Florida International University (FIU) is an urban, multicampus, public research university (designated as an R1 Doctoral University–Highest Research Activity under the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education). FIU is located in southeastern Florida and is the largest Hispanic-serving institution in the continental United States.
As a Carnegie-engaged university, FIU emphasizes research as a core component of its mission, with major research projects based locally and abroad. FIU has consistently increased its research infrastructure to support the goals of research breakthroughs and discoveries, and it is conscious of its responsibility to effectively address the diverse hazards that affect its research resources and the safety of personnel. The FIU Office of Research and Economic Development provides leadership in research administration, supports the endeavors of the university’s research community, and ensures the responsible stewardship of research activities.
The university’s research facilities include 950 research and wet research laboratory services (469,579 square feet), 613 dry research laboratory and dry laboratory services (93,160 square feet), 59 clinical and research services (13,744 square feet), and 35 animal quarters and services
1 This case study was prepared by the following individuals at Florida International University: Amy B. Aiken, M.S., Director, Department of Emergency Management; Luis Salas, J.D., Associate Vice President for Research, Office of Research and Economic Development; Jose A. Rodriguez, R.A., Director, Facilities Operations, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine; Regnier A. Jurado, Director, Research Management Solutions, Office of Research and Economic Development; and John A. Rock, M.D., Founding Dean and Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine
(8,254 square feet). These overall numbers include self-supporting core recharge units that provide services to the FIU community and the private sector, for a fee. The most important of these are the Advanced Mass Spectrometry Facility; the Aquarius Reef Base and its support services (e.g., pressure chambers and four large vessels); the Center for Imaging Science, which houses a 3T Siemens MAGNETOM Prisma MRI; the Forensic DNA Profiling Facility and Trace Evidence Analysis Facilities; the Nutrient Analysis Lab; the Peripython Analysis Facility; the Soil and Sediment Biogeochemistry Lab; the Plant Tissue and Soil Analysis Lab; and a Stable Isotope Lab. Because they utilize advanced technologies, these facilities require additional and special responses to the challenges presented by storms. FIU also manages a fleet of five airboats and 12 additional boats between 14 and 26 feet in length, operates an open-circuit wind tunnel (the “Wall of Wind”) large enough to accommodate large structures and capable of simulating Category 5 hurricane winds, and manages a large solar panel farm and its control room.
Research facilities are housed primarily in seven buildings on the Modesto A. Maidique campus, in one building on the FIU Engineering Center, and in one building on the Biscayne Bay Campus. All research buildings are supported by individual electrical generators which provide emergency power to most research labs by plugging critical equipment into designated outlets.
GENERAL PREPARATIONS FOR THE ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30; peak activity typically occurs during the months of August and September. Prior to the hurricane season, hurricane preparedness plans are updated, phone and emergency contact lists are reviewed, all first-aid kits are checked, all areas housing hazardous materials are reviewed for being properly secured and their materials being properly labeled, and priority samples are stored in freezers connected to emergency power. Office of Research and Economic Development personnel coordinate with FIU Facilities’ building managers, FIU Environmental Health and Safety, and other specialists to schedule visits to each building that houses laboratories. All principal investigators and lab managers in the selected buildings are warned that a forced shutoff of power will occur and are advised to take necessary precautions and be present in their labs on indicated dates. Office of Research and Economic Development, Environmental Health and Safety, and Facilities staff visit each of the labs in the building, review the placement of equipment and access to emergency outlets, shut off power to the building, review the automatic engagement of the building generator, and visit all labs housed in
the site to ensure that all emergency power is functional and that necessary deficiencies are addressed.
FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine additionally conducts preseason preparation seminars for staff and students. In 2016 a presentation tailored to College of Medicine research personnel was conducted, providing an overview of preparedness for, response to, and recovery from a hurricane; the presentation addressed the assignment of responsibilities and the importance of documentation in recovery and claims processes.
