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UNM awarded Civic Innovation Challenge grant for post-wildfire resilience project

September 21, 2021 - by Kim Delker

The University of New Mexico is the recipient of one of $15.9 million in awards given by the National Science Foundation as part of the Civic Innovation Challenge Program.

UNM’s one-year, $1 million project is called “Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Intelligent Sensors (LEWIS) for Greater Preparedness and Resilience to Post-Wildfire Flooding in Native American Communities,” and it is led by Fernando Moreu, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering.

The UNM team will work with a LEWIS sensor prototype that was co-developed and co-designed earlier this year with Native American partners at the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo. The goal is to deploy many LEWIS sensors, enabling the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo to design and own their own wireless LEWIS sensor network.

The grants, given in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy, were awarded to teams around the country made up of local, state and tribal officials, as well as nonprofit and community leaders, to conduct and evaluate projects that address community-identified challenges. The Civic Innovation Challenge Program is designed to find community-based solutions to challenges and make them sustainable, scalable and transferrable to other communities. The research team is already targeting collaborations with Tribal communities in Alaska that will be informed from the results of this deployment.

The challenge is comprised of two tracks. Track A, funded by the NSF and Department of Energy, focuses on communities and mobility, specifically offering better mobility options to solve the spatial mismatch between affordable housing and jobs, as well as access to services like food and childcare. Projects in the challenge will develop artificial, intelligence-based decision-support tools for food distribution during disasters, improve the post-flood financial resiliency of low-income households and address the resilience divide in rural communities through rural resilience hubs.

UNM’s project is part of Track B, funded by NSF and the Department of Homeland Security, and focuses on resilience to natural disasters in the context of equipping communities for greater preparedness to and response after disasters such as floods, hurricanes and wildfires. Although wildfires are an essential driver of ecological change in the landscapes, the changes affect watershed hydrology and can result in catastrophic flooding. This creates a need to develop proactive measures to prepare for and respond to wildfires and post-wildfire flooding events. Many Tribal communities in New Mexico are located within or downstream from forested regions, and this places them in a unique position to be the leaders in developing responses to wildfires.

The UNM project recognizes the potential for Native American communities to develop innovate adaptive solutions and they chose to focus on building partnerships with local Tribes. This project will use Tribal place-based knowledge and expertise to inform the co-development of low-cost sensor technologies. Moreu said researchers will deploy more than 100 sensors and make the data available through an online portal and will incorporate training modules into education curriculums.

Stage 1 of the Civic Innovation Challenge awarded planning grants earlier this year to teams across the country to refine concepts for projects designed to address use-inspired issues in their communities. In Stage 2, 17 of those teams have been selected for awards of up to $1 million to conduct and evaluate ready-to-implement pilot projects in a 12-month timeframe. Teams will also collaborate across the entire program, sharing approaches and positioning projects to have a wider impact.

“The teams selected for Stage 2 of the competition have brought forward bold and exciting ideas for the mobility and resilience tracks in this Challenge to help connect local communities to their work, school, healthcare and other public services,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “The Department of Energy is honored to support these projects that will pilot equitable and accessible mobility solutions to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and improve the quality of life for our communities.”

Co-principal investigators on the UNM project grant are Mark Stone, Stamm Professor in Advanced Design and Construction Practices Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering; Carolyn Hushman, assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Sciences; Su Zhang, assistant research professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering and a senior research engineer at the Earth Data Analysis Center; and Yolanda Lin, assistant professor of geography and environmental studies.