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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted officials to urge people to stay at home to reduce the spread of
infection, which has meant many fewer people on the road. UDs
Disaster Research Center is asking people in and
around Delaware how the situation has impacted their lives.
University of Delawares Disaster Research Center wants to interview as
many people in and around Delaware as possible about the impacts of the
coronavirus (COVID-19) on their lives.
What Delawareans are experiencing right now is important to
contributing to a better response in future disasters, said Tricia
Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center.
Our focus is both on the University of Delaware community, but also
very much on those residents, organizations, businesses and groups in
and around Delaware who have been impacted.
In addition to faculty and staff, more than 20 masters and doctoral
students affiliated with the Disaster Research Center are conducting the
interviews over Zoom, which participants can connect to via their
computers or by calling in from a phone. Interviews will last between 20
minutes and two hours long, depending on how long the person wants to
Participants have the option of either having their interview become
part of a public oral history, or having their interview be limited to
research where their name would not be associated with their information
in publications or presentations.
We are interested in speaking to anyone who wants to share their
experiences with us, Wachtendorf said. Rather than focus on a
particular topic, we want to get as complete a picture as possible about
broad community impacts and the ways people are adapting.
Graduate students from UDs interdisciplinary program in disaster
science and management are involved in the study, as well as from
sociology and criminal justice, epidemiology, civil and environmental
engineering, and political science.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Sociology doctoral student Virginia Berndt conducts interviews for the DRC from her home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Our students, in particular, have been directly impacted by this
event not only through their experiences at UD, but also the health
threat and impact to them and their families, Wachtendorf said.
I know that my friends, family and I have all experienced the daily
repercussions of this pandemic in very different ways, so I look forward
to collecting even more perspectives through these interviews, said
Caroline Williams, from Newark, Delaware. She is a first-year doctoral
student in the civil and environmental engineering program.
Virginia Berndt, a doctoral candidate in sociology, is working on the project from her home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
"Being involved in doing research now is valuable as COVID is
impacting communities in different ways on a day-to-day basis, and these
impacts often strike unequally across social contexts of socioeconomic
status, race and neighborhood setting, Berndt said. Studying how COVID
affects various communities in Delaware as it is happening can capture
these impacts most adequately."
Yajaira Ayala, a first-year doctoral student in the disaster science
and management program, is working from her hometown of McAllen, Texas.
Her previous research experience includes studying health and social
disparities in vulnerable populations of the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Projects like this one at the Disaster Research Center allow us to
capture key societal changes that can improve or negatively affect our
social environment, Ayala said. An early recognition of these issues
is imperative as we respond to this crisis.
From his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Christopher Tharp, a
doctoral candidate in political science and international relations at
UD, wants to know how people are navigating a flood of information to
make decisions during the pandemic.
Christopher Tharp, a doctoral candidate in political science and
international relations from Wilmington, Delaware, wants to better
understand how people are navigating the COVID-19 information flow.
I am particularly interested in how people are sorting through all
of the information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, Tharp said. Where
are people turning for guidance to make decisions?
The oral history component of the study will complement other rapid
response efforts taking place across the country, according to Valerie
Marlowe, the centers assistant director of archives and collections.
"These first-person accounts of disasters have long been a valuable
source of information, Marlowe said. Oral histories, more than written
records, bring the human experience to life, preserving the voices and
experiences of people who have lived through historically significant
As the oldest center in the world focused on the social and
management aspects of disaster, the Disaster Research Center has
undertaken quick-response field studies for decades from the Good
Friday earthquake in Alaska in 1964, to 9/11, the Tohoku Triple Disaster
in Japan, Hurricane Harvey and many others.
Such studies yield results. The centers work after 9/11 revealed the
importance of improvisation and adaptation during a crisis. Fieldwork
after Hurricane Sandy contributed to a method for measuring potential
recovery trajectories in disaster-ravaged counties.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Disaster Research Center has been
sharing information with response agencies and the public from its
extensive E.L. Quarantelli Resource Collection via Twitter
(@elq_resource) and other avenues. The centers alumni also are
directly involved in local, county and state agencies, as well as
private and non-profit organizations on the front lines.
Now, the centers lens is focused on its own community.
"The experience of those in Delaware and surrounding communities is
critical to understanding this event and doing a better job preparing,
responding and supporting people should this happen again, Wachtendorf
To sign up to be interviewed, visit this website, which is available in both English and Spanish. For more information, contact Wachtendorf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article by Tracey Bryant; photos by iStock and courtesy of Virginia Berndt and Christopher Tharp
May 5, 2020