Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Hurricane Maria Program FAQs

  1. Why is NIST conducting a scientific and technical investigation of Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico?
    • NIST is seeking to learn lessons from Hurricane Maria, specifically relating to the wind environment; the performance of critical buildings, emergency communications systems and the public’s response to these systems; and the technical conditions associated with deaths and injuries, in order to recommend improvements to building codes, standards and practices so that communities across the U.S. can become more resilient to hurricanes and other disasters. 


  1. Why is NIST conducting this investigation under the authority of the National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Act?
    • The National Construction Safety Team Act, signed into law on Oct. 1, 2002, authorizes NIST to establish teams to investigate building failures. As a non-regulatory agency, NIST does not consider findings of fault, responsibility, or negligence. NIST is using the authorities granted through the NCST Act to provide for the establishment of investigative teams to assess building performance and emergency response and evacuation procedures in the wake of building failures that have resulted in substantial loss of life in Puerto Rico. The mission of the NIST investigation is to improve the safety and structural integrity of buildings in the United States, consistent with the Congressional intent of the NCST Act.


  1. What are the goals of the Hurricane Maria investigation?
    • The goals of the NCST investigation are to characterize: (a) the wind environment and technical conditions associated with deaths and injuries; (b) the performance of representative critical buildings and designated safe areas in those buildings, including their dependence on infrastructure, such as electricity, transportation, and water; and (c) the performance of emergency communications systems and the public’s response to such communications.


  1. What did NIST learn from its December 2017 reconnaissance mission to Puerto Rico?
    • NIST deployed four personnel to Puerto Rico in December 2017 to make first-hand observations of the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  NIST observed significant damage to buildings and infrastructure from high winds and debris, coastal and inland flooding due to high levels of precipitation, non-structural building damage due to wind-driven rain, significant storm surge in coastal communities, and landslides in mountainous communities.  Additionally, NIST observed significant communication and emergency management challenges during the storm and in the response and recovery periods.


  1. Will the investigation look at emergency communications, evacuation procedures and public response along with the performance of buildings and infrastructure?
    • Yes.  Evacuation planning, emergency messaging, and the corresponding public response can play a major role in determining the outcome of a major hurricane.   


  1. Is NIST working with other federal agencies, such as FEMA, on this investigation?
    • NIST began coordination with other Federal agencies, even before Hurricane Maria made landfall.  Many Federal agencies have complementary authorities in the periods before, during, and after a major disaster.  To maximize our effectiveness, NIST strategically leverages the ongoing efforts of other Federal agencies when planning and carrying out investigations.  With respect to Hurricane Maria, NIST has partnered directly with:
      • FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team (MAT) working in Puerto Rico.  NIST has a staff member appointed as a MAT member.  NIST and FEMA share information, where appropriate and permissible.  The purpose of the MAT study is to quickly inform rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico through recovery advisories, training, and reports.
      • The NIST Director has appointed Dr. Thomas Kirsch, Director of the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health at the Uniformed Services University, as a member of the NCST Team.  Dr. Kirsch will investigate the nature of deaths and injuries in Puerto Rico, with emphasis on establishing linkages between Hurricane Maria attributable deaths / injuries and the performance of buildings and infrastructure as well as emergency communications.
    • In addition, NIST is in contact with many other Federal agencies, including, but not limited to, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Economic Development Administration (EDA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation (NSF).


  1. Is NIST working with local agencies in Puerto Rico on this investigation?
    • Yes.  NIST is in contact with local and regional emergency management officials; local building departments, transportation and other public utilities; local and regional education officials and staff; as well as local, regional, and Commonwealth elected officials and civil servants. 


  1. Is NIST consulting with academic and others non-governmental experts on this investigation?
    • Yes.  NIST is in contact with an array of private entities across both Puerto Rico and the mainland United States, where private sector expertise and knowledge can advance our technical goals.  Where necessary, NIST is actively procuring relevant expertise or services through the Federal acquisitions process.


  1. How will the findings and recommendations from an investigation based on an island hazard event be relevant for mainland communities?
    • The effects of wind, rain, and storm surge on buildings and the response of residents to emergency communications is not unique since Puerto Rico is an island. Further, the investigation will be focused on critical buildings designed and constructed in accordance with the same building codes and standards used in mainland communities. Much of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico experienced wind speeds near the design level prescribed in building codes throughout the United States and therefore, findings and recommendations are anticipated to be broadly applicable.


  1. How much will the investigation cost and how is it being funded?
    • The Hurricane Maria Investigation costs will not be fully known until the investigation is complete.  However, in FY18, NIST allocated just over $5M to start the investigation.  These funds come from redirecting other NIST funding to this effort.


  1. How long will it take to complete the investigation?
    • NIST will conduct the Hurricane Maria investigation until the stated goals and objectives are completed.  Historically, NCST Investigations of similar scale and scope have taken three to four years to produce a final technical report and recommendations for public comment. 


  1. How will the recommendations from the investigation be disseminated?
    • NIST will publish recommendations as part of a final technical report.  NIST is non-regulatory and does not issue building codes or standards.  Therefore, pursuant to a public comment period, NIST is committed to working with all relevant public and private partners to implement the recommendations in the appropriate building codes, standards, and practices. 


  1. What will be NIST’s role in getting the recommendations incorporated into improved building codes, standards and practices?
    1. NIST will advocate for implementation of all recommendations resulting from NCST Investigations.  The role for NIST will be tailored to each recommendation – where appropriate, NIST may designate a lead entity for a recommendation and provide any necessary assistance towards implementation.  NIST may take a leading role in other recommendations, depending upon the appropriateness of the role. 


  1. Will federal rebuilding dollars be tied to implementing recommendations? 
    • Several Federal agencies, including FEMA, HUD, and EDA are directly involved in the provision of “rebuilding dollars.”  The NCST Act authorizes NIST to establish the likely technical factor or factors responsible for the damage, failure, and/or successful performance of buildings and/or infrastructure, evaluate the technical aspects of evacuation and emergency response procedures that contributed to the extent of injuries and fatalities sustained during the event, and determine the procedures and practices that were used in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the buildings and/or infrastructure.  The nature of this mandate requires an investigative effort that typically extends beyond the rebuilding period for a specific event.  However, it is expected that the results from NIST NCST Investigations will improve outcomes for future events once the recommendations are adopted or implemented.


  1. NIST sent researchers on reconnaissance missions in 2017 following two other hurricane events: Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Why is the agency not conducting NCST investigations or case studies under other authorities on these events?
    • Upon reviewing the findings from reconnaissance missions to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, NIST observed that the Hurricane Maria event provided the following unique opportunities:
      1. Sustained design level or near-design level winds of 140+ mph across a broad geographic region;
      2. Severe impacts to critical buildings, including hospitals, schools, and businesses;
      3. Damages from multiple hazards, including winds, debris loads, flooding, and landslides;
      4. Topographic effects that may exacerbate severe wind loads; and
      5. Scale of damages that resulted in a prolonged recovery trajectory.
Created October 23, 2018