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News and Updates

March 2024: Hurricane Maria Team Describes Significant Progress, Results to Date   

In a March 6th update to the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee, NIST project leaders presented preliminary information and analyses about their investigation and broader study of how Hurricane Maria affected Puerto Rico. At the public meeting, committee members heard details about how extreme winds, heavy rainfall, flooding, and landslides varied across the island, how several of those hazards compared with prior expectations, and how those hazards affected critical buildings and infrastructure. NIST project leaders also shared their preliminary analysis of extensive damage to communication towers, which had a dramatic effect on Puerto Rico’s response and recovery efforts.

NIST project leaders detailed how Hurricane Maria affected hospital functionality by damaging building components and systems and disrupting the supporting infrastructure. They briefed the committee on the most prevalent types of damage and sources of water intrusion in hospital buildings and the resulting problems with hospital functionality. Project leaders also described how dependencies on transportation and power infrastructure (e.g., disruption of power supply due to problems with generators) affected hospital functionality and healthcare access. That included forced relocation of staff and patients and limited access to hospitals across significant swaths of the island. 

NIST project leaders explained how understanding the preparations and protective actions taken by households and organizations provides important context for evaluating the hurricane’s impacts, including physical damage, deaths and injuries, and effects on critical services like healthcare and shelter. They noted that this information is also central to understanding which protective actions would have resulted in the greatest reduction of impacts. Advisory committee members were briefed on communications the public received about protective actions, the public’s degree of trust and preference regarding communications, and protective actions and preparedness steps taken by residents and operators of hospitals and shelters. NIST project leaders also described evacuation decisions made and actions taken to plan for emergencies, including steps to avoid damage to physical structures and prepare for utility outages.

Team Lead Dr. Joseph Main provided an update on ongoing data gathering activities, including a second wave of data collection on the recovery of schools and hospitals that is expected  to be completed in March. Data collection on impacts to and recovery of infrastructure systems supporting critical buildings and emergency communications is expected to be wrapped up by September. The active participation by personnel in transportation, power, and water services will be key to successful completion of that project, and NIST is soliciting contacts in those areas now.  Associate Team Lead Dr. Maria Dillard expressed great appreciation for the many in Puerto Rico who have participated in and supported the extensive data collection.

Slide presentations from the meeting are available online along with a captioned video recording of the meeting; the March 6th recording is available here.

March 2024: Updated Hurricane Maria Wind-Field Model Available

In a presentation to the NCST Advisory Committee on March 7, 2024, Dr. Joseph Main reported that an updated wind-field model has been developed for Hurricane Maria over Puerto Rico. Updates to the wind-field model include: incorporation of additional meteorological data, obtained with the assistance of Team Member Dr. Luis Aponte Bermudez from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez; enhancements to the process used to fit the general hurricane wind-field model to meteorological observations (wind speed, direction, and atmospheric pressure) during Hurricane Maria; incorporation of variable air density associated with spatial fluctuations in atmospheric pressure into the wind-field modeling process; and quantification of uncertainty associated with the estimated wind speeds. Estimated peak wind speeds are shown in the figure below. The isotachs (red contour lines) represent the estimated wind speeds prior to incorporation of topographic effects. Wind speeds including topographic effects are shown as color-coded values.  These effects can be either speedup or slowdown, depending on the wind speeds and directions and landform features at each location on the map.

Hurricane Maria Wind Field updated March 2024
Estimates of peak gust wind speeds with and without topographic effects from the updated wind field model for Hurricane Maria.

The wind-field model dataset used to create this wind speed map is available here: The associated metadata includes a description of the meteorological data and the process used to develop the wind-field model and to account for the topographic speedup effects. Development of the wind-field model was supported through a contract with Applied Research Associates, Inc. Making this dataset publicly available provides valuable information on the wind hazard exposure across Puerto Rico that can support other studies of Hurricane Maria’s effects.

September 2023: Hurricane Maria Team Members Update Puerto Rico Engineers on Progress

Leaders of NIST’s Hurricane Maria team described their investigation and related studies to participants in the Hurricane Seminar 2023 sponsored by the Puerto Rico Professional College of Engineers and Land Surveyors (El Colegio de Ingenieros y Agrimensores de Puerto Rico or CIAPR) on September 15th. The group was briefed on the NIST program and status by Dr. Joseph Main, Team Lead, and Dr. Maria Dillard, Associate Team Lead, who provided overviews and updates on the projects being carried out by the NIST team. Dr. Luis Aponte-Bermúdez – who is both a member of NIST’s National Construction Safety Team studying Hurricane Maria and a Professor at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez in the Civil Engineering and Surveying Department – concentrated his remarks on projects focused on Hazard Characterization and Critical Building Performance, topics of special interest to CIAPR members.

