Some of the most important work coming out of DRC over the past five
decades resulted from quick response work conducted by graduate
students, according to Tricia Wachtendorf, associate professor of sociology and associate director of DRC.
"Many times, it is important to get into the field quickly to collect
what we call ‘perishable data,'" said Wachtendorf, "including
descriptions of the emerging and changing activities, documents for
which there might not be copies in a few weeks and names of people
involved in the efforts who might leave the area before we can conduct
Alex Greer and Lauren Clay, both doctoral students in the disaster
science and management program, comprised the first quick-response team
to deploy to Oklahoma following the initial tornado.
The pair traveled to Moore and Oklahoma City to conduct research on
the mental health response effort, looting concerns, materials
convergence and volunteer coordination.
Clay and Greer found a wealth of volunteer organizations, including
major brands such as Tide and Kellogg, as well as faith based
organizations and major insurance companies, offering assistance in
"The damage was pretty intense," said Clay. "You could clearly see the path where the tornado struck."
Conducting research in a disaster area provided the team with valuable learning opportunities.
"It taught us about fieldwork, how to make connections — and how to balance being a researcher and a person," said Greer.
Clay and Greer departed the Oklahoma area the day before the El Reno
tornado struck on May 31. Nagele and Velotti weren't so lucky; the two
were about to depart on their ride home — after a delayed initial flight
— when a flight attendant instructed passengers to immediately exit the
All passengers were ushered into an underground area where they waited out the severe weather.
"There was no panicking," said Velotti of the atmosphere. "The
airport officials were constantly updating us on the situation." DRC
research has repeatedly shown that widespread panic is rare after
Maggie Nelan and Sam Penta, the third team of DRC researchers, were
driving back to their hotel in Oklahoma after a day of fieldwork when
they received warning of the El Reno tornado.
The two made it back to their hotel where they took shelter with
other guests and tried to keep loved ones updated on their safety.
"People may have been concerned but everyone was still pretty calm," said Penta, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice.
Nelan and Penta had arrived in Oklahoma earlier to collect data on
the mass quantities of incoming donations for various stricken areas.
After extensive research, the team began to see some emerging trends on the donation circuit.
"There was an overwhelming amount of bottled water being donated,"
said Penta. So much, in fact, that stacks of bottled water were being
used to designate traffic lanes in one donation location.
"There were a lot of jokes going around about how people were thirsty
and there was no water," said Nelan, a doctoral student in the
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. "It was obvious that
people were trying to find humor in the situation."
Value of research
All six graduate students made it home safely, but their time in
Oklahoma will likely stay with them — both personally and professionally
— for quite some time to come.
"There's shock, tragedy, sadness and there's hope," said Nelan. "In
the research role, there's the desire to try and help. More experience
in disaster zones will make us more effective in our jobs."
The research in Oklahoma was part of new and existing projects at the center.
"One of the wonderful things about the center is the huge network of
colleagues and alumni around the country and, indeed, around the world,"
said Wachtendorf about the DRC, which relocated from Ohio State
University to UD in 1985.
While in Oklahoma, the student researchers were able to connect with
DRC alumni who are now faculty and disaster scholars at Oklahoma State