FIU 2015 hurricane season experts


FIU has several experts who are available to discuss various issues related to hurricanes and their consequences.

For help reaching FIU’s hurricane experts please contact FIU’s Office of Media Relations at 305-348-2232 or:

  • Maydel Santana-Bravo, director: 305-348-1555,
  • Madeline Baro, communications and PR manager: 305-348-2234,
  • Lilyvania Mikulski, strategic PR manager : 305-348-2716,
  • Isabel Gamarra, senior PR associate: 305-348-6944,
  • Dianne Fernandez, broadcast relations manager t: 305-608-4870,
  • JoAnn Adkins, associate director of marketing & PR for the College of Arts & Sciences: 305-348-0398,
  • Ileana Varela, associate director of marketing & PR for the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine: 305-348-4926,

Social and Political Impact
Richard S. Olson,
Professor, Politics and International Relations
Director, Extreme Events Institute
Director, International Hurricane Research Center
Richard Olson researches the political fallout from natural disasters and has been involved in more than 20 field responses and post-disaster investigations. He has served 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
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. He also works on the human impact of the hurricane/climate change linkage. Gladwin’s most recent NSF-funded research 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. His hurricane-related publications cover forecast communication, evacuation decision-making, and the effects of hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, and Sandy.

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
Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Environment and Department of Economics
Pallab Mozumder 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
Director and Professor, Laboratory for Coastal Research, 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. Willoughby also served on the Florida Commission on Hurricane Loss Projection Methodology and has extensive knowledge  about hurricane impacts and insurance. For a video on Willoughby, please click here.

Ioannis Zisis
Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Ioannis Zisis has been studying wind effects on the built environment for more than 10 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 beach 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.
Cell: 305-238-5888

Erik Salna
Associate Director, Extreme Events Institute (EEI) & International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC)
Erik Salna works with the Wall of Wind research team and coordinates education and outreach activities. He has experience as a broadcast meteorologist and within both non-profit and for-profit environments in meteorology, mitigation, preparedness, education, media and EOC activations.  Before EEI & IHRC, he worked at America’s Emergency Network, which focused on live video streaming technology. He also 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.

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.

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 at FIU’s Wall of Wind, a facility where full-scale houses can be tested in conditions that most closely resemble those of a hurricane.

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 the director of FIU’s Marine Education and Research Initiative for the Florida Keys, the principal investigator of FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research laboratory, a professor of biology and a member of FIU’s Southeast Environmental Research Center.

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.

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 the 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.

Shahid Hamid
Professor, chair and professor, Department of Finance, College of Business
Shahid Hamid works primarily on the financial and insurance consequences of hurricanes. He heads the development and operation of the Florida Public Hurricane Loss 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.

Public Health
Juan Pablo Sarmiento
Professor, Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work
Juan Pablo 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).

Aileen M. Marty
Professor, Department of Medicine
Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program and Vaccine Clinic
Dr. Aileen M. Marty served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years specializing in tropical medicine, infectious disease pathology, disaster medicine, mass casualty, and in the science, medical response and policy involving weapons of mass destruction. Marty attended the Navy War College where she trained in strategic studies, diplomacy, joint military operations, and the art of war. Marty is one of only 403 people listed in the international roster as a member of the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Team for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Please contact Ileana Varela to speak with Dr. Marty.