A home destroyed in Pratt City, Alabama due to a tornado. Photo Credit: Courtesy of FEMA
A home destroyed in Pratt City, Alabama due to a tornado. Photo Credit: Courtesy of FEMA

By Chris Seemann | LSU Student

An LSU professor is making a foray into comprehensive disaster research with the help of a group of graduate students.

Carol Friedland and a group of engineering graduate students are in the process of launching the LSU CAPTURE Lab, an initiative designed to measure the strength of natural disasters and the damage they cause.

The CAPTURE Lab will focus primarily on condition assessment using state-of-the-art tools, some of which were built by LSU students.

An unmanned aerial vehicle, a hurricane tower and a storm surge detector will be used in conjunction with tablet computers and other equipment to provide a comprehensive damage assessment of areas affected by natural disasters.

Two engineering undergraduates are building the storm surge detector. The lab's website is also scheduled to launch in the coming weeks.

Friedland, an assistant professor at the LSU College of Engineering, traveled to Mississippi and Alabama in May along with three graduate students to survey the damage done by a series of tornadoes that ravaged the southern U.S. a month before.

The group visited the towns of Hackleburg and Tuscaloosa, Ala. and Smithville, Miss., where few buildings escaped damage after a series of powerful tornadoes struck the area in April.

Dr. Friedland and the students coordinated their effort with FEMA to provide data on the damage incurred by community structures, an integral component of a town's infrastructure during disasters. Her previous research centered primarily around hurricanes, and the survey was her first chance to research tornado damage on site.

"The damage done by the wind was incredible," Friedland said.

Friedland's research contributes to the College of Engineering's built infrastructure initiative, which encourages proper building practices to mitigate damage during natural disasters.

Friedland and the students surveyed the affected areas by shooting high-definition video, which is linked up with GPS to provide more precise results for later analysis.

According to Friedland, tornado research seeks to measure wind speed after the event is over using the physical damage as a guide. Because tornadoes are rarely expansive enough to be measured and equipment in their path is often destroyed, getting an accurate wind speed measurement can be difficult.

Additionally, the LSU AgCenter helped create an animation for CAPTURE which shows how well-built structures can withstand high winds.

Stuart Adams, a Ph.D student who accompanied Friedland on the tornado survey, is building the unmanned aerial vehicle for CAPTURE.  Adams says the survey was also his first experience with tornado research.

Friedland, a Wyoming native, said LSU's research is unique because it focuses on damage caused by wind, rain and storm surge, while most disaster research focuses only on wind damage.