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ODU Partners with the Port of Virginia to Plan for Long-Term Growth

Old Dominion University has begun partnering with the Port of Virginia to help identify risks as the port prepares for significant growth in demand over the next half-century.

Tom Allen, associate professor of political science and geography; George McLeod, director of the Old Dominion Center for Geospatial & Visualization Computing, and Joshua Behr, research associate professor at the University's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center, are providing multidisciplinary research expertise to the Port. The initial contract from the Port is worth approximately $65,000.

The project is an example of one of the public-private partnerships the University is engaged in to address a major issue, in this case helping industries build longer-term resilience.

The Port must assess the impact of environmental changes on operations while it plans to expand and upgrade facilities to accommodate an expected growth in demand. The Port's assets are subject to risk from storm inundation and surge. These risks may change based on such factors as sea level rise.

"Projections of relative sea level rise consider both water level rise and land subsidence, which are likely to exacerbate future storm surge and nuisance flooding," said Allen, who is leading the risk assessments. "Reducing uncertainty in sea level rise projections is a high scientific priority. Meanwhile, critical facilities such as the Port are wise to investigate their exposure to evolving risks."

The researchers said they will draw upon best practices in their disciplines to provide the most sophisticated projections.

"The process of analyzing the risk posed to Port of Virginia facilities and assets is technically challenging," McLeod said. "The strength of the University is that we have developed a wealth of expertise in understanding these challenges and have grown a culture of multidisciplinary teams that allow us to perform innovative research."

The initial focus of the project is Norfolk International Terminal South. The researchers expect to conduct similar analyses for other Port facilities.

The information generated by these analyses may help inform the timetable for capital improvement investments over the next couple of decades.

"The ability to identify the optimal timing and placement of investments over a period of time consisting of many years into the future is an important part of the field of operations research," said Behr. "The identification of risks stemming from potential storm inundation and then leveraging this to inform an optimization that will support long-term planning for the Port is powerful stuff."

The University and the Office of Research have made it a priority to strengthen relationships with key businesses and industries, including NASA and the Port of Virginia.

These initiatives complement the effort to raise the University's profile at the state and federal levels and leverage new efforts such as the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding Resiliency (http://www.floodingresiliency.org/ ) and the ODU Resilience Collaborative (https://www.odu.edu/impact/initiatives/resiliencecollaborative ).

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