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The first topic selected for the DRC It! hurricane project focused
on how residents decide whether and when to evacuate from an
approaching hurricane. It’s a topic that draws intense interest from
emergency professionals each hurricane season, which
began June 1.
you’re conducting scholarly research in disaster science, you can
expect to spend weeks or months reading the related studies others have
published and analyzing their significance to your own work.
On the other hand, if you’re an emergency official in a small town
that could be in the path of an oncoming hurricane, you probably don’t
have time to pore over research journals to help you prepare —
especially during this Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1
amid the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
That’s where the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center (DRC) comes in.
Already recognized as the nation’s oldest research center dedicated
to the social science aspects of disaster, the DRC has added a new
public outreach service in which graduate students compile high-quality
research on a variety of topics and summarize it in ways that are clear
and easy to understand.
Called DRC It! (“If you don’t know it, DRC It!”), the
website is designed to assist emergency management professionals and the
public as they make plans to respond to and recover from disasters.
“There are a lot of emergency managers who do follow the research,
but with everything they’re handling, their time is stretched thin,”
said Logan Gerber-Chavez, a graduate research assistant in the DRC and a
doctoral student in disaster science and management. “We see this as a way to make their jobs a little easier.”
Gerber-Chavez and Aimee Mankins, also a DRC graduate research
assistant and a master’s degree student, spent months reading and
summarizing hundreds of research papers and developing the online
presentation of their findings. The first two topics focus on
evacuations during hurricanes and on business recovery after disasters
such as fires or floods. They expect to post new topics every several
“We’ve reached out to emergency management professionals to get their
input on what is most useful to them,” Mankins said. “We’re trying to
create a bridge between practice and scholarship, and we want this
information to be accessible to everyone, especially to people in
The first topic was selected because of wide interest in how
communities can best respond to the threat of hurricanes. The DRC fields
questions every year during the season about when to encourage or order
evacuations, the most effective ways to get the word out about an
approaching storm and how residents decide whether and when to leave
“DRC has always been engaged with our partners in the emergency
management community, and we want cutting-edge science to inform
practices,” said Joseph Trainor, associate professor of public policy
and administration and a core faculty member in the center. “The idea
for an initiative like this came from many years of hearing that
research ideas were useful but were not always accessible for a number
of reasons. We wanted to be part of the solution to that problem.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
At work on the DRC It! project at the University of Delaware’s
Disaster Research Center are (from left) Aimee Mankins, Joseph Trainor,
Logan Gerber-Chavez and Tricia Wachtendorf.
In the short time since the project has been available online,
emergency management professionals across the country have offered
“extremely positive feedback,” said DRC Director Tricia Wachtendorf, who
is also professor of sociology, women and gender studies, and public
policy and administration.
“Community engagement is so important to us at DRC, and to UD more broadly,” she said. “DRC It!
is an excellent example of how our students can develop work that is
scientifically grounded but meets the audience where they are, with an
appreciation of the time commitments practitioners are under.”
The new outreach project has significant benefits for the students
involved as well, as they not only develop their research skills but
also get real-world practice in communicating information and best
practices to professionals and the public.
“We’re doing our best to write in a style that’s different from an
academic journal,” Mankins said. “We’ve really learned a lot about how
to communicate and how to collaborate with partners.”
A group of graduate students — Mankins, Gerber-Chavez and disaster
science management students Connor Dacey and Karen Montes-Berrios —
started thinking about the project more than two years ago,
brainstorming topics and planning the research and presentation process.
For the hurricane evacuation topic, Mankins and Gerber-Chavez first
used the DRC’s extensive library — physical and electronic — to begin
collecting all published studies that might be relevant. Then, they
read, reread (several times) and categorized the various reports in
preparation for writing summaries.
Each topic offers readers the chance to read one or more studies in
detail or merely skim the key findings. The students also worked with an
animator and wrote the scripts to create illustrated videos for each
topic, a tool that managers might use for general community outreach or
other non-professional communications.
“I’ve learned so much in this process, including how to read the
research more critically,” Gerber-Chavez said. “You learn these skills
in grad school, of course, but this project was sort of a fast-track way
to develop them.”
The second topic, now posted, focuses on how businesses recover
from disasters. The research on business recovery hasn't yet
incorporated the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, according to
"There will be much to learn in the coming year on how that recovery
is similar or different from disasters caused by hurricanes or
earthquakes," she said. "Still, we know that some businesses will have
thrived, some who were struggling prior will not be able to recover, and
not all forms of insurance will be able to help businesses through the
crisis. There are already some commonalities readily apparent."
To see the research summaries and other information on DRC It!, visit this website.
Article by Ann Manser; photo and illustrations courtesy of Disaster Research Center
Published June 10, 2020