When researchers received federal funding
to establish the nation’s first center devoted to the social scientific
study of disasters, they were truly starting from scratch, facing such
questions as what the center would be named, who should direct it and
even how to define “disaster.”
That was in 1963, and this month the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center
(DRC) marked its 50th anniversary with a celebration and conference on
campus that was attended by many of its earliest pioneers.
years, the center’s researchers came to establish much of the basis for
the field of disaster research, conducting some 700 field studies in the
U.S. and around the world in communities devastated by natural and
“This is a relatively young field, and it’s still evolving,” sociologist Havidán Rodríguez
told those attending the May 1 session of the conference.
scholarly impact of the researchers at DRC is amazing” and includes a
global network the center has established. Rodríguez, who is
provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of
Texas-Pan American, was previously deputy provost at UD, where he
directed the DRC for seven years.
On display at the conference was a timeline, detailing in words and
photos some of the disasters to which DRC researchers have responded
over the years, ranging from a 1963 propane explosion that killed 74
people at the Indiana State Fairground Coliseum, to last year’s tornado
that virtually destroyed Moore, Oklahoma.
In the years between were such
events as factory explosions, civil disturbances including the 1970
shootings at Kent State University, the 1989 San Francisco earthquake,
the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.