Dr. Main told participants that NIST especially looks forward to presenting its draft findings and recommendations to CIAPR in Puerto Rico when available for public comment. He stressed that NIST would make it a priority to work with organizations like CIAPR to encourage voluntary implementation of those recommendations. The goal of the NIST effort is to improve building codes, standards, and practices to make communities in Puerto Rico and across the U.S. more resilient to hurricanes and other hazards. 

September 2023: Hurricane Maria Team Updates Federal Advisory Committee on Progress

NIST officials provided updates on the investigation into the impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico during the September 7th meeting of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee. Dr. Joseph Main, Team Lead, informed the federal advisory committee that the team’s “planned data collection is now complete for the NCST investigation projects” designed to understand Hurricane Maria’s wind environment and the conditions that led to injuries and deaths; how critical buildings and designated safe areas within them performed — including their dependence on electricity, water, transportation and other infrastructure; how emergency communications systems performed and the public’s response to such communications. Dr. Main reported that important data collection continues for several projects conducted under different statutory authorities, including projects focused on recovery of schools, hospitals, and power, water and transportation infrastructure. 

Dr. Maria Dillard, Associate Team Lead, told the committee that since the spring, NIST has been engaged in the Fast Track Action Committee (FTAC) on Data Infrastructure for Puerto Rico established by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The goal is to “enable data driven decision making in the distribution of unprecedented levels of federal funding available in accordance with the President’s policies on scientific integrity and evidence based policymaking….”. This activity supplements existing Biden-Harris Administration efforts in Puerto Rico, including those focused on economic development

Dr. Main described next steps, which include: reviewing contractors’ reports and various datasets, comprehensive analysis of collected data, development of draft findings and recommendations, and completion of draft reports, which are planned to be ready for NIST and interagency review in the winter of 2024-25.

June 2023: NIST Completes Data Collection for Multiple Hurricane Maria Study Projects

The team of researchers studying Hurricane Maria’s effect on Puerto Rico expects to complete the bulk of its data collection by Fall 2023, according to the team’s leaders.  In presentations to the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee on June 14, Dr. Joseph Main (lead), Dr. Maria Dillard (associate lead), and other team members reviewed progress to date in collecting and analyzing information across all seven projects. When completed, the study will include recommendations for improving building codes, standards, and practices to help communities in Puerto Rico and across the U.S. to be more resilient. 

All datasets from wind tunnel testing of building and topographic models are now processed and in hand, along with data on rainfall and other hazards related to the hurricane. Site visits and staff interviews on building performance have been completed at all 5 selected hospitals, and the remaining site visits and interviews for the 5 selected shelters will be wrapped up in the coming months. All 1500-plus household surveys are complete, as are 60 household interviews documenting the role of emergency communications and the public’s response. Also finished are 30 hospital staff interviews and 410 next-of-kin interviews to better understand how damaged buildings, and failures in supporting infrastructure, played a role in injuries and deaths. 

The team evaluating impacts to and recovery of infrastructure systems (power, water, and transportation) expects to complete interviews later this year or early in 2024. Data on power restoration, vegetation, and transportation incidents have been collected. Data from 450-plus business surveys are in; these surveys capture information about the recovery of small- and medium-sized businesses (in manufacturing, retail, and service sectors) and supply chain disruptions. Thirty interviews with those familiar with shipping and transport issues around Hurricane Maria are also completed. The first wave of organizational surveys on recovery of social functions at hospitals (15-plus) and schools (300-plus) is complete; follow up interviews with a subset of the hospital and school administrators are expected to be wrapped up by this fall.

Data analysis for all projects is well underway, with reports – including findings and recommendations – slated to be drafted by the fall of 2024, with internal review underway by the winter of 2024-2025. NIST reported to the committee that additional funding has been appropriated so that the Hurricane Maria team also can assess the impacts of Hurricane Fiona, which struck Puerto Rico in September 2022, nearly 5 years to the day after Hurricane Maria caused extensive damage on the island.

March 2023: Risk Communication Expert Joins Hurricane Maria Team

Dr. Gina Eosco, a social scientist and risk communication expert, has been selected to join the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) for the NIST investigation of Hurricane Maria’s impacts on Puerto Rico.  Dr. Eosco will contribute to a project investigating the role of emergency communications in the response by those facing imminent threats. She brings expertise in: weather risk communication; identification of research needs in weather and meteorology; translation of social science research into application; evaluation of watch, weather, and advisories; and enhancement of weather communications. Dr. Eosco will contribute to NIST’s development of findings and recommendations for improvements to emergency communications relaying tropical weather forecasts, conveying risks, and guiding public response. The newest member of the Hurricane Maria team joins the NIST effort from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Program Office.

