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The University of Oklahoma

Craft of Code
The University of Oklahoma

Developing Innovative Approaches to Understanding Social and Natural Risks

Understanding and addressing societal risks and increasing the resilience of communities and society require mountains of data and powerful infrastructure. Just ask the team at the National Institute for Risk and Resilience, one of the world’s most advanced centers for risk-related teaching, research, and outreach arising from natural, technological, and human hazards.

Based at the University of Oklahoma (OU), the “Risk Institute” combines leading-edge modeling with an interdisciplinary approach consisting of experts in policy with those in psychology, communications, engineering, and other disciplines. The result is a better way to help communities become more resilient when facing these risks.

Dr. Joseph Ripberger and Matthew Henderson are part of the team behind the Risk Institute’s mission. The work of Dr. Ripberger, Matthew, and their team is making the world a safer place.

“We study all sorts of risks, ranging from those related to energy security and nuclear weapons on the national security side, all the way to public health risks like natural hazards,” said Dr. Ripberger, who serves as the Deputy Director for Research at the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Risk and Crisis Management, an organization that functions as part of the Risk Institute.

Since this work began at OU ten years ago, the Risk Institute’s role and the diversity of risk scenarios it addresses have grown. Originally focused on risk and crisis management, the Institute operates as an interdisciplinary school with researchers who have worked with some of the most pivotal scientific organizations in the world, including the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Energy.

Some of the Institute’s work includes partnering with the National Weather Service to create surveys that analyze how people receive, understand, and take protective actions in response to different kinds of weather alerts, forecasts, and warnings. Researchers examine the data collected to work on the local and regional levels and create messaging that accurately communicates when dangerous weather systems approach a community.

Another research project compared perceptions and misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of 2020, the Risk Institute team began analyzing millions of social media posts regarding the pandemic and compared that data to surveys conducted across the country. Researchers then compared the data sets to understand better how misinformation and individual perceptions of the pandemic influenced behaviors.

This critical and timely research helps policymakers better understand how accurate messages about health information influence behaviors. It also helps them measure how misinformation can impact behaviors that lead to negative health outcomes.

Simple, Affordable, and Accessible Cloud Computing

For projects of this magnitude, the research team at the Risk Institute needs a reliable cloud infrastructure partner to manage and process this large amount of information. That’s why Dr. Ripberger, Matthew, and their team have partnered with Linode for more than a decade, relying on Shared and Dedicated Linodes as well as S3-compatible Object Storage and Backups, all out of the Dallas data center.

Dr. Joe Ripberger

“Working with computational infrastructure and support became important to us because we had to have rapid access to data and all the things you need to be able to manage a project like this on such a rapid timeline. That’s why it has been really valuable to have Linode helping us with that.” – Dr. Joe Ripberger, Deputy Director for Research at the National Center for Risk and Resilience

By allowing increased flexibility and accessibility in data storage and easy access to information, the Risk Institute team can present its findings while not disrupting ongoing data collection. This capability allows researchers to use their data to build important relationships and maintain the integrity of the research. 

“That’s one reason Linode has proven to be so important to us over the years,” said Matthew, the center’s Deputy Director for Research Computing and Design. “We have a lot of projects that move online and offline, so we have to be able to respond quickly.”

The Risk Institute uses a combination of cloud infrastructure resources and on-premise resources for workloads that need to run behind a physical firewall.

Matthew Henderson

“We don’t have any servers running with any other cloud company. We’ve never used anyone for core infrastructure services other than Linode at OU, and we don’t have any plans to.” – Matthew Henderson, Deputy Director for Research Computing and Design at the National Center for Risk and Resilience

Linode also empowers the Risk Institute team to continue its cutting-edge work by providing cloud computing services at a fixed price that fits the Institute’s budget realities. In the academic world, said Dr. Ripberger, knowing costs ahead of time could be the difference between whether or not the Institute can take on a project. “Getting to the point where we can reliably estimate costs gives us enough confidence to move forward with projects,” he said. “Going over budget on compute resources is not an option, as we simply cannot operate in the red.”

As the research team at the Risk Institute continues to analyze new ways to reduce risks in communities across the globe, Matthew and Dr. Ripberger believe that partnering with Linode is empowering their forward-thinking group to stay on the cutting edge of this invaluable work.

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