THE uNIvERSITY IS one of the 11 public universities that make up the Florida State University System and is located in the city of Miami. The bill providing for the establishment of Florida International University (FIU) was signed into law in 1965. In 1969, the country's youngest university president at that time, Charles E Perry, took charge at 31 years of age. The university accepted its first 5,667 students in September 1972. About 38,000 students are currently enrolled in over 280 majors. FIU has 10 academic colleges including South Florida's first public College of Medicine. The School of Hospitality is ranked among the best in the country, catering to Florida's top industry, tourism. The university is home to the National Hurricane Center. FIU is at the forefront of research on hurricane damage mitigation and the management of South Florida's unique wetlands.
The city of Miami, also known as the gateway to South America, is home to a large population of Spanish-speaking immigrants and has seen tremendous growth in housing to accommodate this influx of people. High rates of population growth and housing development in hurricane vulnerable states, such as Florida, mean increasing risk to human life and prop erty. One of the first major storms to be recorded and measured in Florida was the Great Miami Hurricane, which swept over the center of the city in September 1926, as a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simp-son scale, damaging every building in the downtown area and causing many deaths. On August 24, 1992, hurricane Andrew powered across the southern tip of mainland Florida as a Category 4 storm with even stronger winds gusts, and left behind over $20 billion in wind and water damage. On August 25, 2005, hurricane Katrina passed over Miami as a Category 1 storm before it gathered strength and brought devastation to New Orleans.
As part of an effort to protect the millions of dollars invested in research programs at universities, the federal government set up the Disaster Resistant University (DRU) program. In 2007, FIU became the first public university in Florida to become DRU-certified. Under this program, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has responsibility for reviewing and approving the DRU certification. When a major storm requires the evacuation of people from locations vulnerable to wind damage, storm-surge, or flooding, the university is one of the designated hurricane shelters for residents of Miami-Dade County. Also, when a Category 3 or higher hurricane threatens the Florida Keys, FIU is the officially designated shelter for people seeking sanctuary from the approaching storm.
The steady increase in societal and economic risks associated with storm events comes at a time when researchers in the United States have linked the increasing number of north Atlantic hurricanes to climate change. In 2007, the State of Florida took a step in advancing its climate research capabilities and ability to significantly reduce hurricane damage by awarding $18 million for hurricane research, including $15 million for the construction of the International Hurricane Research Center (IHRC) located at FIU. The IHRC houses a machine called the Wall of Wind powered by race car engines and capable of simulating Category 4 hurricane winds and rain, to create and test hurricane-resistant construction techniques and materials in order to improve the safety of residences and businesses.
The Florida Hurricane Alliance (FHA), coordinated by the IHRC, is a collaboration of engineers, meteorologists, biologists, epidemiologists, and others from universities across Florida. The FHA focuses on hur ricane-related loss reduction by conducting research, such as studies on the effects of storm-surge along Florida's long and highly-developed coastline. IHR scientists at FIU's Laboratory for Coastal Research measure changes in shoreline and beaches in response to short-term events such as hurricanes and also over longer periods of time. At other FIU laboratories, satellite images are combined with computer animation to create simulations and interactive visuals for training and outreach. Research is also being done to develop energy-efficient equipment and solar energy powered buildings. With the price of weather and storm-related events on the increase, researchers are modeling insurance costs under different scenarios of damage, finding ways to providing incentives for people of protect their homes, and developing new wind-resistant structures for homes and businesses.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC), located on the campus of this university, is one of nine units that make up the National Centers for Environmental Prediction. The NHC is the main institution capable of analyzing and coordinating complex hazardous weather information and producing tropical cyclone forecasts for 24 countries in the Americas and the Caribbean. NHC collaborates with FIU and many other universities in activities such as the Joint Hurricane Test Bed, a multi-faceted effort to improve and expedite tropical cyclone forecasts. The mission of the NHC is to provide the best forecasts possible that will save human lives and property. In the event of a major storm, NHC's weather forecast bulletins help administrators and politicians reach important decisions that affect millions of people around the country.
The university is only 25 mi. (40 km.) from the Everglades National Park, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. FIU is also a short drive from the open waters of the Florida Bay, the Bis-cayne National Park, and White Water Bay. The university is suitably positioned for conservation and management studies in marine and freshwater habitats. FIU's new program in Marine Biology seeks to take advantage of this unique environment by offering courses to university and advanced high-school students. Also at FIU, the Southeast Environmental Research Center (SERC) was established in 1993, to conduct ecological studies within South Florida's wetland environments threatened by urbanization, water diversion, and agricultural practices. Funded by the National Park Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, South Florida Water Management District, National Science Foundation, among others, SERC's scientists work throughout the region using state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment to monitor the state of marine and freshwater ecosystems.
SEE ALSo: Florida; Florida State University; Hurricanes and Typhoons; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
BIBLIoGRAPHY. Florida International University, www. fiu.edu (cited November 2007); "From Fan's Whirlwind, Researchers Reap Data to Brace Home," Wall Street Journal (August 7, 2007); G.J. Holland and P.J. Webster, "Heightened Tropical Cyclone Activity in the North Atlantic: Natural Variability or Climate Trend?" (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 2007); National Hurricane Center, www.nhc.noaa.gov (cited November 2007).
Rahul J. Shrivastava Florida International University
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