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Tricia Wachtendorf - University of Delaware. Newark, DE, US

Tricia Wachtendorf

Director / Professor, Disaster Research Center / Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice | University of Delaware


Prof. Wachtendorf expertise lies in the social, organizational, and decision-making aspects of disasters.




Tricia Wachtendorf Publication



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Tricia Wachtendorf is a leader in disaster research and education. A Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware with a joint appointment in the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration, she directs the world-renowned Disaster Research Center – the oldest center in the world focused on the social science and management aspects of disasters. For nearly three decades, her research has focused on multi-organizational coordination before, during, and after disasters, transnational crises, and social vulnerability to disaster events. Dr. Wachtendorf has engaged in quick response fieldwork after such events as the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the tsunamis affecting India, Sri Lanka (2004) and Japan (2011), Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012), the earthquakes in China (2008) and Haiti (2010), as well as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. With numerous research grants from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, she has published widely on improvisation in disasters as well as disaster convergence. Her most recently funded research projects examine the temporal nature of household and emergency management decision-making during hurricane events, investigate humanitarian logistics during disaster response, and explore stigma and role triage in the aftermath of public health emergencies. She is co-author of American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11.

Industry Expertise (1)

Environmental Services

Areas of Expertise (8)


Multi-organizational coordination and responses in disasters

Transnational crises

Improvisation and adaptation

Community-based approaches to preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation

Disaster Decision-making

Disaster Donations

Social Vulnerability

Media Appearances (15)

Best ways we can aid disaster relief efforts

Wisconsin Public Radio  online


Wachtendorf talks with Wisconsin's NPR affiliate about what we can do as individuals to contribute to relief efforts in the aftermath of a catastrophic event, and how we can be prepared for the next one.

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Hurricane Idalia survivors can request disaster relief, but it’s not always easy to get

CNN  online


Wachtendorf agrees with other experts who say the applications and required documentation necessary to access help can be onerous. “That’s really the challenge – trying to navigate what can be very complex systems during a time period where information is not readily accessible to you,” she said.

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On Maui, returning home means confronting toxic risks

Grist  online


Ideally, residents would not return until they are certain that their homes are safe, but that’s often not what happens. Insurance companies don’t always pay for temporary lodging, and locals are usually eager to check out the damage to their homes and start cleaning up, said Tricia Wachtendorf, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware who studies disaster relief.

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How communities can improve warning systems and disaster responses

PBS News  online


"The more advanced notice that you can give people to be on guard, to be ready for an evacuation, the better. The fact that it takes some people much more time to get to that point. They may have a mobility issue. They may not be able to get out of an area because they don't have transportation. So having that advanced warning gets people thinking. They get people talking about this to each other. And then when there is a warning that comes through, they're much more close to the point of actually reacting. Those seconds, those minutes really count."

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What went wrong in Maui? As 'cataclysmic' fires grew, many heard no warnings

USA Today  


Tricia Wachtendorf, a sociology professor and director of UD's Disaster Research Center, said many residents might have been more focused on a hurricane hitting the island instead of the risk of fire danger.

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Living with HIV during a global pandemic | UDaily

University of Delaware  online


Many responses were similar to those of a general-population study DRC did last summer, said Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the center, with many reporting a deep sense of isolation, declines in physical or mental health, increasing economic hardship and uneven access to health care.

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Local response to chaos at the capitol

6 ABC  online


O'Donnell also spoke with Tricia Wachtendorf University of Delaware's Director of Disaster Research and Professor of Sociology & Criminal Justice. They discuss how major catastrophes (COVID, weather events, insurgence,) expose other major issues & can spur tremendous change in society.

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Pack a ‘Go Bag’ Now

The New York Times  online


"The more you plan and the more you prepare for an emergency, the more mental space you have to deal with the things you need to improvise when the emergency hits," said Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

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The 'Second Wave' Is Still to Come and the U.S. Has No Specific Plan to Deal With It

Newsweek  online


Tricia Wachtendorf, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, told Newsweek that during disasters, the public tend to be forgiving of officials, believing them to be doing the best they can under the circumstances: "That doesn't mean that they are entirely forgiving of failure, but there's some degree of empathy with those dealing with sudden and unexpected challenges.

