Research Program

Faculty and staff engage in separately funded research projects and programs that are consistent with the Center's mission and complement information dissemination and program activities. Research activities allow students associated with the Center to receive hands-on research training on multidisciplinary projects and provide valuable information for practitioners and policy makers across the hazards lifecycle. The Center currently participates in three large-scale research initiatives, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), Responding to Crises and Unexpected Events (RESCUE), and the Bay Area Preparedness Initiative. Each of these is described below.

START:The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism

The mission of START is to harness the methods and resources of the social and behavioral sciences for a better understanding of the formation and dynamics of terrorist groups and the social and psychological impacts of terrorist threats to aid the efforts to stop terrorist recruitment, disrupt terrorist organizations, and reduce the psychological and social impacts of terrorist threats.

The focus of the Natural Hazards Center's research is on the societal dimensions of terrorism and extreme events, and we are currently in the process of conducting “Community Field Studies and Analysis of Preparedness Networks.” As part of their project-related activities, the research team will conduct field work in five carefully-selected communities in different geographic areas for intensive study. This work, which will focus broadly on organizations and community sectors whose involvement is critical for community resilience, will highlight organizational processes, strategies, and best practices. Other anticipated products include models of how local interorganizational preparedness networks develop.

Natural Hazards Center staff participating in START research are:

  • Kathleen Tierney, principal investigator
  • Jeannette Sutton, Center research coordinator
  • Erica Kuligowski, graduate research assistant
  • Alexandra Jordan, graduate research assistant

For more information, visit

RESCUE-ITR: Responding to Crises and Unexpected Events – Information Technology Research

The goal of the RESCUE project is to radically transform the ability of emergency response organizations to gather, manage, use, and disseminate information within emergency response networks and to the general public. Depending upon the severity of the crisis, response may involve numerous organizations including multiple layers of government, public authorities, commercial entities, volunteer organizations, media organizations, and the public. These entities work together to save lives, preserve infrastructure and community resources, and to reestablish normalcy within the population. The efficacy of response is determined by the ability of decision makers to understand the crisis at hand and the state of the available resources to make vital decisions. The quality of these decisions in turn depends upon the timeliness and accuracy of the information available to the responders.

The RESCUE project is an interdisciplinary effort that brings computer scientists, engineers, social scientists, and disaster science experts together to explore technological innovations in order to deliver information to the right people at the right time during crisis response.

As part of the RESCUE project, Natural Hazards Center researchers are focusing on Emergent Multi-Organizational Networks (EMONs) in disaster response; information dissemination in extreme events; and privacy issues.

Natural Hazards Center staff participating in RESCUE research are:

  • Kathleen Tierney, principal investigator
  • Jeannette Sutton, Center research coordinator
  • Christine Bevc, graduate research assistant
  • Ashly Barlau, REU student

Bay Area Preparedness Initiative (BayPrep)

This research project is being undertaken as a subcontract from the Fritz Institute of San Francisco, California. The role of the Natural Hazards Center in the Bay Area Disaster Preparedness Initiative (BayPrep) is to conduct research and work in partnership with the Fritz Institute to address issues of disaster preparedness among community-based, faith-based and other non-profit organizations serving at-risk populations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Funding for the overall BayPrep project is provided by the Hewlett, Haas, and San Francisco Foundations and other grant agencies.

Social science researchers have been studying disaster preparedness and response in the U.S. for nearly 60 years. However, very little work has focused on civil-society organizations and even that research is quite narrow. In result, little is known about the disaster readiness of non-profits that serve the elderly, people living in poverty, racial and ethnic minority groups, persons suffering from chronic debilitating illnesses, and people with disabilities. Yet the ability of these organizations to continue to function and provide services is essential for community health and safety with a major disaster strikes. After a large-scale Bay Area disaster, those who are most vulnerable will rely upon services and support from the same organizations that provide assistance during non-disaster times. The lack of data on the non-profit sector constitutes a critical gap in our understanding of community disaster readiness in high-hazard areas such as the Bay Region. This is the gap BayPrep intends to address.

Research activities will be carried out by the Natural Hazards Center in the San Francisco Bay Area over a two year period. Face-to-face, structured interviews will be conducted with directors of nonprofit organizations and will include both quantitative and qualitative measures of preparedness and resilience. Interview items will seek data on indicators reflecting components/elements of preparedness identified in earlier collaborative work between the Natural Hazards Center and the Fritz Institute.

Natural Hazards Center Staff participating in BayPrep research are:

  • Kathleen Tierney, principal investigator
  • Jeannette Sutton, Center research coordinator
  • Liesel Ritchie, project research coordinator
  • Duke Austin, graduate research assistant
  • Brandi Gilbert, graduate research assistant

Link to Fritz Institute Web site and BayPrep announcement: