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Volume XXXI • Number 5 May 2007 | Past Issues


Below are descriptions of recently awarded contracts and grants related to hazards and disasters. An inventory of awards from 1995 to the present is available at

A Gulf States Collaborative to Develop a Strategic Plan for a Gulf States Advanced Technology Education Center for Coastal Resources. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, $70,000. Principal Investigator: JoDale Ales, Baton Rouge Community College, (225) 219-0450,

This project is for development of an Advanced Technology Education (ATE) regional center that will educate technicians and improve the prospects of economic development associated with coastal wetlands, estuarine, and marine environments of the Gulf States. The Gulf States—Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—are geographically, socially, and economically linked and have similar job needs for environmental and engineering technicians. Skilled technicians are needed for preserving and restoring coastal and wetland ecosystems; building levees and other containment structures; building structures for offshore energy production and transport; rebuilding and repairing storm damaged infrastructure; facilitating shipping, logistics, and commerce at ports; cleaning up oil spills; implementing the designs of city planners; hurricane response; and dredging.

Inferred and Experienced Intergroup Emotions as Predictors of Helping of Victim Groups: Helping When We—Not They— Need it Most. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, $17,915. Principal Investigator: Amy Cuddy, Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management, (847) 491-3003,

The proposed research will explore how people’s perceptions of the emotional suffering of Hurricane Katrina victims—many of whom are members of stigmatized groups—influence their intentions to help or not to help. A growing body of evidence suggests that intergroup biases strongly influence people’s inferences about the emotional states of others. People are less likely to attribute higher order “human” emotions—like grief or mourning—to members of stigmatized groups. However, research has not yet addressed how biased inferences about others’ emotional suffering might influence how people respond to those others. The proposed studies examine the hypothesis that “dehumanization” of Hurricane Katrina victims will decrease people’s intentions to help Hurricane Katrina victims in general. Participants from student and non-student samples will read short newspaper articles about the victims of Hurricane Katrina in which social category information, such as race, age, and socio-economic status, is varied. Investigators will measure the effects of these social category manipulations on participants’ inferences about victims’ emotional states, participants’ experienced emotions, and participants’ helping behaviors toward Hurricane Katrina victims (via real opportunities to contribute money and time to aid organizations). The results of the proposed experiments will contribute to an understanding of how the inferred emotional suffering of victim groups affects how people respond to those victims, and more broadly, how emotions can influence potentially discriminatory behaviors.

Inter-organizational Decision Making and Organization Design for Improved ICT Coordination in Disaster Relief. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, three years, $650,000. Principal Investigator: Carleen Maitland, Pennsylvania State University, (814) 865-1372,

Highly complex decision making involving multiple organizations that have both shared and private interests poses many challenges in the critical area of disaster relief. It is difficult to understand how the structure, distribution of decision rights, and governance of a multi-organization coordination body influences decision-making processes and outcomes. Also, systematic assessment of the effects of improved decision making for related activities, such as the provision of goods in a supply chain, presents a significant challenge. This research will address these problems in the context of decision making for information and communication technology (ICT) coordination in humanitarian relief, an area which, as exemplified by the communication failures in the relief effort for Hurricane Katrina, requires significant attention.

Participating in this study are the International Working Group for Emergency Capacity Building (IWG ECB), consisting of representatives from the largest international humanitarian relief agencies, including CARE, Oxfam, and Save the Children; and HumaniNet, consisting of primarily smaller agencies. Data will be gathered using qualitative methods and will be used to modify an agent-based architecture to perform sensitivity analyses of the effects of these designs on decision making, generating recommendations for improved designs. Subsequently, the outputs of the simulation will be used in analytic models to predict the effects of decision making improvements on disaster relief supply chain performance.

The Recovery Divide: Sociospatial Disparities in Disaster Recovery from Hurricane Katrina along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, three years, $719,000. Principal Investigator: Susan Cutter, University of South Carolina, Department of Geography, (803) 777-1590,

This project looks at Hurricane Katrina and its impact on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast to understand the factors that influence the rate of recovery in the region, but more importantly, the potential inequalities in the process. The research combines baseline geographic data on the social, built environment, and hazard vulnerability of the region; a historical narrative on past conditions that influence the current (pre-Katrina) settlement history; a statistical analysis of historical rates of settlement and demographic change in the region; and forecasts for the future trajectory of settlement and demographic change as well as its geographic footprint. Lastly, the project documents the recovery processes itself and the role of inequalities in shaping it through interviews with key individuals in selected case study communities. In this way, the research not only furthers understanding of the pace of recovery and its geographic extent, but also the role of inequalities in the recovery process and those antecedent conditions that could give rise to a “recovery divide.”

Social and Environmental Vulnerability to Disasters. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, three years, $664,000. Principal Investigator: Gilbert Burnham, Johns Hopkins University, School of Public Health, (410) 955-3928,

The growing awareness of the impact of natural disasters on human communities has also raised awareness of the need for better measurements and models of vulnerability to disasters and for improved management of information that guides the humanitarian response. A collaboration to develop an integrated approach to disaster assessment will enhance the understanding of vulnerability and provide information for decision making in the post-disaster context. The principal partners in this collaboration are the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (CRDR/JHU), and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University.

This collaboration is a multidisciplinary approach to vulnerability and disaster assessment that brings together the fields of physical science, demography, public health, and informatics. The research will develop the means by which spatial dependencies and interactions between population and environmental variables can be described and studied using GIS models, available socio-demographic information, and data from field surveys of disaster-affected areas with the dual objectives of assessing the risk of populations to natural disasters, and providing information on affected populations to decision makers in the post-disaster relief and rehabilitation environment.

Southern California Earthquake Center. Funding Organization: National Science Foundation, five years, $2,637,000. Principal Investigator: Thomas Jordan, University of Southern California, (213) 740-7762,

This grant renews the funding of the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) for an additional five-year period. The basic science goal of the SCEC is to understand the physics of the Southern California fault system and encode this understanding in a system-level model that can predict salient aspects of earthquake behavior. Southern California’s network of several hundred active faults forms a superb natural laboratory for the study of earthquake physics. Its seismic, geodetic, and geologic data are among the best in the world. Moreover, Southern California contains 23 million people, so that high seismic hazard translates to nearly one-half of the national earthquake risk. The Center’s tripartite mission statement emphasizes the connections between information gathering, knowledge formulation through physics-based modeling, and public communication of hazard and risk. Created in 1991, SCEC has since expanded to 54 institutions involving over 560 scientists.

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