December 2022: Advisory Committee Cites Rigor of Hurricane Maria Studies

In its 2022 annual report to Congress, the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee (NCSTAC) commended NIST on “the methodological rigor that is being applied in the Hurricane Maria studies.” The advisory group, which is made up of experts in a range of fields related to building and construction failures, singled out the hazard characterization work being conducted, saying “the NIST team should be commended on the thorough job they have done in the area of hazard characterization for Hurricane Maria. In particular, the work on quantifying the topographic effect on wind speed is critical in accurately characterizing the wind profile on the island, and the subsequent loading induced on the buildings and other infrastructure systems.” The group added that “the approach being taken, which includes wind tunnel testing, field observations and measurements, and computational fluid dynamics modeling is thorough and provides the theoretical understanding of the hurricane forces.” The full report, which cites other aspects of the Hurricane Maria studies and covers all of NIST’s activities conducted under the National Construction Safety Team Act, is available here.

September 2022: NIST Reports Progress on Hurricane Maria Study on Storm’s Anniversary

Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico nearly five years to the day after Hurricane Maria dealt a devastating blow to the island, its economy, and its people. Today, on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, NIST reports advances in its efforts to learn from this tragic storm so that communities there and around the world can be more resilient in the face of future hazards.

NIST launched a study in 2018 to understand that event and to recommend improvements in building codes, standards and practices. Highlights of tasks recently completed by the NIST team and supporting contractors include:

  • Completion of wind tunnel testing to evaluate the effects of Puerto Rico’s mountainous topography on local wind speeds and on the resulting wind loads experienced by selected critical buildings.
  • Improvements to the hurricane wind-field model to provide best estimates of peak gust wind speeds. This information is critical for evaluating the performance of buildings and infrastructure.
  • Completion of surveys and interviews on emergency communications and public response. The team surveyed 1,500 households to understand evacuation decision making and the public’s response to multiple forms of emergency communications . In addition, interviews were conducted with 35 professionals who provided emergency communications to the public. This will deepen the understanding of how the public receives weather watch and warning information, guidance on protective action, and other emergency message content.

Conclusion of surveys of more than 400 small- and medium-sized businesses that are vital to the island’s economy. This work will inform recommended best practices for business resilience and continuity planning.

“NIST is committed to conducting a thorough investigation that will help make our communities safer in the face of natural disaster,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio. “We have brought together a great team and appreciate all of the support we have received from government agencies and communities across Puerto Rico as we work to fully understand the impacts of Hurricane Maria.”

June 2022: NIST's Hurricane Maria Team Reports Data Collection Is "In Full Swing" in Progress Update to Advisory Committee

At a June 8th meeting of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee, leaders of NIST's Hurricane Maria team reported that NIST is making good progress on multiple fronts to better understand the effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. Team members shared information about NIST's NCST investigation as well as its research, which could lead to recommendations for improvements in building codes and standards that will make Puerto Rico and other US communities more resilient. NIST Hurricane Maria Team Lead, Dr. Joseph Main, told Committee members that data collection across projects "is in full swing." That includes data being produced by laboratory testing, evaluations conducted of several facilities, as well as surveys and interviews of the public, manufacturing and retail service businesses, providers of emergency information, and those working at selected hospitals, schools, and shelters. NIST also is now in the information collection phase, involving next of kin of those who died as a result of the hurricane as well as others aware of their situation. Dr. Main also cited recent briefings and outreach to Puerto Rico and US agencies as well as to additional organizations. The slides used during the meeting are available on the Progress page under the "Advisory Committee Updates" heading. A complete video of the meeting is available here.

January 2022: Progress on Hurricane Maria Investigation Receives Positive Reviews from Advisory Committee

NIST’s investigation of the effects of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico earned positive reviews from the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee in its recent report to Congress. The committee singled out NIST’s “excellent job of reorienting its data collection processes due to the pandemic,” which included a shift to web-based data collection procedures for several projects. It also cited progress obtaining approvals for data collection and for pilot surveys to test and refine collection instruments.

The Advisory Committee noted that in order to understand how damaged buildings and failures in the supporting infrastructure played a role in the injuries and deaths due to the 2017 hurricane, investigators have moved to verbal autopsies and social environmental surveys, augmented by medical records and hospital functions reviews. They expressed interest in “seeing how the use of verbal autopsies in the Hurricane Maria study impacts the thoroughness and richness of data gathered on disaster related deaths” and said that “developing standards for conducting these verbal autopsies will be useful in future events.”

More broadly regarding data collection, the Committee said that the Hurricane Maria study’s “efforts to develop and obtain approval for instruments that can be used in future studies will allow NIST researchers to be nimble and responsive for data collection activities. This will enable research activities to more quickly ramp up, potentially eliminating some of the hurdles faced by previous study teams.”

