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Flood Awareness Week: Spotlight on Wisconsin Sea Grant Extension Agent David Hart

Wisconsin Sea Grant Assistant Director for Extension

David Hart is Assistant Director for Extension with the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and a Senior Scientist with the UW Aquatic Sciences Center. His research and outreach spans geographic information science, urban planning, and coastal management. He has developed methods for discovery, acquisition, integration, and analysis of local geospatial data for use in decision-making about coastal management issues at a regional scale and has conducted research on map-based visualization tools for adaptive management of coastal hazards. Prior to moving to Wisconsin in 1993, David worked in New Orleans, Louisiana as an urban planner in both the public and private sector. David earned his doctorate in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Master’s of Urban and Regional Planning from the University of New Orleans and a B.S. in Natural Resources from the University of Michigan.


It’s Flood Awareness Week, what is something everyone needs to know about preparing for a flood?

First, learn whether you live in or near a floodplain and buy flood insurance if you are vulnerable. Then inventory your belongings – a narrated video walk-through of your home stored off-site is a good start. Finally, complete a flood preparedness checklist, assemble an emergency preparedness kit, and have a family meeting to talk about what you would do if a disaster strikes.

What is something cool you learned while working on coastal hazards outreach?

I collaborated with Jeff Stone, now with the Association of State Floodplain Managers, while he was a Master’s student in Cartography and GIS developing a website visualizing coastal bluff erosion and the need for scientifically-based development setbacks. It was cool to see how he engaged with geologists and civil engineers to translate complex technical information about recession rates and bluff stability into a resource that local officials could use to demonstrate why it made sense to build away from the bluff. I think the scientists benefited from the project as much as the local officials through the process of describing the technical information in clearer terms and building better and more useful representations of coastal change.

Are you currently involved in any projects related to flood awareness?

I am working Prof. Robert Roth of the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to evaluate the usability of the NOAA Lake Level Viewer- a map-based visualization tool supporting planning/preparedness and adaptive coastal management related to future water level change across the Great Lakes. I will be working with a GIS Certificate Student this summer to demonstrate how the Lake Level Viewer can be used to guide local decision-making about increasing resilience to coastal flooding.

What drove you to work on coastal hazards outreach?

Living and working as a city planner in New Orleans.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

I started with Wisconsin Sea Grant as a GIS Specialist and Graduate Research Assistant in 1994 while working on my doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Allen Miller, the extension program leader at the time, was a founder of the Wisconsin Land Information Association and wanted to see the State’s investment in land records modernization promote sustainable coastal management along the Great Lakes.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

I work with people who are models of public service. They care about our coastal resources and work very hard to share the knowledge needed to protect them.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

My biggest challenge is time management. It seems I have an active imagination and it is very difficult for me not to act on an idea.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

Until you asked that question, I didn’t realize I had a career in science. All I wanted to do was make maps, care for the Great Lakes, and help build a better future.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

One day, I drove to Milwaukee to meet with Prof. John Janssen at the School of Freshwater Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee about a mapping project. I caught him as he was coming in from trawling an offshore reef in Lake Michigan and spent the next hour talking while pulling yellow perch from the nets.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

I’m fascinated with the role of storytelling in promoting coastal stewardship. Kendall Haven, a scientist and storyteller, wrote a book in 2009 on the science behind the effectiveness of storytelling. His most recent book, “Story Smart”, is about techniques for building powerful, influential, and effective stories.

And how about a personal favorite book?

I discovered Christopher Moore from a staff pick at a Milwaukee bookstore. The genre is absurdist fiction. I love all his books, but “Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings” might appeal to the marine science crowd.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I play hockey. It is my physical and mental release. I’ve met all sorts of wonderful and diverse people over the years. My favorite hockey tournament is associated with the annual meeting of the International Association for Great Lakes Research, where U.S. and Canadian scientists battle for the Defy Cup and the proceeds go to the student scholarship fund.

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

How often I need to be reminded that it is time to come home from work.

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