FIU 2014 hurricane season experts

named-hurricane-franFIU has several experts who are available to discuss various issues related to hurricanes and their consequences.

Social and Political Impacts

Richard Olson
Director of Extreme Events Research, Division of Research and Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations
Richard Olson researches the political fallout from natural disasters and has been involved in more than 20 field responses and post-disaster investigations. He serves on the Climate Change and Social Stress panel of the National Academy of Science and has written extensively about urban vulnerability to disasters and the political ramifications of how governments respond. Olson speaks Spanish.

Hugh Gladwin
Associate Professor, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies
Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Gladwin has closely followed how people prepare for and are affected by hurricanes. He has collaborated with FIU and other researchers on more than 15 National Science Foundation (NSF), State of Florida, and FEMA funded projects studying hurricane preparation/evacuation behavior and disaster resilience. Gladwin’s current NSF-funded research (three NSF grants, including one on Sandy) focuses on communication of hurricane forecast meteorology and expected storm effects. He was a member of a NOAA working group on social science research needs for the hurricane forecast and warning system, work that has resulted in new research initiatives from NSF, and he is currently a member of the NHC Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project Socio-Economic Working Group and the Miami-Dade County Local Mitigation Strategy Steering Committee. He also works on the human impact of the hurricane/climate change linkage and was an appointed member of the Miami-Dade County Climate Change Advisory Task Force. His hurricane-related publications cover forecast communication, evacuation decision-making, and the effects of Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina.

Maria Ilcheva
Senior Research Associate, FIU Metropolitan Center
Maria Ilcheva is investigating how prepared Floridians are to face hurricanes and how they use information toward their preparations. Ilcheva is examining the measures residents, businesses and public officials are taking to mitigate the effect of hurricanes and what barriers exist to implement optimal preparedness. Ilcheva’s hurricane research focuses on the real and perceptual changes in homeowners insurance. Ilcheva specializes in the administration of surveys, polls and interviews, data analysis and reporting.

Pallab Mozumder
Assistant Professor, Department of Earth & Environment and Department of Economics
Pallab Mozumder is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth & Environment with a joint appointment in the Department of Economics at FIU. He also coordinates the Social Science Research Lab at the International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC). He is an environmental economist with expertise in socio-economic aspects of natural hazards. His research on hurricane risk mitigation and evacuation behavior has been funded by federal and state agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Florida Department of Community Affairs and Florida Sea Grant.

Meteorology and Storm Effects

Keqi Zhang
Acting Interim Director and Associate Professor, International Hurricane Research Center
Keqi Zhang uses laser mapping technology to develop better flood and evacuation zone maps. Current maps have a margin of error of at least three feet, which makes the designation of flood zones extremely inaccurate. Zhang uses a laser-based radar technology mounted on airplanes called Laser Image Detection Ranging (LIDAR).  Zhang is working on more accurate simulations of storm surges along the coast, which takes into account different storm intensities, tides and other factors.

Hugh E. Willoughby
Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Earth & Environment
Hugh Willoughby researches tropical cyclone formation and intensification and has flown more than 400 missions into the eye of storms as a meteorologist for the federal government.  Willoughby was a Research Meteorologist at the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, where he worked since 1975 and served as director from 1995 until 2002. For a video on Willoughby, please click here.

Ioannis Zisis
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
348-4869 (office)
Ioannis Zisis has been studying wind effects on the built environment for more than eight years. His research focus is structural and environmental wind engineering. He has been using advanced experimental methods, including wind tunnel and full-scale monitoring techniques, to examine how residential and other structures react to extreme wind events. The outcomes of his research efforts are aiming at the development and improvement of national and international wind standards and building codes of practice. He can discuss wind-induced loads and damage on buildings, and the use of experimental wind engineering to study extreme wind effects.

Stephen P. Leatherman
Professor, Department of Earth & Environment
Stephen Leatherman’s major research focuses on storm impacts on coastal areas, including erosion and storm surges.  He has given expert testimony to U.S. Congressional committees more than a dozen times on issues such as coastal storm impacts and federal disaster response.  He was the review coordinator for the National Academy of Sciences & Engineering for the federal study of the breaching of the New Orleans levees and flooding by Hurricane Katrina.

Ping Zhu
Assistant Professor, Department of Earth & Environment
Ping Zhu’s researches different processes responsible for the formation, development, and dissipation of clouds. His research involves the use of mathematical models that help understand how clouds develop and sustain themselves. He has participated in many research projects funded by agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, NOAA and NASA.

