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:
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: https://mediarelations.gwu.edu/survey-launched-learn-more-about-deaths-tied-hurricane-maria
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:
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:
“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: https://www.nist.gov/topics/disaster-failure-studies/hurricane-maria/hurricane-maria-team
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:
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 Presentation, Disaster 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.