The Committee also took note of progress by NIST in characterizing hazards associated with the event and in evaluating the effects of topography on hurricane forces related to the performance of critical buildings. The group said that “the use of field measurements and wind tunnel modeling has improved the accuracy of modeling.” In addition, the committee pointed to advances made by the study team in assessing the physical conditions of buildings and infrastructure.

The Advisory Committee's report is available here.

November 2021: National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee Meeting

At the November 8, 2021, meeting of the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee NIST Hurricane Maria Team Lead, Dr. Joseph Main, brought Committee members up to speed on the study team’s efforts. He cited recent progress by NIST and its contractors, including:

  • Completion of key wind tunnel tests and computer analyses of the effects of topography on winds; development and initial use of a new computational model to capture the effect of tree cover on wind speed profiles; and continuation of wind speed measurements on cell towers in Puerto Rico, with additional steps taken for improved accuracy
  • Initiation of advanced rainfall and flooding analyses, through a new collaboration with Bristol University, and analysis of US Geological Survey data from stream gauges
  • Completion of design, fabrication, and wind tunnel testing of a scale model of Hospital Bella Vista, including successful simulation of topographic effects on incoming wind profiles, which will improve understanding of how winds affected that facility 
  • Conclusion of the first phase of evaluations for five selected hospital facilities and initiation of evaluation work for the first selected shelter facility

Dr. Main reported that as part of NIST’s assessment of the public’s response to emergency communications, NIST completed interviews of information providers and is evaluating the content of emergency messages. Surveys and interviews of households to identify factors that influenced the public’s response are also in progress.

Dr. Main informed the Committee that pilot interviews have been completed and additional respondents are being recruited to better understand how damaged buildings – and failures in supporting infrastructure – played a role in injuries and deaths associated with the hurricane. 

He also reported that pilot testing has been completed for surveys of school and hospital recovery, and for surveys and interviews about manufacturing and retail/service business continuity. His presentation slides are available at the following link: Hurricane Maria NCST Investigation Update, November 8, 2021.

June 2021: Federal Advisory Committee Receives Updates on Hurricane Maria Investigation

The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee received updates on NIST’s Hurricane Maria Program on June 10-11, 2021, including reports of the latest progress in carrying out each project. As part of the Federal Advisory Committee’s annual meeting, members – who reflect a cross section of disciplines related to disasters and building failures – heard from NIST project leader about additional data gathering and analysis efforts which are under way. The Committee advises NIST on carrying out investigations of building failures conducted under the authorities of the NCST Act. The meeting agenda includes links to each of the project presentations.

June 2021: Survey Launched to Learn More about Puerto Rico Public’s Response to Emergency Communications during Hurricane Maria

NIST’s Hurricane Maria team has launched a survey of the Puerto Rico public’s response to emergency communications related to the hurricane. It is part of a suite of instruments being used by NIST to improve understanding of the emergency communications environment before, during, and immediately after the 2017 hurricane. The findings are expected to lead to recommendations to enhance emergency communications in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the United States. The stratified sample of 1,500 households in selected regions of Puerto Rico will be asked questions on hurricane preparedness and risk awareness prior to Hurricane Maria, messages and information received, and conditions and considerations surrounding respondents’ decisions to evacuate or not to evacuate from their homes. Individual responses, which should take about 25 minutes to provide, will be confidential and aggregated for reporting.

“Survey results will be analyzed along with findings of a content analysis of emergency messages, interviews with emergency officials and information-providers, and selected follow-up interviews at the household level,” says NIST project lead Dr. Katherine Johnson. Other NIST team members include Drs. Emina Herovic and Emily Walpole, who will be assisted by several university students. NIST and supporting contractors, Horsley Witten Group, Inc., Eastern Research Group, Issues & Answers, and Albizu University in Puerto Rico, are currently recruiting respondents for surveys for this project. All data collection will be conducted in Spanish to best represent the perspectives of respondents.

April 2021: Survey Launched to Learn More about Deaths Tied to Hurricane Maria

Researchers at the George Washington University and the University of Puerto Rico will launch a first-of-its-kind survey to investigate the causes of direct and indirect deaths that occurred in Puerto Rico during the first two weeks after Hurricane Maria in 2017. It will not be attempting another assessment of the total number of fatalities attributable to Hurricane Maria. Instead, the project will help identify the factors and socio-environmental conditions that led to the deaths that occurred. Investigators from the University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus will contact people who can provide information on individuals who died. Family members and others will be asked questions aimed at finding the socio-environmental conditions that might have contributed to a death, including building failures, damaged roads that blocked access to a hospital, or a lack of power to run home medical equipment.