Shu-Ching Chen
Professor, School of Computing and Information Sciences
Shu-Ching Chen’s team is developing simulations of storm-surge flooding along key South Florida coastal areas. As the head of FIU’s Distributed Multimedia Information Systems Laboratory, Chen uses topographical data from LIDAR, wind speed and direction, tides and other factors to create 3D visualizations of a surge. The goal is for these visualizations to assist the general public and emergency management officials in hurricane preparation and recovery efforts.

Erik Salna
Associate Director of the International Hurricane Research Center
Salna is a meteorologist and has experience within both non-profit and for-profit environments in meteorology, mitigation, preparedness, education, media and EOC activations.  Before IHRC, he most recently worked at America’s Emergency Network, which provides live video streaming technology.  He has recently served as Project Coordinator for the non-profit Hurricane Warning at the Disaster Survival House, located in Deerfield Beach.  He also recently served as Hazard Mitigation Manager for the City of Deerfield Beach, was on the city’s Crisis Activation Team and participated in all activations of the emergency operations center.  Salna has many years of experience as a broadcast meteorologist, providing live continuous coverage for hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding.

Storm Damage Mitigation

Arindam Gan Chowdhury
Director, Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research and Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Arindam Chowdhury is a wind engineer working on technology to test the effect of hurricane-force winds and rain on buildings and construction materials. The project, dubbed the “Wall of Wind” is being developed at the IHRC’s Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research, of which Chowdhury is the director. The Wall of Wind is a facility where full-scale houses can be tested in conditions that most closely resemble those of a hurricane.


Shahid Hamid
Professor, College of Business Administration
Shahid Hamid heads the development of a public computer model that forecasts the insurance losses caused by hurricanes. As the director of the FIU International Hurricane Research Center’s Laboratory for Insurance, Financial and Economic Research, Hamid leads a multi-disciplinary team of more than 15 professors and experts, and a dozen graduate students, who work on the model. Hamid is a professor of Finance the College of Business Administration.

Public Health

Juan Pablo Sarmiento, MD, MPH
Professor and researcher, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work 
Juan Pablo Sarmiento, M.D., MPH, is a professor and researcher in the department of health policy and management at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. He is a surgeon with both a master’s degree in medical education from the University of the Sabana (1998) and a master’s degree in project administration from the University for International Cooperation in Costa Rica (2004). He completed post-graduate studies in disaster management (Oxford, Great Britain-1989); high level public administration (Colombian Superior School of Public Administration – 1996) and a residence in nutrition (Tufts University, U.S.A. 1998).

Dr. Sarmiento’s professional and research experience spans 33 years and includes working in Colombia for the Civil Defense, Central Military Hospital, Ministry of Health, Colombian Red Cross, and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Additionally, he worked as a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO); he was member of United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams, and, for ten years worked as the technical manager of the regional risk management program that the International Resources Group (IRG) implemented in Latin American and the Caribbean for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA). Dr. Sarmiento’s research has been published in health, health education, risk assessment, and disaster management focused publications in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Environmental and Ecological Storm Impacts

James Fourqurean
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
James Fourqurean studies the impacts of hurricanes on the shallow water marine ecosystems of South Florida and the Caribbean. He is a member of FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center and directs the Seagrass Ecosystem Research Laboratory at FIU.

Suzanne Koptur
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Suzanne Koptur studies damage and recovery from hurricanes in different kinds of upland forests; with special attention to plant community structure, and the effects on the insects associated with plants. Koptur teaches courses in Ecology and does research in South Florida and the Caribbean in the area of plant/animal interactions.

Steve Oberbauer
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
Steve Oberbauer has researched how Everglades forest ecosystems respond to hurricane damage. For a video on Oberbauer, please click here.

Michael Ross
Associate Professor, FIU Southeast Environmental Research Center
Michael Ross has worked extensively on the ecological effects of Hurricane Andrew in mangrove forests and coastal hammocks. He is working with FIU International Hurricane Research Center to explore the use of airborne light detection and ranging technology in gaining a larger-scale perspective of hurricane effects on the natural environment.

Joel Trexler
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences and Director of Marine Sciences Program
Joel Trexler has researched the impacts of hurricanes on the wetland ecosystems of South Florida and the effects of those storms on populations of aquatic animals in the Everglades. For a video on Trexler, please click here.

For questions or assistance in contacting any of the following experts, please call the Office of Media Relations at 305-348-2232 or reach us individually at:

Maydel Santana-Bravo, director: 305-348-1555,
Madeline Baro, associate director: 305-348-2234,
Lilyvania Mikulski, asst. director: 305-348-2716,
Dianne Fernandez: 305-608-4870,
Isabel Gamarra: 305-348-6944,
JoAnn Adkins, asst. dir. of marketing & PR for the College of Arts & Sciences: 305-348-0398,
Jim Hellegaard, asst. dir. of marketing & PR for the College of Engineering & Computing: 561-319-2233,


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