Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Simulations Indicate Heightened Risks When Pandemic and Hurricane Season Overlap

Model shows significant delays in recovery efforts if front-line workers are not kept healthy
1-Jun-2020 11:30 AM EDT, by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Newswise — TROY, NY — As coastal communities prepare for the possibility of hurricanes this summer and fall, they are doing so amid the uncertain landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic — a crisis that has already taxed health care systems, governments, and supply chains.

A faculty and student team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been modeling how the combined disasters may make community recovery vastly more difficult. What they have found serves as a stark warning to policymakers preparing for hurricane season.

“By their nature, extreme events are rare and unpredictable,” said Al Wallace, a professor and head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer. “It is difficult to comprehend the multiplicity of possible paths over which an event could unfold and how best to respond. Still, we must keep our heads up to anticipate what could be coming, even as the problems plaguing us at the moment command an extraordinary amount of attention.”

Wallace uses a customizable artificial community, digitally created at Rensselaer with support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to simulate scenarios that may become realities during hurricane season. This model town mimics a coastal community in North Carolina with a population of about 450,000 people.

Using this model, Wallace, his student Madeline Roberts, a member of the Rensselaer Class of 2020, and Richard Little, a visiting research scholar at Rensselaer, simulated the increasingly plausible scenario of a hurricane recovery effort that must take place in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their findings underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy workforce of first responders, especially in health care facilities, which are also likely to be the hardest hit by both of the converging crises.

“We found that when the number of workers decrease, in whatever pandemic-related situation exists — illness or inability to travel to a location — the response time and recovery for that community actually is delayed by a factor of three. Which is huge,” Roberts said. “Another big finding was that the most heavily impacted areas are the ones most vulnerable — the hospitals, the nursing homes. When the water goes out, when the power goes out, the death rate is going to go up and the infection spread is just going to snowball.”

The team’s modeling revealed that when the available workforce is reduced during a pandemic, the number of civil infrastructure outages during a hurricane increases. More specifically, the model showed a large number of power, water, and waste outages during a combined crisis situation.

Wallace and Roberts also found — based on their model — that power and water outages are three times more likely to occur than other types of disruptions in infrastructure.

A loss of water and power, Wallace points out, could bring about heightened risks for those who rely on regular medical treatment. In previous hurricanes, access to dialysis services, for example, has been threatened when critical infrastructure like roads and power lines are damaged.

“Given the demographics of a condition like kidney disease — which disproportionately affects minorities, the poor, and elderly — many of the populations most at risk in the COVID-19 pandemic are also particularly vulnerable in a hurricane scenario,” Wallace said.

Wallace and Roberts hope their research will encourage policymakers to use data and simulations to begin comprehensive preparations for the upcoming hurricane season with urgency and efficiency.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to take advantage of large datasets, online visual displays, and high-speed computing,” Wallace said, “to greatly accelerate the learning curve for public officials, emergency managers, infrastructure service providers, and members of the medical community who are responsible for maintaining a functioning health care system.”

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,900 students and over 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit


Filters close

Showing results

110 of 2454
Released: 3-Jul-2020 10:25 AM EDT
Lack of lockdown increased COVID-19 deaths in Sweden
University of Virginia Health System

Sweden’s controversial decision not to lock down during COVID-19 produced more deaths and greater healthcare demand than seen in countries with earlier, more stringent interventions, a new analysis finds.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 3:10 PM EDT
Researchers outline adapted health communications principles for the COVID-19 pandemic
CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced unique challenges for public health practitioners and health communicators that warrant an expansion of existing health communication principles to take into consideration.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 1:40 PM EDT
Collectivism drives efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19
University of Kent

Research from the University of Kent has found that people who adopt a collectivist mindset are more likely to comply with social distancing and hygiene practices to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:30 PM EDT
Tiny mineral particles are better vehicles for promising gene therapy
University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers have developed a safer and more efficient way to deliver a promising new method for treating cancer and liver disorders and for vaccination — including a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna Therapeutics that has advanced to clinical trials with humans.

Newswise: Newer variant of COVID-19–causing virus dominates global infections
Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:10 PM EDT
Newer variant of COVID-19–causing virus dominates global infections
Los Alamos National Laboratory

Research out today in the journal Cell shows that a specific change in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus virus genome, previously associated with increased viral transmission and the spread of COVID-19, is more infectious in cell culture.

Newswise: From Wuhan to San Diego—How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe
Released: 2-Jul-2020 12:05 PM EDT
From Wuhan to San Diego—How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe
La Jolla Institute for Immunology

Two variants of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), called G614 and D614, were circulating in mid-March. A new study shows that the G version of the virus has come to dominate cases around the world. They report that this mutation does not make the virus more deadly, but it does help the virus copy itself, resulting in a higher viral load, or "titer," in patients.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 11:50 AM EDT
New Study Explains Potential Causes for “Happy Hypoxia” Condition in COVID-19 Patients
Loyola Medicine

A new research study provides possible explanations for COVID-19 patients who present with extremely low, otherwise life-threatening levels of oxygen, but no signs of dyspnea (difficulty breathing). This new understanding of the condition, known as silent hypoxemia or “happy hypoxia,” could prevent unnecessary intubation and ventilation in patients during the current and expected second wave of coronavirus.

Released: 2-Jul-2020 10:15 AM EDT
Stemming the Spread of Misinformation on Social Media
Association for Psychological Science

New research reported in the journal Psychological Science finds that priming people to think about accuracy could make them more discerning in what they subsequently share on social media.

29-Jun-2020 9:00 AM EDT
Coronavirus damages the endocrine system
Endocrine Society

People with endocrine disorders may see their condition worsen as a result of COVID-19, according to a new review published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

Showing results

110 of 2454