The survey takes about 45 minutes to complete and individual answers will be kept confidential. The data will be aggregated and used in a report with recommendations for improving building codes and other standards that could prevent injuries and deaths in the future. “By participating in the survey and telling us your story, our research team should be able to identify stressors suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that could be associated with excess mortality in Puerto Rico,” Pablo Mendez Lazaro, an associate professor of environmental health at the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Health, said. “All your experiences, barriers, knowledge, perspective, risks and vulnerabilities are crucial and your story will be useful to health officers, decision makers, emergency preparedness personnel and Puerto Rico residents, as it helps to prepare for and to mitigate the potential effects of hurricanes.”  Recommendations will relate to codes and practices in Puerto Rico and across the U.S. More information is available here:

March 2021: NIST HM Team Briefs Business Association in Puerto Rico

Members of the Puerto Rico Chapter of the Association of Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS) received an update on NIST’s Hurricane Maria program on March 11th. Dr. Maria Dillard, Associate Team Lead,  and Dr. Jennifer Helgeson, a research economist who heads up the team’s project studying the recovery of business and supply chains, offered insights into NIST’s progress to date and plans to gather and analyze additional data. During the webinar, APICS members offered their perspectives on how the hurricane affected their businesses and supply chains, including how the loss of communications capabilities affected their ability to resume operations.

March 2021: Team Members Share Progress on Puerto Rico TV Program

Two members of the NIST Hurricane Maria National Construction Safety Team (NCST) appeared March 4th on “Noticentro al Amanecer,” a popular Puerto Rico news program. The morning show is hosted by Ada Monzón, Chief Meteorologist at Noticentro al Amanecer-WAPA TV, WKAQ 580 am, and Noticel. Dr. Judith Mitrani-Reiser (Associate Chief of the Materials and Structural Systems Division and leader of one of the Team’s projects) and Dr. Luis Aponte-Bermúdez (Professor of wind and structural engineering at the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez and an NCST member as well as a project contractor) described the purpose of the study and progress made to date. They also cited plans to gather information directly from the public in Puerto Rico through upcoming surveys and interviews and how that data would contribute to NIST’s recommendations to improve building codes, standards, and practices intended to help communities in Puerto Rico and across the U.S. to be more resilient. The Spanish language news segment is available at this link: Ciencia y Meteorología: Estudio evalúa el aprendizaje que dejó el huracán María.

January 2021: NIST Reports Progress in Learning from Hurricane Maria’s Impacts on Puerto Rico

NIST has released a report summarizing progress in its multi-year study of Hurricane Maria’s impacts on Puerto Rico. In this effort, launched in 2018, NIST seeks to understand:

  • the hurricane’s wind environment and the conditions that led to injuries and deaths;
  • how critical buildings and designated safe areas within them performed—including their dependence on electricity, water, transportation, and other infrastructure;
  • how emergency communications systems performed and the public’s response to such communications;
  • and the impacts to, and recovery of, selected businesses, hospitals and schools, as well as the critical social functions they provide.

In issuing the report, Joe Main, NIST’s lead technical investigator for the program, said, “Ultimately, the goal of this effort is to learn from the failures that occurred and to recommend improvements to building codes, standards and practices that would make communities more resilient to hurricanes and other hazards in the future, not only in Puerto Rico, but across the United States.”

This progress report, Learning from Hurricane Maria’s Impacts on Puerto Rico / Aprendiendo del impacto del huracán María en Puerto Rico, explains the rationale for this effort, the specific regions of focus selected by the interdisciplinary team, and the approach that NIST is using. The report is available in both English and Spanish. Highlights of progress-to-date presented in the report include:

  • development of an initial wind-field model for the hurricane;
  • evaluation of the effects of Puerto Rico’s mountainous topography on local wind speeds using:
    • wind tunnel testing,
    • computational modeling, and
    • measurements from anemometers deployed on cell towers in Puerto Rico;
  • engineering evaluation of critical buildings through document collection and review, and through drone photography to support the fabrication a scale model for wind tunnel testing of a selected hospital facility;
  • development of survey and interview data collection instruments to evaluate public response to emergency communications, as well as the recovery of schools, hospitals, businesses, and critical infrastructure;
  • site visits to document challenges and progress in the recovery of business and supply chains;
  • status of information requested and obtained from other organizations; and
  • overview of contracts awarded to support the program.

“Our extensive data collection effort includes a variety of social science and engineering methods and is greatly enhanced by the expertise of local contractor teams in Puerto Rico,” said Maria Dillard, the associate lead technical investigator. Following the completion of data collection and analysis, NIST will issue public reports describing the findings and recommendations resulting from this effort. NIST will provide regular updates of progress through the Hurricane Maria program website and presentations to the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee.

September 2020: University Researchers to Aid NIST in Study of Hurricane Maria Deaths

NIST awarded a contract to the Milken Institute School of Public Health (SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) to identify deaths in Puerto Rico directly and indirectly tied to Hurricane Maria – especially those associated with building failures. In 2018, Milken Institute SPH researchers published a report finding an estimated 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria. The new project aims to cast light on how damaged buildings and infrastructure played a role in the injuries and deaths associated with Hurricane Maria. The project will focus on identifying specific causes of death, including indirect deaths that might have been missed in the past. It will not produce another death count.