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Don’t mock people for buying extra toilet paper — they’re doing the best they can with inconsistent and sometimes wrong advice | Opinion

MarketWatch  online


News of COVID-19 cases across the U.S. has spiked. Fears around the pandemic have increased. And the family down the street is hauling a few extra bulk-sized packs of bathroom necessities from their SUV. You roll your eyes and head to your social-media platform of choice to commence the mockery. Sure, it might make for a witty meme on Facebook US:FB or funny Tik Tok video (depending on your age demographic), but it also signals to our failure to pay attention to what really matters.

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Disaster Researchers on Hurricane Michael: Preparations, Evacuation and Recovery



The University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center has a team of experts who can discuss various issues as they relate to Hurricane Michael, including evacuation routes, household decision making, warning systems, the biggest potential dangers of a storm, recovery efforts and environmental safety post-storm. The group of experts includes co-directors Tricia Wachtendorf and Jim Kendra, both of whom have studied the aftermaths of major disasters including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, tsunamis, earthquakes and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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Episode 31: The 9/11 Water Evacuation of Manhattan

Dukes of Hazards: The Emergency Management Podcast  


The Dukes relive a heroic day with Drs. Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra, authors of American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11. From the first impact on the towers, boat captains came by the dozens to rescue hundreds of thousands of survivors in under nine hours. If you don't know this story, you should. Tricia and Jim use it to explore a whole new theory of disaster management. Plus: Andrew learns the Texas Chicken Maneuver and, yes, Mitch cheated.

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What's Happening With the Relief Effort in Puerto Rico?

The Atlantic  


Since the storm made landfall on September 20, Hurricane Maria has wreaked havoc on the island, causing a level of widespread destruction and disorganization paralleled by few storms in American history. Almost two weeks after the storm abated, most of the island’s residents still lack access to electricity and clean water.

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"Cajun Navy" rescuers in Hurricane Harvey show vital role of volunteer boats


As we look at the devastating losses suffered in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and in Louisiana following severe flooding in 2016, one of the inspiring aspects to emerge are the reports of the “Cajun Navy” — everyday residents in their boats checking on and rescuing family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in need.

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Rural America Could Be the Region Hardest Hit by the COVID-19 Outbreak


Systems that are under stress during routine times will be more stressed during disasters and times of crisis. Sometimes we forget those systems that are at the brink,” said Tricia Wachtendorf, PhD, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware.

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Articles (8)

Avoiding the “Second Disaster” of Unwanted Donations

International Journal of Mass Emergencies & Disasters

2022 The outpouring of charitable acts following a disaster can reveal humanity at its best. But this can also take the form of spontaneous acts of generosity that flood supply chains with unwanted or low-priority goods that slow down the distribution of supplies most needed by disaster survivors. The challenges of sorting and distributing donations as well as disposing of inappropriate donations can be so bad that it is sometimes referred to as the disaster that follows the disaster. To understand how to prevent this, we interviewed donors, donation collectors, and disaster relief distributors following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and two tornadoes that struck near Oklahoma City in 2013.

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Evaluation of Hurricane Evacuation Order Plans: Hurricane Florence Case Study

Natural Hazards Review

2022 This paper introduces an approach to evaluate the performance of a previously implemented or proposed hurricane evacuation plan that describes where and when official evacuation orders are issued. The approach involves use of the new integrated scenario-based evacuation (ISE) decision support tool to define a best track evacuation plan as a reference point and measure the performance of other plans in relation to that according to their ability to meet multiple stated objectives: minimizing risk to the population, travel time, and time people are away from their homes. Using North Carolina in Hurricane Florence (2018) as a case study, we demonstrate the process by evaluating performance of both the actual set of orders as executed and the orders that would have been recommended if the new ISE decision support tool had been used during the event.

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The Point of No Return: Adaptation Strategies in Disaster Donation Supply Chains

Natural Hazards Review

2022 In the aftermath of disasters, material convergence (the influx of material donations) can cause extreme negative impacts and has been described as a second disaster. Donations that are nonpriority or low-priority goods, or in excess of need, can have negative impacts on transportation into and storage within the affected area. For routine supply chains, successful supply access partially lies in the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. This paper draws on data collected after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and two tornadoes outside of Oklahoma City in May 2013. Interviews were conducted with individual actors in emergent donation supply chains to understand how they made and understood the effectiveness of their efforts and later coded for how central adaptability is viewed for achieving this success.

