Hurricane Irma Experts

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, FIU experts are available for media inquiries.

For help reaching FIU’s hurricane experts, please contact:

  • Madeline Baro, associate director: 305-310-9665,
  • Dianne Fernandez, broadcast media manager: 305-608-4870,
  • Ileana Varela, associate director of marketing & PR, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine: 305-633-3341,
  • Cynthia Corzo, assistant director of media relations & communications, College of Business: 305-965-4709,
  • Millie Acebal, account manager, College of Engineering & Computing: 305-321-0344,
  • Amy Ellis, communications manager, Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs: 352-999-0577,

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.

Eduardo Gamarra
Political Science Professor
Political Science Professor Eduardo Gamarra has done research on the regional dynamics of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Haiti and the Dominican Republic. He is well versed on political, social and infrastructure issues in Haiti. He is the author of more than half a dozen books and more than forty academic articles on Latin America. Professor Gamarra 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.

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.

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.

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.

Disaster Management
Ruben D. Almaguer
Assistant Vice President of Disaster Management and Emergency Operations 
Executive Director for the Academy for International Disaster Preparedness
Almaguer oversees the Department of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Health & Safety, and the Florida Advance Surgical Transport Team. Formerly, he served in Monroe County Fire Rescue Department, Florida, as the Chief of Emergency Medical Services. He served as the Interim Director and Deputy Director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Prior to this, he worked for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department as a Division Chief and led many FEMA and OFDA Urban Search & Rescue Teams (FL-FT1) to over 27 natural and manmade disasters. Some responses included earthquakes in Venezuela, Colombia, Taiwan, and Turkey; hurricanes and floods throughout Central America, Africa, and the Caribbean, including hurricane Katrina; as well as responses to the Oklahoma City Bombing and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Storm Damage Mitigation
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.

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.

Insurance, Infrastructure and Business Impacts
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.

Eli Beracha
Faculty Director of the Master of Science in International Real Estate (MSIRE) Program
Professor at FIU’s Tibor and Sheila Hollo School of Real Estate
Beracha conducts empirical research in the areas of real estate and finance. Among the courses he teaches are: Real Estate Invest, Real Estate Market Analysis, and Real Estate Markets, Institutions and Practices. He has years of practical experience in the area of real estate investments and has served as a consultant for real estate development projects.  He’s also managing editor of the Journal of Real Estate Practice and Education and is an elected member of the board of directors of the American Real Estate Society.

William Hardin
Director, Tibor & Sheila Hollo School of Real Estate
Director, Jerome Bain Real Estate Institute
Hardin is an a recognized expert on commercial real estate markets, financial markets and securitized real estate. A member of the board of directors of the American Real Estate Society, he has authored or co-authored some 40 papers on varied topics in commercial real estate investment, including REIT governance and financial structure. Dr. Hardin is co-editor of Journal of Real Estate Practice and Education and is an elected member of the board of directors of the American Real Estate Society.

Atorod Azizinamini
Director, Accelerated Bridge Construction-University Transportation Center and Chair, Department of Civil and Environmental
Azizinamini is one of the world’s leading bridge engineers, and an expert in accelerated bridge construction (ABC). ABC is a cost-effective method of repairing bridges quickly and safely with minimum disruption to traffic flow. In addition to bridge infrastructure post-storm, he can also discuss nondestructive testing methods to identify any deficits a bridge may have before re-opening to traffic. Azizinamini is a leader in developing innovative bridge systems and implementing novel concepts in practice. His patented “Folded Plate Girder” system provides a cost-effective solution for replacing deficient short span bridges, which account for the majority of the 650,000 bridges in the U.S. bridge inventory.

Arindam Gan Chowdhury
Director, Laboratory for Wind Engineering Research and Associate 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.

Aileen M. Marty
Professor, Department of Humanities, Health, and Society
Director, FIU Health Travel Medicine Program and Vaccine Clinic
Aileen M. Marty, a physician, is a member of the FIU-FAST (Florida Advanced Surgical Transport) team which is trained to treat and evacuate critical care patients in a disaster. During her 25-years in the U.S. Navy, she specialized in tropical medicine, infectious disease pathology, disaster medicine, mass casualty, and in the science, medical response and policy involving weapons of mass destructions (WMDs). Dr. Marty serves on the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.
Please contact Ileana Varela to speak with Dr. Marty.

John A. Rock
Founding Dean, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, FIU
Rock was Chancellor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center where he provided disaster management leadership during and after Hurricane Katrina. He is a national expert on disaster resilience including health care and education recovery, and how to protect research data and other assets during storms and disasters.
Please contact Ileana Varela to speak with Dr. Rock.