This project is a collaboration between teams at the Milken Institute SPH, the University of Puerto Rico-Graduate School of Public Health, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and NIST. Details about the contract are available here.

June 2020: NIST Adds Two Members to Hurricane Maria Team

NIST’s Hurricane Maria team announced on June 3, 2020, that Dr. Katherine Johnson (Jo) has been added to the Hurricane Maria Team. Dr. Johnson is a NIST natural hazards social scientist and earthquake risk mitigation policy analyst. Within the Hurricane Maria Program, Dr. Johnson leads a project that focuses on investigating the role of emergency communications in public response for those under imminent threat. She also contributes to a Team project characterizing the performance of critical buildings. Her experience includes involvement in a long-term collaborative project to build resilience in a rural and low-lying coastal social-ecological system on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

At the same time, NIST has added Dr. Luis Aponte-Bermúdez to the Hurricane Maria Team. Aponte is both a federal contractor working on the Hurricane Maria program (via Stantec Consulting Services, Inc.) and a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Surveying at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. With that university for nearly 14 years, Dr. Aponte specializes in measurements and modeling of the wind environment in Puerto Rico and in assessing post-hurricane building damage. His focus as Hurricane Maria Team member will be on the performance of critical buildings.

May 2020: Public Health Expert Added to Advisory Committee

Dr. Kimberley Shoaf is the newest member of the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee, which advises NIST on the agency’s disaster investigations. Dr. Shoaf has substantial public health experience as an educator, trainer, and researcher. Dr. Shoaf has worked with more than 50 local health departments, assisting them with disaster response preparedness through training, assessments, exercises, and the development of written response plans.  She is a Professor in the Division of Public Health and Associate Chief for Community-Engaged Scholarship at the University of Utah. Previously, Dr. Shoaf was Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters, including serving as the principal investigator for the UCLA Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center.

March 2020: FEMA Shares Information with NIST on Hurricane Maria Damage to Schools and Hospitals

On March 13, 2020, NIST and FEMA finalized two Memorandums of Agreement for sharing of information on damage to schools and medical facilities caused by Hurricane María. These agreements, in addition to two Memorandums of Agreements signed previously in November 2019, have laid the groundwork for an effective partnership between NIST and FEMA for studying and learning lessons from the damage that occurred to these critical facilities. Ultimately, the findings and recommendations resulting from this partnership will enable Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States to be more resilient against future hurricanes and other natural hazards.

March 2020: Contract Awarded to Support Engineering Evaluations of Critical Building Performance

The Hurricane Maria Program is now receiving engineering support in evaluating the performance of critical buildings through a contract awarded to Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., on March 3, 2020. Designated key personnel on the Stantec team include the Project Manager, Juan C. Virella Crespo, PhD, PE, president of Virella Crespo & Associates, based in Mayagüez, and the Field Team Leader, Luis D. Aponte-Bermúdez, PhD, PE, a Professor at the University of Puerto at Mayagüez with expertise in structural and wind engineering.

February 2020: NIST Hurricane Maria Leadership Changes Announced

Dr. Joseph Main has moved into the Team Lead position for NIST’s Hurricane Maria Program as of February 13, 2020. Since the effort was launched in 2018, Dr. Main has served as the team’s deputy, with the title of Associate Lead. He also leads a project focused on the performance of critical buildings during Hurricane Maria. Dr. Maria Dillard becomes the NIST Hurricane Maria Program’s Associate Team Lead, and she continues to lead a project that examines the recovery of services provided by schools and hospitals and the role these social institutions play in the recovery of communities following Hurricane Maria. Dr. Dillard also serves as Acting Director of NIST’s Disaster and Failure Studies Program. Dr. Katherine “Jo” Johnson has moved into the Project Leader role for a project that examines public response to emergency communications. The Hurricane Maria Program leadership changes come with the departure from NIST of Dr. Erica Kuligowski, who has been heading the program since its inception and was also leading the emergency communications project. After 17 years at NIST, Dr. Kuligowski will become a Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, where she will conduct research related to evacuation behavior in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) fires. For more complete descriptions of the NIST Hurricane Maria team, see:

January 2020: Contract Award Advances NIST’s Hurricane Maria Projects

Multiple NIST Hurricane Maria projects are now receiving social science data collection support through a contract awarded recently to Horsley Witten Group, Inc. For example, contractors will assist the Public Response to Emergency Communications project by surveying households in regions at risk of floods and landslides in Puerto Rico. In addition, they will interview officials who provided emergency information to the public prior to the hurricane to better understand the factors that influenced households to evacuate to safety and the role emergency communications played in those decisions. The contractors will also provide data collection services for three projects relating to recovery after the hurricane:

