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News and Updates

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 October 12, 2020