Florida Flood Hub opens to help St. Pete become the Mecca of Marine Science • St Pete Catalyst
Starting in January, the Innovation District, in partnership with the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, will feature a center of excellence dedicated to mitigating flood risk by bringing together the brightest minds of the domain of the whole State and of the country.
The creation of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation grew out of the 1954 Senate Bill, which the state legislature passed in April. House Speaker Chris Sprowls first announced the priority legislation at a press conference at the USFSP in February. Tom Frazer, dean of the College of Marine Science (CMS), said the broad legislative package included more than $ 600 million in funding for various projects focused on climate and sea-level resilience.
Frazer said the state channeled funding through the Department of Environmental Protection and CMS was working with the agency to establish the Flood Hub. The CMS is responsible for hiring operational staff, purchasing all necessary computer hardware and data visualization software, and acquiring the necessary infrastructure to house the facility.
“It’s a good deal,” Frazer said. “It’s recognition that the University of South Florida – and the College of Marine Sciences in particular – has a long history in the field of coastal resilience.
“We have a number of experts who deal very specifically with sea level rise and other environmental risks associated with climate change.”
In addition to USF, Frazer explained that the Flood Hub provides access to expertise across the state’s university system. The facility will also take advantage of existing expertise in the field that surrounds the CMS.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the regional office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coastal and Marine Science Center of the US Geological Survey, and the National Oceanic Institute of Oceanography are all located adjacent to the USFSP and CMS campuses.
Working with these state and federal agencies, Frazier said the Flood Hub is providing an unprecedented amount of information and scientific data to inform state-level vulnerability assessments.
“These vulnerability assessments and risk analyzes feed into investments that state and local government could make moving forward…” he said.
Frazer said the Flood Hub requires a large technical support staff in addition to its director, a communications specialist and administrative assistants. He said there was a strong need for experts in data acquisition, computer modeling and data analysis, as well as experts in data visualization.
Fraser said there were even discussions about using the wealth of local St. Pete artists to create more engaging data visualizations that are easier for audiences to understand.
“This is the central part of the hub, as we envision it. These people provide the support you need for the science groups involved.
Frazer explained that science groups are working groups not employed by the Flood Hub. He said those with recognized expertise in areas related to the Flood Hub’s mission include these 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 the municipal level. Each group will have a science lead, and CMS will invite participants from within and across the Florida university system.
“The real important point here is to understand that there is a huge intellectual capacity out there,” Frazer said. “What we’re trying to do is put it together so that we can get the best scientific information available and put it in the hands of our decision makers at the state level.”
Whether it’s flooding related to sea level rise, storm surges, increased precipitation or stormwater runoff, Frazer said the ultimate goal of all people involved in the new facility is to integrate and model the information they collect.
“What is ultimately incumbent on us is to develop comprehensive models that will allow us to better plan and respond to events as they occur in the future.”
Frazer said CMS and St. Petersburg Innovation District are in close partnership to complete the installation. They identified a space in the Innovation District’s new maritime technology and defense center to house the flood center when it opened in January. The long-term headquarters of the Flood Hub and CMS will be the USF Interdisciplinary Center of Excellence and Oceanographic Sciences, or EOS.
USF President Rhea Law announced the project in November and said the state legislature had specifically requested such a facility and believed the USFSP would be the ideal location.
Frazer has called the EOS project the number one priority for USF in capital improvement. Frazer said the university’s board of trustees and board of governors have approved the project, and it is also a priority project for state officials.
“It’s a Level 1 project,” Frazer said.
The university is now working with elected officials to secure funding. Frazer noted that the state budget is signed by June 30, 2022, and said USF will receive advance notice if the project is on budget and within funding level.
“But we are planning funding for this building,” Frazer said. “And at that point, we’ll get into construction…”
Frazer expects construction of the new facility to take three years, and the Flood Hub will move into the Maritime Defense and Technology Hub until its completion.