NT Professor Investigates Sept. 11 Evacuations

By Pamela Bond

North Texas Daily

Sept. 12, 2006

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Two days after Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. James Kendra of the public administration faculty and his colleagues from the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center (DRC) arrived in New York City to study the emergency evacuations that had occurred during the attacks.

While they documented several aspects of the evacuations, one rather unexpected method was found. An estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people evacuated by means of waterways.

“Lots of boats, of all descriptions – not just the ferries, but tugboats, dinner cruise ships, privately-owned vessels – came to help even before the towers collapsed,” Kendra said. “Some headed east to Brooklyn, some to New Jersey and some got stuck headed south at the water’s edge.”

These impromptu rescuers also included the dock workers, and those who carried people and supplies into the city.

“Waterfront workers and maritime personnel directed passengers to an appropriate area where they might find a boat to take them to a destination close to home or to where they might find other transportation,” said Trisha Wachtendorf, a member of Delaware’s DRC and Kendra’s colleague on the project. “At the same time, a boatlift operation emerged and vessels involved in the evacuation began transporting supplies, equipment and emergency personnel to the city.”

The World Trade Center is located in Manhattan’s financial district, which sits on the east end of the island, near the boat docks and ferry terminals to Staten Island, Ellis Island and Governor’s Island. Therefore, those trying to evacuate had a close proximity to the harbor.

“The Coast Guard issued a request for all available vessels,” Kendra said. “But the interesting thing was that the response was completely unplanned and spontaneous. Those who responded with vessels organized themselves for the evacuation.”

To understand how these people managed to coordinate an unanticipated evacuation of this multitude, Kendra divides his research to three separate dimensions.

First, Kendra looks at how they improvised, using communications, equipment and the boats themselves. The second part of the study is a social networks analysis, which involves finding out who knew whom before the attacks, who met whom during the evacuations and who still has a relationship with whom. The final part, a geographic dimension, is a study of how these people physically came together.

Kendra and The Colony graduate student Brandi Lea, who has assisted Kendra on the project for a year, have traveled to New York City twice this year to interview those involved in the evacuation.

 “We try to figure out how they improvised, how they decided to do what they did, if they used any equipment they wouldn’t normally use,” said. “We also ask who they communicated with, how many times they communicated with other people. We’re trying to find out who was the most integral part of the process.”

Back at NT, Lea said she writes literature reviews on evacuation pieces and reviews the transcripts of these interviews.

“Also, when we interview them, we have them mark down on a chart where they were at different times,” Lea said. “We’re trying to create Geographic Information System (GIS) database so that we can see how many evacuation runs they did and things like that.”

While Kendra started his research while working at the University of Delaware, he now works at NT as the program coordinator for the Emergency Research and Planning program. However, he and the team in Delaware still work together on the project, and the $350,000 grant recently awarded to them from the National Science Foundation will be divided among the two schools.

The grant will continue to fund the data gathering, analysis and undergraduate/graduate education involved in this project.

“It can be kind of depressing, re-living Sept. 11 over and over again, but I think this project is really interesting,” Lea said. “It’s something I haven’t done before, and this work is helping me with my future career.”

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