  • Recovery of Business and Supply Chains: Contractors will support the project by surveying small- and medium-sized businesses – in the manufacturing, retail, and service sectors – to improve understanding of business continuity resilience planning. Interviews with representatives knowledgeable of the supply chain will also be conducted.
  • Recovery of Social Functions: Contractors will survey schools and hospitals to identify the underlying characteristics and conditions associated with recovery of critical social functions
  • Infrastructure Systems Supporting Critical Buildings and Emergency Communications: Contractors will conduct semi-structured interviews to examine dependencies of building function on infrastructure (power, water, and transportation), including cascading loss of function and sequencing of recovery activities.

NIST and Horsley Witten Group – along with subcontractors Eastern Research Group, Issues & Answers, and Albizu University in Puerto Rico – held a kick off meeting for this work on February 10, 2020, at NIST.

December 2019: NIST Hurricane Maria Team Members Meet with PREPA Board Members

Members of NIST’s Hurricane Maria team met on December 9, 2019, with members of the board that oversees the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The meeting focused on the hurricane’s impact on the utility’s ability to meet the island’s electric power needs during and after the event and recovery efforts. Building on meetings the NIST team has had with PREPA staff, the discussion included aspects of the interdependencies of the power system with other parts of Puerto Rico’s physical infrastructure such as water and wastewater, transportation, and communications. The meeting took place in Washington, D.C.

December 2019: Hurricane Maria Projects Described to Congressional Committee

Several NIST Hurricane Maria projects were described in testimony presented to the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in  a  December 4, 2019, hearing, entitled “Calm Before the Storm: Reauthorizing the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.” The federal interagency science-based program focuses on achieving major measurable reductions of losses of life and property from windstorms. Witnesses from federal and state government agencies, academia, and the private sector covered a range of issues related to hazard characteristics of hurricanes and tornadoes, the development of building standards and codes, and emergency management practices. In addition to NIST’s lead agency role in NWIRP, the agency conducts a range of wind-related research – including three Hurricane Maria projects. As part of his testimony, NWIRP Director Scott Weaver described NIST’s work on that program. More information and the full hearing can be found through the following link: NWIRP Reauthorization Hearing.

October/November 2019: NIST Staff Travel to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria Meetings

Nine members of NIST’s Hurricane Maria team met with officials from Puerto Rico government agencies between October 28 and November 6, 2019, to review the program and relevant projects and to gather information needed to advance the study. In San Juan, NIST staff discussed the ongoing studies – which will make recommendations to improve the resilience of Puerto Rico and other areas of  the U.S. – with officials at the Department of Health as well as the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Telecommunications Regulatory Board, Planning Board, Permit Management Office, Puerto Rico Ports Authority, Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewer Authority, and the Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3).  Team members also met with Directors of Emergency Management Zones in Arecibo, Caguas, Humacao, and San Juan, and with faculty at the Río Piedras and Mayagüez campuses of the University of Puerto Rico as well as the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico. In addition, they visited several facilities important to the study, including hospitals and cell towers, and held meetings with companies providing communications services across Puerto Rico.

November 2019: Meteorologist Joins NIST’s Hurricane Maria Team

NIST’s Hurricane Maria team announced on November 3, 2019, that it has added expertise in meteorology and weather-related communications with the addition of Joel Cline, Coordinator for the Tropical Program at the National Weather Service (NWS). Cline worked as a lead forecaster for the National Hurricane Center in Miami for nine hurricane seasons, including Hurricane Andrew, and for several years at a Weather Forecast Office in Raleigh, NC. He was a forecaster for the 1999 World Games of the Special Olympics, the 2001 World Cup, and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics. Cline has provided critical forecasts to wildfire crews in major fires and led the tropical program and tsunami services after the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami. He has also headed the Department of Energy’s renewable energy initiative to improve forecast models on the same scales for wind and water energy efforts. Cline holds BS degrees from North Carolina State University in Meteorology and Computer Science, MS degrees from the University of Miami in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, and an honorary Ph.D. from Texas Tech University. As part of the Hurricane Maria team, Cline focuses on investigating the role of emergency communications in public response for those under imminent threat; he also is contributing to the hazard characterization project.

July 2019: Senior Puerto Rico Government Officials Meet with NIST Hurricane Maria Team

From July 23-26, 2019, members of NIST’s Hurricane Maria study team met individually with high-level officials from seven Puerto Rico government departments and agencies in San Juan. The sessions were aimed at explaining NIST’s multiple projects under the Hurricane Maria program and describing the range of information being requested by NIST. Erica Kuligowski, leader of the NIST program, headed the five-member team which met with: Economic Development and Commerce Secretary Manuel Laboy Rivera, Education Secretary Eligio Hernandez Perez, Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez-Mercado, Transportation and Public Works Secretary Carlos Contreras Aponte, Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Sandra Torres Lopez, Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency Deputy Director Karla Fraguada, and Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority Vice President of Strategic and Corporate Planning Ryan Arrieta. The NIST team also met with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other U.S. government officials during the visit to San Juan. NIST expects to return later this summer to meet with officials from other agencies.

