Kent State: Asst. professor learns in rubble of disaster

9:20 AM, Nov 29, 2012   |    comments
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KENT -- Dr. Andrew Curtis at Kent State University has an office, but the one he does the most work in might be considered a disaster zone. It's not a knock on the cleanliness of his office, it's simply the truth.

Curtis, an associate professor of geography, just returned from his fifth trip to Joplin, Missouri.

The town was hit by one of the deadliest tornadoes on record about 18 months ago. He's also made several trips to Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, specifically the Lower Ninth Ward, to help every single one of us. 

He says to get the full-effect of the disasters and the recovery process he will probably go back for five years to get the "longitudinal" effect.

"We want to learn from what has gone on," he says. "The learning process is both the damage and all the way through recovery. So, this is a traumatic event, it's a terrible event, but we are going to get similar events like this and unless we learn from them, unless we collect data that allows us to go back and really analyze what happened, we are going to make the same mistakes again."

He's doing this by mounting small, sophisticated cameras on a car. They are equipped with GPS systems that allow Curtis, and his graduate student Adam Cinderich to carefully map neighborhoods and identify where recovery is taking place and pinpoint why some areas are able to recover more quickly.

Churches are one example, "the churches play a pretty big role in the community, so dependant on the strength of that existing role of church, if you are in an area, then it really plays an important part in the recovery," Curtis said.

Another goal, taking the information to policy makers. "(To) help spur that redevelopment and try and better direct where the resources should go -- because then we know if a community tends to build from the center out you can better work to make sure that happens on a larger scale," Cinderich explained.

Curtis says it also helps raise important questions that can unlock answers for rebuilding after future disasters. Things like, "is there a relationship between starting building spreading out, or maybe if you start early does it lead to problems when people don't return to those areas, so those are the sort of questions we can look at."

The idea behind the research is part science, health, safety and emotion, but all in the name of community. He is very passionate about sharing his research with anyone who is interested in it for learning purposes or even for nostalgia.

"The other aspect, which I think is important, is collecting the memories. Collecting the spatial patterns of what is going on in terms of where things happened, what happened before the event and collecting all those insights and those narratives and putting them into a map and basically keep creating an archive for them."

This information is also helpful to Sandy victims. Though the wounds are still very raw, what lies ahead for those affected is still difficult.

"In six months they are going to have experiences that are similar to people in Joplin or similar to people in New Orleans so if we can record, and sort of create a way that their experiences can be translated to another location then I think we can help with that support group of other disaster victims."


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