Gulf Coast universities team up to address hurricane resilience

December 13, 2017
UF News

New multi-state institute focuses on reducing damage from severe storms

A new multi-institution research center that includes the University of Florida will focus on helping the Gulf Coast do better at preparing for and mitigating the damage and loss of lives from hurricanes and other severe storms.

The Hurricane Resilience Research Institute, or HuRRI, draws upon the strengths of its seven participating universities, from flood mitigation and hurricane modeling to public policy. Applications for the first round of research funding will be due in early 2018.

In addition to UF, the institute includes six other universities located in states spanning the Gulf of Mexico: University of Houston, Rice University, the University of Texas-Tyler, Texas Tech University, Louisiana State University and the University of Miami.

Amr Elnashai, vice president for research and technology transfer at UH, which will lead the institute, said the concept came together after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria plowed through Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, illustrating the need to look at severe storms and their aftermath in a different way.

“Much attention has been paid to understanding how hurricanes form and move, as well as coastal vulnerabilities,” Elnashai said. “But there has not been a systems view that accounts for the interactions and inter-connectivity of impact and resilience of all societal support functions, to manage assessment, impact, response and recovery as a continuum, thus protecting vulnerable communities.”

Chimay Anumba, dean of the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning, said UF brings key disciplines needed to address resilience to the problems posed by hurricanes.

“HuRRI provides an excellent vehicle for UF to collaborate with colleagues from our partner universities to minimize the impact of hurricanes and other extreme weather events,” Anumba said. “This builds on ongoing multidisciplinary research currently underway in our colleges.”

UF DCP faculty’s expertise in built environment resilience, adaptive planning and design, innovative construction, and sustainability will be deployed in the new institute. UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering faculty will provide state-of-the-art wind tunnel and destructive testing capabilities as well as its field reconnaissance program to study the effects of damaging winds.

Hanadi Rifai, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of civil and environmental engineering at UH, will serve as director. Her work includes an ongoing study of the chemical and microbiological contamination in Houston waterways after Harvey.

Each institution brings unique research capabilities – in engineering, science, policy, education and technology – and significant institutional support that will be supplemented with external grants and contracts and cooperative agreements to launch projects in hurricane resilience.

Rifai said the institute’s work will focus on “anticipating and accommodating” the storms’ impact, rather than the current model of waiting for a storm to pass and then devoting funding to repair and recovery. “It will take an enormous number of resources to influence a paradigm change and offer evergreen solutions for hurricane resilience for affected communities,” she said.

Researchers from the seven institutions will be eligible to apply for the initial round of internal funding, which will require collaboration with at least one faculty member from another member institution.

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