Kansas universities get $24 million to research disaster response tools

By: - June 15, 2022 3:39 pm

Huge swaths of land in north-central Kansas are blackened by wildfires that swept through in December 2021. A federally funded National Science Foundation initiative will provide Kansas colleges and universities $20 million to research and create tools to better supports residents during disasters. The state will add $4 million to the funding. (Allison Kite/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A new research initiative is providing universities and colleges in Kansas with $24 million to research how the state can better support residents before and after disaster emergencies.

The Adaptive and Resilient Infrastructures Driven by Social Equity, or ARISE, project is a federally funded program through the National Science Foundation. The five-year initiative will partner 17 institutions ranging from universities to business leaders, health professionals and other community stakeholders to advance the resiliency of the state infrastructure.

The project involves $20 million in federal funding, and an additional $4 million from the state.

“The project not only builds academic research that converges computer science, engineering and social science, but the project will support community-engaged research across Kansas to create sustaining relationships between universities and communities,” said Belinda Sturm, a professor at the University of Kansas and ARISE principal investigator.

Through this collaboration, Sturm and other institutional leaders are hopeful they can create tools to ensure vulnerable communities — both rural and urban — have access to critical needs in emergencies like water, energy and transportation. The project also seeks to create a line of communication between community leaders and policymakers to ensure the community better invests its infrastructure resources in the future.

“The ARISE project lays out a case for infrastructure and community resilience to be guided by principles of social equity and active collaboration between government, industry, not-for-profits and communities,” Sturm said. 

A map of all 17 partner institutions participating in the ARISE initiative. (Submitted)
A map of all 17 partner institutions participating in the ARISE initiative. (Submitted)

The National Science Foundation is administering these funds as part of the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which supports research and development that historically receive smaller shares of federal funding. 

A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers, including Kansas U.S. Reps. Sharice Davids, Jake LaTurner and Tracey Mann, Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Roger Marshall, signed off on a letter in September 2021 advocating for increased EPSCoR funding.

“We are thrilled with the NSF’s confidence in the interdisciplinary research and collaboration we’ll be doing alongside ARISE to build stronger and more resilient communities in our state,” said Rick Muma, president of Wichita State University.

ARISE will analyze hazard threats to create a decision-support tool used to enhance disaster resilience in Kansas. The tool will allow quicker decision-making in these emergencies that ensure equity-driven outcomes.

The new research project aligns with ideas in a science and technology plan developed in 2021 and endorsed the Kansas Board of Regents. Educational leaders are hopeful the award could provide a stepping stone for the board of regents to seek additional funding in this 2021 initiative to make Kansas a so-called “smart state.”

“Kansans are rightly proud of their ability to recover from natural disasters, but the state faces disasters of a kind and at a frequency we’ve not seen before,” said Simon Atkinson, vice chancellor for research at the University of Kansas. “The factors that determine resilience are complex and can only be tackled by working across traditional disciplines and leveraging the intellectual resources of all the state’s research universities.”

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.