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New National Hurricane Center is reinforced concrete bunker in Miami


MIAMI, Fla. -- The one-story structure with its rooftop row of antennae and satellite dishes may not look that imposing, but don't be fooled by the new National Hurricane Center, probably the safest shelter in South Florida.

Dedicated this week to coincide with yesterday's beginning of the 1995 Atlantic hurricane season, the $5 million structure contains 3,000 cubic yards of concrete, enough to build 1 mile of interstate highway.

It was designed to withstand 130-mph winds and -- a government brochure says -- a direct hit by a "250-pound projectile at 60 mph."

"As is most humanly possible, it is hurricane-proof," said Jerry Jarrell, the acting director. "I use those words because somebody also said the Titanic was unsinkable."

The 25,000-square-foot concrete-gray interior contains the latest storm tracking and forecasting technology, dozens of computers and radar sensing screens protected by steel doors and more concrete.

At the dedication, U.S. Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown announced that Robert Burpee, 53, the nation's top hurricane researcher, would replace Bob Sheets as the center's director. After eight years at the helm, Mr. Sheets retired May 2.

Mr. Burpee, a 24-year veteran meteorologist and hurricane specialist, is a graduate of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"I have no concerns whatsoever about the center's operations under Bob Burpee," said Mr. Sheets. "He has an impressive technological background, but he has something to learn about media interaction."

Mr. Sheets said he was not prepared for the onslaught of television cameras and reporters who would accompany approaching storms and hurricanes. It is the one task for which there is no training among hurricane trackers, he said.

The new center had been planned since 1988, four years before Hurricane Andrew sparked the overhaul of South Florida building codes. Mr. Jarrell said the center's shutters and walls exceed the code.

The facility is surrounded by a 10-inch-thick concrete shell and elevated 5 feet above the flood plain. All openings are protected by removable storm panels and roll-down shutters.

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