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UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss hurricane season

UNC-Chapel Hill experts available to discuss hurricane season

Hurricane season officially began on June 1 and is now hitting peak period as Tropical Storm Gordon approaches the central U.S. Gulf Coast. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers and faculty are available to provide insight on storm surge and flooding, water quality, beach erosion and other storm-related issues.

Carolina experts are also available to discuss recovery-related research in the wake of hurricanes.

If you’d like to speak with an expert, call (919) 445-8555 or email


Norma Houston is a lecturer in public law and government at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. Houston is an expert on the laws and authorities related to emergency management, including state of emergency declarations, and is often on the front lines with North Carolina public officials during hurricanes. She works closely with the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management year-round to help local governments prepare for natural disasters and she curates an emergency management website for North Carolina public officials. Houston is also an expert in local government law and procurement and, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, has been helping local governments navigate federal procurement regulations around FEMA reimbursements. She can discuss what local governments are authorized to do during disasters, how they should prepare for scenarios like evacuations and debris removal, and federal regulations like FEMA contract requirements.

Rick Luettich is the director of UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, North Carolina and the lead investigator of the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center. He is a leading global expert on storm surge and is on the front lines when it comes to predicting a storm’s potential impact, as co-developer of ADCIRC, a system of computer programs used to predict storm surge and flooding. These prediction models are updated every few hours – the most recent model can be found here. Agencies and organizations including Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard and the emergency operations centers in several coastal states use Luettich’s model to assess risk, for design protection and to make decisions during storm events. He can discuss coastal risk, protection and forecasting storms.

Luettich’s research and ADCIRC model has also been used to design protection systems around New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and around New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. Most recently ADCIRC provided extensive storm surge and flooding predictions for the major landfalling hurricanes during the 2017 hurricane season. 

Rachel Noble is a distinguished professor at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. Her research focuses on public health issues surrounding water quality, including stormwater, drinking water and extreme conditions like those following a tropical storm or hurricane event. Her current work highlights the use of rapid tests to protect public health from waterborne diseases. She can discuss how to protect human health by better understanding pathogens and the risk they pose to the public, particularly after storm events.

Noble’s research and rapid method tests have been used on both coasts and the Great Lakes to protect public health. She is currently working with the Environmental Protection Agency on the implementation of methods to rapidly test E. coli at beaches. She is actively working with municipal wastewater agencies in California, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland on improved approaches to protect the public from contamination events in a more timely manner.

Hans Paerl is a distinguished professor of marine and environmental sciences at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. He is a water quality expert, focused on the harmful effects of toxic algae for both people and aquatic ecosystems. He can discuss the long-term impact of these blooms, including excessive nutrient inputs leading to algal blooms and their detrimental effects, including low oxygen (hypoxia), fish kills and toxicity of blooms, including digestive, liver and neurological impacts on human health.

Paerl’s recent study demonstrates that over the past 2 decades, tropical cyclones around the globe are increasing in both frequency and intensity. This has led to greater impacts to coastal watersheds including more fish kills, larger algal blooms, and larger low oxygen “dead zones.”

Carter Smith is a doctoral student at the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences. She studies the benefits of living shorelines, an alternative to seawalls, as a solution to combat erosion and property loss during storms. Living shorelines are both more cost effective than seawalls in the long-term and are ecologically more sustainable. She can discuss how homeowners and property managers can better protect coastal properties from hurricanes.

Gavin Smith is director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center and a research professor in the department of city and regional planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. He leads the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative, working with federal, state and local leaders on addressing community needs after the 2016 storm. Following Hurricane Katrina, he worked in the Mississippi Office of the Governor and provided policy change recommendations to improve the delivery of post-disaster recovery and reconstruction activities. He also previously served as the assistant director for hazard mitigation for the state of North Carolina. He can discuss the disaster recovery and hazard mitigation process, particularly the role of states.


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