FIU RESPONSE TO HURRICANE MATTHEW
On September 22, 2016, a tropical wave developed off the coast of western Africa; by September 29 the tropical wave had developed into Hurricane Matthew. At this time, the FIU Department of Emergency Management began sending daily e-mail updates regarding the storm to university leadership and key stakeholders. The storm developed rapidly, and by September 30 Matthew had become a Category 5 hurricane with wind speeds reaching 160 mph.
48 Hours Before Anticipated Landfall
The National Hurricane Center issues hurricane and tropical storm watches 48 hours before a storm is expected to make landfall in a given area. As Hurricane Matthew approached the tip of Cuba on October 4, the National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm watches for Miami–Dade and Monroe counties; the FIU leadership and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) staff met in the university’s dedicated EOC to report on the preparations for the arrival of tropical storm–force winds.
Once a hurricane watch has been issued, FIU follows this process regarding its research operations: First, the Office of Research and Economic Development issues an advisory to principal investigators and lab managers regarding the latest information from the FIU Emergency Management team. This advisory instructs principal investigators and lab managers to prepare to suspend experiments involving hazardous materials and to not begin new experiments; to coordinate with the Office of Research and Economic Development and Environmental Health and Safety to update all hazardous materials inventories in the Environmental Health and Safety database; to autoclave or inactivate infectious waste; and to make any necessary changes to shipments of laboratory items ordered. The on-campus chemical supply store is also advised to delay or reroute receipts of chemicals or other research materials ordered. Scientific Receiving is advised to deliver or secure any lab materials it currently holds. The Office of Research and Economic Development provides the FIU Police
Department with a list of all personnel allowed to remain on or enter the campus during the storm.
36 Hours Before Anticipated Landfall
The National Hurricane Center issues hurricane and tropical storm warnings 36 hours before a storm is expected to make landfall in a given area. As Hurricane Matthew continued to approach Florida on October 5, the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for Miami–Dade County. The FIU president declared a state of emergency, activated the EOC, and closed the university until October 8; all classes, concerts, and athletic events were cancelled, and nonessential personnel were released from work. Updates regarding university actions were disseminated to the FIU community during this time.
The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine operates four mobile medical clinics. Prior to closure of the university, the college secured the mobile clinics at protected locations inside university garages; the clinics had to be secured before the official closure of the university because of the lead time required to secure them. Additionally, patient appointments at the on-campus Ambulatory Care Center and patient appointments at the mobile clinics require 24- to 36-hour notices of cancellation; cancellations were disseminated prior to the closure of the university. Ensuring sufficient lead time to complete these actions is a prime consideration.
Upon notification that the National Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane warning, FIU follows this process regarding its research operations: The Office of Research and Economic Development advises principal investigators and lab managers to suspend all experiments, to remove all hazardous materials from fume hoods and store them in alternative storage, to shut down and unplug all nonessential machines requiring electricity, to ensure that hoods and biosafety cabinets are left on, to set refrigeration equipment to its coldest settings, to open doors to freezer bays in areas prone to overheating due to operation of freezers plugged into electrical power and to set fans in the area, and to secure compressed gas cylinders. The Office of Research and Economic Development ensures that FIU Facilities has tested and topped off all generators. It also notifies all lab managers and principal investigators to request any necessary dry ice and notifies them of warnings for the safe management of dry ice; the Office of Research and Economic Development places orders with appropriate vendors and determines the location for pick up.
In the event that a hurricane approaches South Florida waters, the FIU Boating Safety Officer announces the closure of FIU boating by a date certain to be at least 24 hours in advance of the closure of FIU. Lead time is necessary to ensure that FIU staff have the opportunity to secure equip-
ment, research vessels, and mobile clinics, and it is generally 2 to 3 days in advance of the predicted hurricane impacts. Hurricane development can be difficult to predict, and hurricanes can develop near the South Florida coast with less time to respond than is ideal; thus, the FIU units responsible for boats must monitor hurricane conditions and work closely with the boating safety officer during the Atlantic hurricane season.
