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Working Group on Disasters

Nepal earthquake first responders
Turkish rescue workers respond to the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Photo by Hilmi Hacaloğlu. 

The Working Group on Disasters aims to foster greater awareness, collaboration, and research activity among social, physical, and behavioral scientists at Cornell and around the world in the study of international disaster preparedness, recovery, and resilience. 

Whether natural or manmade, disasters always result from the interaction of human and environmental factors, and disaster risk and recovery always have social, cultural, and political dimensions. To improve individual and collective responses and public policy, it is crucially important to enlist the theories, methodologies, and insights of social and behavioral sciences.


Sharon Tennyson (Policy Analysis and Management)

Steering committee

Shorna Allred (Natural Resources), Rebecca Morganstern Brenner (CIPA), Ying Hua (Design & Environmental Analysis), Linda Shi (City and Regional Planning), Richard Stedman (Natural Resources), Keith Tidball (Cornell Cooperative Extension), John Zinda (Development Sociology)

Sharon Tennyson
Sharon Tennyson

Sharon Tennyson wins fellowship for disaster work

Sharon Tennyson, professor of policy analysis and management and coordinator of the Einaudi Center's Working Group on Disasters, has received a faculty fellowship for the social sciences, humanities, and the arts from Cornell's David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. 

The in-residence fellowship, which covers spring semester 2019, provides Tennyson with teaching leave and a small research budget, as well as opportunities to engage with a broad, interdisciplinary audience on and off campus, according to the Atkinson Center's announcement.

Fellowships are intended to encourage recipients to pursue "transdisciplinary dialogue" with collaborators beyond the university, including social movements, NGOs, or local communities. 

Refugee Disaster Management Plan Project

This pilot project, led by working group member Rebecca Brenner, works with refugee settlement agencies in Buffalo, NY. 


News and events

July 9, 2019 Zombified podcast featuring Disasters steering committee member Keith Tidball (Natural Resources) and Disasters working group partner Athena Aktipis discussing how disasters affect human behavior.

April 30 FEMA webinar with Rebecca Brenner (CIPA)

"Interdisciplinary Work in Emergency Management and Service-Learning Course" Integration of different disciplines in the design of an emergency management service-learning course provides a unique opportunity to enhance discussions and solve real-world problems. Facilitators will provide examples of how they have taken an interdisciplinary approach to service-learning to understand complex issues and evaluate solutions to these challenges.

April 23 seminar with Athena Aktipis

"Do needs-based transfer systems offer a viable alternative to market-based systems?" An overview of The Human Generosity Project and the promise of decentralized risk pooling for dealing with disasters. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, 3:00-4:15, Warren B73

Nov. 7 roundtable on knowledge and risk

Steven Hilgartner, professor in Cornell's Department of Science and Technology Studies, led a Working Group on Disasters discussion on "Making Knowledge about Risk: Mitigation Strategies and Extreme Weather Events" on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018.

Seismologist stresses open dialogue with scientists and policy makers

Lucy Jones spoke about the importance of scientific communication to reduce the damage caused by natural disasters as part of the 19th Robert L. Schiffman ’44 Geotechnical Colloquium.

Roundtable: Disaster Risk Management for Low- and Moderate Income Countries

2017 was a year of tragedy and devastation for the Caribbean region. Hurricane Maria wiped out over 200 percent of Dominica’s GDP overnight. How do countries financially recover from such impacts?

Roundtable assesses Nepal rebuilding efforts

Jack Elliott (design and environmental analysis) and Kathryn March (anthropology, emerita) led a discussion on Sept. 7, 2018 on their work with communities devastated by the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. 

Roundtable: Effects on Critical Infrastructure

A roundtable on April 12, 2018 featured Thomas O'Rourke of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell. O'Rourke has authored or co-authored more than 360 publications on geotechnical, underground, earthquake engineering, and impact of extreme events on civil infrastructure.

The Social Construction of Disasters

University of Florida anthropologist Anthony Oliver-Smith launched the Working Group on Disasters on March 14, 2018 with a lecture titled “The Social Construction of Disasters: Identifying Root Causes and Risk Drivers.” Read the Cornell Chronicle article about his visit here.