Dr. Erica D. Kuligowski is a research social scientist in the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Fire Group of the Fire Research Division (FRD) of the Engineering Laboratory (EL) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Dr. Kuligowski holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Colorado at Boulder, as well as a B.S. and M.S. in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. Dr. Kuligowski's Ph.D. dissertation focused on occupant decision-making and behavior performed during the pre-evacuation period of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster. Her research interests are human behavior in emergencies, focusing on decision-making and response of people under imminent threat, and the role that emergency communication plays in this process. Dr. Kuligowski joined NIST in June 2002 and has expertise in evacuation and response behavior, people movement and behavioral data collection and analysis from fires and other emergencies, emergency communications, and evacuation modeling.
Dr. Kuligowski was part of three NIST Investigation teams. She received U.S. DOC Gold Medals for her contributions to the federal investigation of the 2001 World Trade Center disaster, where she studied the evacuation of building occupants, and the federal investigation of the May 22, 2011, tornado in Joplin, Missouri, where she studied emergency communication systems and public response. Dr. Kuligowski also received the U.S. DOC Bronze medal for her contributions to the federal investigation of the 2003 Rhode Island Night Club Fire, where she performed evacuation modeling to recreate evacuation scenarios of the fire event. From April 2014 to January 2016, Dr. Kuligowski joined the Community Resilience Group of the Materials and Structural Systems Division (MSSD) of the Engineering Laboratory (EL), which developed a methodology to plan for resilience by prioritizing buildings and infrastructure systems based on their importance in supporting the social and economic functions in the community (entitled: Community Resilience Planning Guide for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems). In 2016, she was part of a team awarded the U.S. DOC Silver medal for development of this planning guide.
Currently, Dr. Kuligowski serves as the Team Lead for the NIST Hurricane Maria Program. The goals of this multi-year program are to characterize: (1) the wind environment and technical conditions associated with deaths and injuries; (2) the performance of representative critical buildings and designated safe areas in those buildings, including their dependence on distributed infrastructure such as electric power and water; (3) the performance of emergency communications systems and the public’s response to such communications; and (4) the impacts to and recovery of selected businesses, hospitals, and schools, along with the critical social functions that they provide. Within the Hurricane Maria Program, Dr. Kuligowski serves as the Lead Technical Investigator of a National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Investigation of Hurricane Maria’s effects on Puerto Rico. She is also leading a project as part of the NCST Investigation, focused on investigating the role of emergency communications (among other factors) in public response for those under imminent threat from Hurricane Maria.
Also, as part of her wildfire research, Dr. Kuligowski is leading a primary data collection effort to study protective action decision-making among households in response to the 2016 Chimney Tops 2 Fire in Tennessee.