skip to main content

Science Nation: Decoding Disasters--Are We Prepared for Another 9-11?

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation.

(Describer) Firefighters work in rubble.

(man) I need a bucket line.

(male narrator) The site of a terrorist attack. The aftermath of a tsunami or earthquake. Disasters, yes. But also opportunities for scientists like sociologist Tricia Wachtendorf, who goes to devastated places to learn how future lives may be saved. We try to learn from disasters and contribute to science, but also learn how we can apply that to better emergency management practice.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, teams from the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware observe and interview victims and rescue workers during and after crises. Their work has led to better recovery and handling of human remains, improved accounting of donations and supplies, and helped small businesses quickly reopen. Wachtendorf embedded with first responders after the 9/11 attacks to watch what unfolded.

(Wachtendorf) They lost friends and family members. They were very willing to have us shadow them, answer questions, and say, "You need to hear and learn from this. Tell us what's going right and wrong."

(narrator) Ordinary people can be crucial in disaster response. Wachtendorf and colleague James Kendra studied the evacuation of half of million people fleeing Lower Manhattan that day, including quick work by tug and ferryboat captains.

(Describer) Kendra:

And that largely stems from what seafarers have to do ordinarily, which is to be creative, improvisational, even though you don't know exactly what the danger is.

(narrator) The disaster researchers' findings help experts design better evacuation strategies. Engineering research done at the center helps authorities set better building codes in areas prone to disasters, like tsunamis and hurricanes. Much of what engineers and I focus on,

(Describer) Rachel Davidson:

is mitigation that's a long way ahead of the event. Hurricanes are going to continue, so we need to build a stronger infrastructure so we avoid damage in the beginning.

(narrator) The ultimate goal? Ensuring lessons learned in a crisis aren't forgotten and are utilized in helping others when, inevitably, disaster strikes again.

(Describer) The globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

Transcript Options


Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

Report a Problem

The Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware aims to help communities become as prepared as possible for unplanned, sometimes unthinkable events. The Center's work and guidelines have been adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, medical reserve groups, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Center’s associate director, sociologist Tricia Wachtendorf, looked at specific events in lower Manhattan, including the water evacuations of hundreds of people fleeing the World Trade Center. She noted that both the Coast Guard and private boats did an extraordinary job amidst the chaos. Contrast that to the much criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. What works and what doesn't, and what can be learned from these complex, unrelated disasters? With support from the National Science Foundation, Wachtendorf intends to find out.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12