May 2019: Hurricane Maria Wind Tunnel Testing Contract Awarded

On May 1, 2019, NIST awarded a contract for boundary layer wind tunnel testing to the University of Florida. This contract will provide reduced-scale simulation of wind flow to characterize the influence of topography on wind speeds in Puerto Rico and to evaluate the resulting wind effects on buildings during Hurricane Maria.

April 2019: Translation and Interpretation Support Contract Awarded

On April 23, 2019, a contract for translation and interpretation support services was awarded to the woman-owned small business Translating Services, Inc. This contract will support the translation and interpretation needs for the Hurricane Maria Program.

February 2019: NIST Hurricane Maria Team Briefs Puerto Rico Department Head

On February 26, 2019, leaders of the NIST Hurricane Maria Program provided a briefing to Hon. Manuel Laboy, Secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC) and Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company (PRIDCO), along with Dereck Negron Torres (Policy Advisor, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration) and Amy Rendon (Chief of Staff/Senior Advisor, Puerto Rico Dept. of Commerce). The briefing, which took place at the Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C., described NIST's plans and recent progress in studying the impacts of the September 2017 hurricane on Puerto Rico and its people. NIST aims to recommend improvements to building codes, standards and practices to make communities across the U.S. more resilient to hurricanes and other hazards.

February 2019: Technical Writing, Graphic Visualization Contract Awarded

On February 26, 2019, NIST awarded a contract for technical writing and graphic visualization support to the woman-owned small business, CATMEDIA. This contract will support the documentation and publication needs for the Hurricane Maria Program.

February 2019: NIST Team Adds Emergency Communications, Response Expertise

On February 21, 2019, the Hurricane Maria team welcomed its newest member: Ms. Camila Espina. Within the Hurricane Maria Program, Ms. Espina is involved in a project that focuses on investigating the role of emergency communications (among other factors) in public response for those under imminent threat from Hurricane Maria. Ms. Espina is a Mass Communication Ph.D. candidate from the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  She holds a Master of Arts in Media Studies from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, and a Bachelor of Arts in Information and Journalism from the School of Public Communication at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

February 2019: NIST Awards Wind Data Analysis and Modeling Contract

On February 8, 2019, a contract to perform analysis of the wind field in Hurricane Maria was awarded to Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA). This contract will provide wind data analysis and hurricane wind field modeling to reconstruct the surface-level winds in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria, including consideration of topographic effects, in support of the Hazard Characterization Project within the Hurricane Maria Program.

September 2018: Experts in Post-Disaster Data Collection Review Practices

On September 6-7, 2018, NIST and the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health held an open meeting to discuss the state-of-the-practice in post-disaster field data collection methods, including sampling methodologies across multiple disciplines. The agenda for the meeting can be found here: Sampling Methods Meeting Agenda.

August 2018: Federal Advisory Committee Briefed on Hurricane Maria Projects

On August 30, 2018, NIST hosted the annual meeting of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee. The session included a review of progress on the NCST investigation of Hurricane Maria’s effects on Puerto Rico. More information about the meeting can be found here: August 30, 2018, NCSTAC Meeting.

August 2018: Hurricane Maria Projects Presented at Annual Disaster Resilience Meeting

NIST hosted a symposium August 14-15, 2018, featuring the agency’s 2016 Disaster Resilience Grant Research Program recipients. These 12 recipients of disaster resilience research grants totaling just over $6 million convened to share insights and findings based on the research topics funded under the 2016-NIST-DR-01.  The following links provide access to the Keynote PresentationDisaster and Failure Studies Overview, and the NCST Technical Investigation of Hurricane Maria and its Impacts on Puerto Rico Overview.

May 2018: NIST Issues News Release on Hurricane Maria Study

On May 16, 2018, NIST published a news release to announce the study of Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico by the National Construction Safety Team. The press release can be found here: NIST Launches Study of Hurricane Maria’s Impact on Puerto Rico.

May 2018: NIST Discusses Goals, Plans for Study of Hurricane’s Impact on Puerto Rico

On May 16, 2018, NIST held a meeting open to the public with the National Construction Safety Team Advisory Committee to discuss NIST's objectives and planned deployment for the study of Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico. The presentations made to the Committee can be found here:  May 16, 2018, NCSTAC Meeting Presentations.




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Created March 22, 2018, Updated April 11, 2024