All FIU vessels are equipped with location tracking devices and communication devices. Boat management personnel are instructed to tie down vessels and to remove communication and other equipment that may be damaged. Some vessels may be transported from one campus to another, depending on the expected impact of the storm. Aquariums and algae growth sites outdoors and on the roofs of buildings are transferred indoors. Companies holding FIU service contracts are notified so that they may access the campus after the storm, if necessary. For example, the service provider for the Siemens MAGNETOM Prisma MRI inspects imaging equipment and refills the helium the day before the expected arrival of the storm; the day after the storm, the service provider determines the impact to the equipment. Wall of Wind personnel proceed to transport vehicles and equipment into the wind tunnel, secure the area, back up data, check wind-resistant windows and doors, shut off all nonessential electrical utilities, lock all doors, and vacate the facility. Because of the unique needs of animals used in research, the animal facility staff remain onsite during the storm to ensure the safety of the animals. The facility that houses animals has a dedicated backup generator and chiller to guarantee continued air flow and power during a storm.
12 Hours Before Anticipated Landfall
In the early morning hours of October 6, Hurricane Matthew shifted east, sparing South Florida. FIU used the experience from Hurricane Matthew to further strengthen its emergency preparedness capabilities. The highlights and challenges encountered by the university included
- University leadership has committed to developing a robust emergency management program by funding a dedicated department of emergency management and stand-alone emergency operations center. This enables the ongoing all-hazards training, exercises, and preparation required for a disaster-resilient university.
- University leadership and senior management conduct a minimum of three exercises annually, drawing from the Department of Homeland Security’s national planning scenarios. One of these
exercises is an annual hurricane exercise. The 2016 hurricane exercise occurred approximately 1 month prior to the development of Hurricane Matthew. Many of the same scenarios and situations featured in that exercise occurred during Hurricane Matthew, which enabled FIU to exercise its emergency plans in real time for a real-world event.
- FIU maintains a comprehensive emergency management plan that outlines university guidelines regarding preparation for, response to, mitigation against, and recovery from any emergency.
- Most of FIU’s buildings were constructed using the stringent Florida Building Code.
- Generators have been installed in most university buildings that house sensitive research.
- Contracts with specific vendors are in place for disaster response and recovery services.
- FIU has developed strong collaborations with local fire and rescue, police, and public health agencies, and it includes these entities in its exercises.
- An after-action review is conducted following every exercise and activation to identify areas for improvement.
- Individual university units are required to develop a unit-specific continuity of operations plan.
- Official university communications were disseminated; however, personnel at some satellite locations sent their own communications. Centralized, consistent messaging is key in any emergency.
- For medical facilities treating external patients within a university setting, a declaration of closure by the university may not provide sufficient lead time (especially over a weekend) for notices of cancellation of appointments, which may be in advance of official closure notices.
- Generators have been installed in most, but not all, buildings containing sensitive research. Generators are tested and fueled on a monthly basis and have been used during minor outages, but have not been used during an extended power outage. Plans must be revised to address this.
- Damage assessment teams are in place, but training and procedures need to be developed, especially when dealing with labs containing hazardous materials.
- Some key EOC staff were not available during the storm and sent alternates who had not been trained or had not participated in
exercises to the level of primary staff. Alternates need additional training and exercise.
Steps Taken After a Hurricane
South Florida and FIU were spared after Hurricane Matthew shifted east on October 6. Typically, however, FIU follows these steps in its recovery process after a storm has affected the university. Before a storm, the FIU Office of Research and Economic Development, FIU Facilities staff, and principal investigators document all safety steps taken to mitigate damage so that any necessary claims can be made to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), insurance carriers, and the State of Florida. After a storm, damages are assessed, reports are filed with Facilities Management (both for potential FEMA claims and for temporary repairs), research areas are repaired and cleaned, an inventory of damage is compiled, operation of all critical equipment and facilities is verified, hurricane preparedness procedures are updated (if necessary), and appropriate actions are taken to mitigate future losses.
All principal investigators and lab managers are notified when they can return to research facilities, are asked to check their equipment and facility, and are requested to forward notification of damages sustained as well as the mitigation steps taken prior to the storm to prevent the damage. Building facility managers, in coordination with the Office of Research and Economic Development and Environmental Health and Safety, review the damage reported by principal investigators and lab managers, complete an inventory of damage, and place work orders to remedy damage.
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