Tropical Storms & Hurricanes: Threat Analysis

Risk Assessment

What is the historical probability of occurrence for a tropical storm at FSU?

Likely. Tropical storm conditions occur more frequently in Tallahassee than do hurricane.  FSU will experience tropical storm conditions on average once ever 3 to 4 years.  51 tropical storms have occurred here over the last 172 years.  The last tropical storm to affect FSU was Tropical Storm Debby in 2012. 


What is the historical probability of occurrence for a hurricane at FSU?

Occasionally. Statistically, hurricanes directly impact Tallahassee on average once every eight years (21 hurricanes in the last 171 years). However, we know from historical hurricane climatology that the frequency of storms comes in multi-decadal cycles where there will be long stretches between active periods of numerous storms. Needless to say, we are statistically well overdue for a direct hurricane strike on the Tallahassee area since the most recent hurricane to affect this region was Hurricane Kate in 1985. 


What is the historical probability of occurrence for a major (category 3+) hurricane at FSU?

Very Seldom. Only three major (category 3) hurricanes have impacted this region in 1851, 1877, and 1894. No category 4 or 5 hurricanes have ever been documented in this area.  That is not to say that it cannot happen. 


Are there enhanced environmental conditions that enhance to the risk?

Yes - Seasonal and Climatctic.  Tropical storms and hurricanes are most likely to occur during a period of the year referred to as hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30.  During this time period, there is an ehanced risk of occurrence.  Likewise, research has shown that there are long periods in time, called multi-decadal cycles, that result in greater or fewer storms on an annual basis. We are currently in an overall period of average to above-average tropical activity.


Are there any mitigating factors in place that reduce the risk?

No - Unmitigated.  Occasionally, we will observe certain meteorological patters, such as El Nino, which could have a "calming" effect on a particular hurricane season. This pattern does not currently exist.  However, keep in mind that even if there are fewer storms in a given year, it only takes one to ruin your day.  1992 was an El Nino year and it was the first "A" storm of the year that has reshaped Florida history forever: Andrew.  

Consequence Analysis

What is the threat to public health?

None to Death.  Tropical Storms and Hurricanes pose a high risk to the health of the public, including the FSU campus community.  Injuries can include: none, aggravation of pre-existing conditions, minor injury, major injury, long-term or permanent injury or even death.  


What is the threat to responder health?

None to Death.  First responders, designated university employees, contractors and other people responding to the impacts of a tropical storm or hurricane on campus face many risks to their health and life safety.  Injuries can include: none, aggravation of pre-existing conditions, minor injury, major injury, long-term or permanent injury or even death. 


What is the threat for structural damage?

None to Major.  Depending on the strength of a tropical storm or hurricane, structural damage to buildings on campus may occur.  A weak tropical storm may cause no damage whatsoever.  The most likely impact from a category 1 or greater hurricane is the loss of glass windows and doors by high winds and debris. Loss of roof coverings, partial wall collapses, and other damages requiring significant repairs are possible in a major (category 3 to 5) hurricane. The level of damage is commensurate with the strength of the storm, as explained by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale


What is the threat for property (grounds) damage?

None to Major.  Depending on the strength of a tropical storm or hurricane, damage to the campus grounds may occur.  A weak tropical storm may cause no damage whatsoever.  The most likely impact from a category 1 or greater hurricane is damage to trees, landscaping, and some erosion. Severe loss of foliage and damage to trees is likely in a major (category 3 to 5) hurricane. The level of damage is commensurate with the strength of the storm, as explained by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale


What is the threat for infrastructure damage?

None to Major.  Most of the University's infrastructure on campus is located below ground and moderately protected from hurricane force winds.  However, some of University's utility infrastructure is dependent upon off-campus resources which may be more vulnerable.  Loss of electic power, potable water, telecommunications, wastewater and other critical utilities is very possible during a hurricane, especially major (category 3+) storms.  Some of this damage can be so severe that it may take days to weeks to restore. 


What is the threat for service delivery impacts?

None to Major.  As a result of potential structural, grounds, and infrastructure damages, it is a distinct possibility that the University will be unable to resume the delivery of some critical services for an extended period of time.  This may result in the inability to resume core missions and functions such as academics and research. 


What is the threat for environmental impacts?

None to Major. While tropical storms and hurricanes are unlikely to cause direct environmental impacts, it is possible for indirect cascading incidents to occur.  For example, high winds and debris may result in damage to an above-ground fuel tank, resulting in a significant petrochemical spill. 


What is the threat for economic / financial impacts?

None to Major.  The University has historically been able to recover well financially after past disasters through a combination of State of Florida self-insurance and FEMA disaster aid.  However, in 2004 and 2005, other state universities in Florida sustained over $20 Million in unrecovered losses which they needed to absorb from normal operating budgets.  The threat of a major financial impact due to a devastating hurricane is very real and could result in significant programmatic budget cuts, furloughs, layoffs, or program elimination.


What is the threat for impacts upon regulatory / contractual obligations?

None to Major.  A devastating hurricane impact to the University could result in the inability for the institution to meet cetrain regulatory and contractual obligations.  For example, significant damages to residence halls could result in the termination of leases.


What is the threat for an impact upon the reputation of the institution or public confidence?

None to Moderate.  Should the University fail to properly prepare for, respond to or recover from a hurricane, public confidence in the institution could suffer.  This can be especially true if there is any perceived coverup, unethical or illegal activities.