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Florida researchers work to prevent hurricane disasters

  • Study: 25% of Floridians say they would ignore hurricane evacuation orders
  • Research goal: Mimic what Mother Nature can do to prevent city-wide damage
  • Expert: "Our radar tells us it's coming, but still a rollercoaster ride"

MIAMI (NewsNation) — Hurricane season starts Thursday, and a new AAA study found that most Floridians don’t actually plan for dangrerous tropical storms. However, that’s the opposite of what’s going on at Florida International University, where researchers have been working for years to prevent citywide disasters.

At FIU, researchers recreate hurricane-like conditions in hopes that they can help cities be more prepared for when storms do hit.

Inside the Wall of Wind center — a testing ground that allows researcher to push the limit — there are a dozen fans capable of destruction that create Category 5 wind speeds up to 157 mph mixed with rain.

“We can test structures, and see how they’ll hold up to those strong hurricane winds,” Erik Salna, the associate director of education and outreach at the FIU Extreme Events Institute, said.

The goal of the equipment is to mimic what Mother Nature can do.

“How can we design them to be stronger? Think of cell towers. How can you make them more resilient? Or big construction cranes and downtown environments,” he said.

One in four Floridians ignore evacuation orders if a hurricane is expected to head toward them, according to the study by AAA. About 40% of those people said they want to stay to keep an eye on their property, while 17% expressed fear of looting.

“I was surprised that the the numbers were very similar to last year, especially when you consider what we experienced during last year’s hurricane season,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.

Back inside the 16,000-square foot wind playground, researchers simulated the worst-case scenarios to prepare for the real thing.

“And certainly, we’ve got our radar to tell us it’s coming. But it’s still a rollercoaster ride, you don’t know when those ups and downs are going to happen,” said Jason Dunion with the University of Miami Cooperative Institute for Marine & Atmospheric Studies, a NOAA Hurricane Field Program.

As for those who said they would evacuate, more than half said they would only leave their homes if the storm was a Category 3 or 4.


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