Central Florida is no stranger to strong storms and extreme weather, but a new collaboration between UCF and the City of Orlando aims to strengthen the area’s response capabilities by developing portable resilience hubs that offer power, internet and air conditioning for residents.

Through this project, Resilience, Education and Advocacy Center for Hazard preparedness (REACH) hubs will be developed thanks to a recently announced $50,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Civic Innovation Challenge program. They could be deployed any time a disaster — whether natural or human-made   —  strikes.

Leading the project is a team of UCF faculty, including School of Public Administration Assistant Professor Kelly Stevens and Associate Professor Yue “Gurt” Ge, Learning Sciences and Educational Research Assistant Professor L. Trenton Marsh, and College of Engineering and Computer Science professor Liqiang Wang and Pegasus Professor Zhihua Qu.

The REACH hubs are designed primarily for underserved communities in Central Florida whose access to key services — even outside of a disaster — may be restricted.

The REACH hubs will be able to serve two primary roles. Following disasters or local emergencies, the hubs will provide critical services such as cooling, broadband internet and reliable electricity to areas whose access to those needs may already be unstable. The hubs also will serve as hazard-preparedness and hands-on STEM education centers.

“Different types of hubs are being developed and used across the U.S., but ours is unique in that it has an equally important use during non-emergency times,” Stevens says. “Making a solar-powered, portable hub is technically challenging, but the benefits it can provide to communities whose access to standard services may already be restricted without an external shock make it well worth it.”

Stevens says that the grant also paves the way for partnership opportunities.

“The NSF CIVIC program is unique because it focuses on civic partnerships that can be quickly implemented and ultimately sustained long-term by participating local partners,” she says. “We will host a local stakeholder meeting next month with our partners and two public input meetings in December to really get feedback from the whole community.”

She says the community meetings will help determine factors ranging from what services the hubs will provide and where they will be deployed after a disaster to which educational topics should be covered during non-emergency events.

Beyond the external partnerships, Stevens says this project opens the door for new cooperation with other UCF colleagues across different disciplines.

“The research we are doing builds on interdisciplinary coordination from public administration, computer science and engineering across UCF,” she says.

The research team will have six months to prepare a plan for the REACH hub and submit it to the NSF, after which they are eligible for up to $1 million in awarded funds to execute the project.

About the Research Team

Stevens received her doctorate in public administration from Syracuse University and joined UCF’s School of Public Administration, part of UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education, in 2017.  She is a member of UCF’s Resilient, Intelligent, and Sustainable Energy Systems (RISES) Cluster and FSEC Energy Research Center

After joining UCF in 2018, Ge has since been appointed co-lead of the Urban Resilience Initiative based at UCF Downtown. He has also served on the RISES faculty research cluster since 2021. He holds a doctorate in urban and regional science from Texas A&M University.

Marsh earned his doctorate in urban education from New York University and joined UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education in 2019.

Qu arrived at UCF in 1990 after earning a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Currently the Thomas J. Riordan and Herbert C. Towle Chair of UCF’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he is also the founding director of both the RISES, a university research center on energy systems, and the multi-institutional Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources Center (FEEDER).

Wang earned his doctorate in computer science from Stony Brook University in 2006 and joined the UCF Department of Computer Science in 2015.