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COVID-19: Impacts on Delawareans Living with HIV

University of Delaware Disaster Research Center

Tricia Wachtendorf, Christopher Tharp and Nancy Rios-Contreras

2021 In January and February 2021, researchers from the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center (DRC) conducted a study of the impacts of COVID-19 on Delawareans living with HIV. When interviews began, over 60,000 Delawareans had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and over 1100 people had died from COVID-related causes.

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Hurricane evacuation beliefs and behaviour of inland vs. coastal populations

Environmental Hazards

2021 Although hurricanes can cause severe hazard effects well inland, little is known about the evacuation behaviour of inland populations compared to coastal populations. Using survey data collected in the United States after Hurricanes Florence (2018), Michael (2018), Barry (2019), and Dorian (2019), we investigate differences between coastal and inland populations in evacuation decisions and timing, and their causes. The data indicate that coastal populations evacuated at a higher rate than their inland counterparts (those not in coastal counties) in every hurricane studied. Chi-square tests identified differences in characteristics of coastal and inland populations, and a multiple logistic regression identified variables associated with evacuation.

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Sociology of disasters

Handbook of Environmental Sociology

2021 This chapter focuses on the contributions of sociologists who study the root causes and social consequences of everyday emergencies, disasters, and large-scale catastrophes. It defines key terms and concepts, offers a brief history and overview of the field, and explains why sociologists study disasters. It also describes what research has revealed regarding human and organizational behavior during times of collective upheaval through offering a review of available research regarding three enduring areas of study in disaster—convergence behavior, panic and prosocial behavior, and crime and conflict. This chapter demonstrates how disaster risk is patterned in ways that reflect pre-existing social and economic inequalities.

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Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound: When Human Error is Really (Still) a Systems Error

Natural Hazards Center

Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra

2018 It might be understandable to feel a degree of empathy for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) employee who sent a false ballistic missile alert on January 13—many of us have felt the sinking feeling after hitting reply all on an email meant for one person.

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Trans-System Social Ruptures: Exploring Issues of Vulnerability and Resiliency†

Wiley Online Library

Tricia Wachtendorf

2009 This essay takes up a recently introduced term, trans-system social ruptures (TSSRs), and demonstrates its applicability to understanding ruptures to transnational systems. Using the relationship between Canada and the United States as a focus point, the article differentiates national from transnational system social ruptures. The article goes on to explore national and transnational system vulnerability to and resiliency from TSSRs. The distinction between the two types of TSSRs poses empirical, operational, and policy implications. The objective and subjective emergence of TSSRs as a social problem has much to offer to our understanding of disaster events and future crises. The article closes with several recommendations for theoretical development.

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Accomplishments (1)

Certificate of Merit, The Mountbattan Maritime Book Prize (professional)


Education (3)

University of Delaware: PhD, Sociology 2004

University of Delaware: MA, Sociology 2000

University of Manitoba: BA, Psychology 1996

Affiliations (4)

  • Society for the Study of Social Problems
  • International Sociological Association Research Committee on Disasters
  • North American Alliance of Hazards and Disaster Research Institutes
  • International Association of Emergency Managers

Languages (1)

  • English

Event Appearances (8)

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

(2021) Invited Testimony Civil Rights Implications of Disaster Relief: Hurricane Harvey in Texas  Virtual

Session on Governance and Transparency in Disaster Risk Reduction

(2020) Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting  Virtual

Approaches for Culturally Competent Community Engagement

(2020) Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop  Virtual

Post-disaster material convergence: A social construction approach

(2019) Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand Conference  Auckland, NZ

Covid-19: University Student Experience During a Global Pandemic

(2020) Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop  Virtual

Transformation through Convergence

(2019) RISE Conference: Transforming University Engagement in Pre- and Post-Disaster Environments: Lessons from Puerto Rico  Albany, NY

American Dunkirk

(2019) The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11. Commander’s Action Group Wayspoint Speaker Series Military Sealift Command, Naval Station  Norfolk, VA

Ministry of Interior - General Directorate of Fire & Rescue Services

(2018) Human and Social Dynamics of Evacuation  Lázně Bohdaneč, Czech Republic.