Beginning in January, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg will feature a center of excellence dedicated to mitigating flood risks by bringing together the brightest minds in the field from across the state and country.
The creation of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation arose from Senate Bill 1954, which the state legislature passed in April. House Speaker Chris Sprowls first announced the priority legislation at a press conference held at USFSP in February. Tom Frazer, dean of the College of Marine Science (CMS), said the broad legislative package included over $600 million in funding for various projects focusing on climate and sea-level resiliency.
Frazer said the state channeled the funding through the Department of Environmental Protection, and the CMS is working with the agency to establish the Flood Hub. The CMS is responsible for hiring operational staff, procuring all the necessary computer hardware and data visualization software, and acquiring the infrastructure needed to house the facility.
“It’s a great deal,” stated Frazer. “It’s a recognition that the University of South Florida – and the College of Marine Science in particular – has a long history in the coastal resilience arena.
“We have a number of experts who deal very specifically with sea-level rise and other environmental hazards associated with climate change.”
In addition to USF, Frazer explained the Flood Hub provides access to expertise across the state’s entire university system. The facility will also take advantage of the existing expertise in the area that surrounds the CMS.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s regional office, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal and Marine Science Center and the National Oceanic Institute of Oceanography are all located adjacent to the USFSP and CMS campus.
In conjunction with those state and federal agencies, Frazer said the Flood Hub provides an unprecedented amount of scientific information and data to inform vulnerability assessments at the state level.
“Those vulnerability assessments and risk analyses feed into the investments that the state and local government might make moving forward …” he said.
Frazer said the Flood Hub requires a large technical support staff in addition to its director, communication specialist and administrative assistants. He said there are a strong need for data acquisition, computational modeling and data analytics experts, along with those skilled in data visualization.
Frazer said there are even discussions of utilizing St. Pete’s wealth of local artists to create data visualizations that are more attractive and easily understood by the public.
“That’s the core part of the hub, as we envision it. Those individuals are providing the support you need for the science groups that are involved.”
Frazer explained the science groups are working groups not employed by the Flood Hub. He said those with recognizable expertise in areas related to the Flood Hub’s mission comprise those groups.
The first working group is designed specifically for the study of sea-level rise, and to provide the information needed to update sea level rise projections at a municipal level. Each group will have a scientific lead, and the CMS will solicit participants from within and across Florida’s university system.
“The real important point here is to under that there’s a tremendous amount of intellectual capacity out there,” said Frazer. “What we’re trying to do is assemble it in a way that we can get the best scientific information available and put it in the hands of our decision-makers at the state level.”
Whether flooding related to sea-level rise, storm surge, increasing precipitation or stormwater runoff, Frazer said the ultimate goal for everyone involved with the new facility is to integrate and model the information they collect.
“What we’re charged with ultimately is developing comprehensive models that will allow us to better plan for and respond to events as they happen in the future.”
Frazer said the CMS and the St. Petersburg Innovation District are in close partnership to bring the facility to fruition. They have identified space in the Innovation District’s new Maritime Defense and Technology Hub to house the Flood Hub upon its opening in January. The long-term home of both the Flood Hub and the CMS will be the USF Interdisciplinary Center for Excellence and Oceanographic Sciences, or EOS.
USF President Rhea Law announced the project in November and said the state legislature specifically requested such a facility, and thought USFSP would be the perfect location.
Frazer called the EOS project the number one priority for USF regarding capital improvement. Frazer said the university’s Board of Trustees and Board of Governors approved the project, and it is also a priority project for state officials.
“It’s a Tier-One project,” stated Frazer.
The university is now working with elected officials to secure funding. Frazer noted that the state budget is signed before June 30, 2022, and said USF will receive advance notice if the project is within the budget and the level of funding.
“But we’re anticipating funding for that building,” said Frazer. “And at that point, we will embark upon construction …”
Frazer expects construction on the new facility to take three years, and the Flood Hub will call the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub home until its completion.