-month program. Since 2010, 58 journalists and communicators from 42 countries have come to the Cronkite School, which will continue to host the program thanks to a new five-year grant through the Institute of International Education. 

“The Humphrey Fellowship Program fosters an important exchange of journalism knowledge among our fellows, students, faculty and staff,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School. “We are thrilled to continue hosting this important program for the next five years and look forward to collaborating with this year’s talented cohort.”

The fellows study under the direction of Bill Silcock, Cronkite associate professor and director of Cronkite Global Initiatives, and interact with the school’s students through classes, retreats and planned events, such as the Global Conversations speaker series in which fellows share their journalism experiences and insights.

“The Humphrey Fellowship Program enriches the Cronkite School, Arizona State University, Phoenix and beyond,” Silcock said. “It is a tremendous honor to help train the next generation of global journalism leaders.”

Established in 1978, the Humphrey Fellowship Program provides non-degree academic study for experienced professionals from countries undergoing development or political transition. Fifteen major universities host a total of approximately 160 fellows each year. The Cronkite School is one of only two institutions to host Humphrey Fellows in journalism.

2015-2016 Humphrey Fellows in Journalism

Vitalien Adoukonou from Benin specializes in health promotion and behavioral change and was most recently a communications officer at the Agence de Médecine Préventive, a French non-governmental organization that aims to improve the health and well-being of those in need around the globe. Adoukonou, who holds a master’s degree in communications from Pigier–Benin, has collaborated with the ministries of health for various African governments, primarily focusing on immunization.

Rajneesh Bhandari from Nepal is an independent multimedia journalist, lecturer and trainer. For the past nine years, he has reported on his home country for media outlets such as The New York Times, National Geographic, Al Jazeera and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Bhandari holds a master’s degree in mass communication and journalism from Tribhuvan University in Nepal and a post-graduate diploma in multimedia journalism from Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

Criselda Marie Z. Caringal from the Philippines is an executive producer for GMA Network, one of the country’s leading broadcasting companies. Upon graduating with honors from the University of the Philippines, she began her career in broadcast media. Since then, she has traveled across the country covering stories, including natural disasters and medical breakthroughs as well as investigative reports on public health and safety in the Philippines.

Marta Cerava from Latvia is a chief content editor and strategic creator of public broadcasting media at the radio, television and online news portal She specializes in cross-platform content planning, merging multimedia, television and radio content online. Cerava holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Tampere in Finland and a bachelor’s degree in communication science from the University of Latvia.

Natalia GhilaČ™cu from Moldova is a veteran journalist specializing in human rights and LGBT issues. She has worked as editor-in-chief of the online news portal as well as a producer and moderator of a regional television station in the Republic of Moldova. GhilaČ™cu holds a master’s degree in public communications from Chisinau School of Advanced Journalism in Moldova and a bachelor’s degree in international economic relations.

Darko Ivanovic from Montenegro has nearly two decades of experience as a journalist, editor-in-chief and news producer. He is the manager of the independent production news service known as Robin Hood. He also has worked for numerous news outlets in Montenegro, including RTCG, INTV, Monitor, Graffiti and Adut. Ivanovic is a graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Cetinje, Montenegro, with a specialization in film and television directing.

Joseph Mayombo from Gabon has  been  working  in media communications  for  the  past  20  years. He started his career contributing for the environmental non-governmental organization newspaper Le Cri du Pangolin. In 1998, the World Wildlife Fund recruited him as a communications officer to develop some of the organization’s promotional efforts in Gabon. After 14 years with the WWF, he joined the Gabon National Parks Agency in March 2012 as deputy communications director. Mayombo holds a Bachelor of Arts from Omar Bongo University in Gabon.

Alla Nadezhkina from Russia is a highly regarded public-relations expert with more than 15 years of media and communications experience. She has worked as a spokesperson for the Russian International Agency Novosti, one of the country’s top news organizations. In 2006, she became a fellow of the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, completing a master’s degree in journalism from Lomonosov Moscow State University and undertaking an internship at the University of Westminster in England.

Namgay Zam from Bhutan is a noted journalist in that nation, working as a producer, editor and anchor of the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. She has written for The Guardian, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Hindustan Times, as well as regularly contributing to local newspapers and magazines. She currently hosts an award-winning monthly talk show, “Let's Talk About It,” on a private radio station. Zam studied English literature at the Lady Shriram College for Women at Delhi University.