BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at the University at Buffalo have
been awarded a $30,000 grant by the National Science Foundation to
study the experiences of first and second emergency responders
during Western New York's "October Surprise" snowstorm.
The researchers will examine a critical issue in effective
disaster mitigation: whether the functioning of emergency
responders is impaired significantly when they are worried about
their own safety and the safety of their families.
"Our first goal is to study the effectiveness of first
responders in the context of emotional pressures," said H.R. Rao,
Ph.D., professor of management science and systems in the UB School
of Management and principal investigator for the project "This
natural disaster provided a unique time-limited opportunity to
examine and understand the differences between the different groups
of first responders."
Co-investigators are Raj Sharman, Ph.D., assistant professor of
management science and systems in the School of Management;
Catherine P. Cook-Cottone, Ph.D., assistant professor of
counseling, school and educational psychology in the UB Graduate
School of Education; and Shambhu Upadhyaya, Ph.D., associate
professor of computer science and engineering in the UB School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The group will work under the umbrella of UB's Center of
Excellence in Information Systems Assurance Research and Education
(CEISARE), which is co-directed by Upadhyaya and Rao.
Disaster planning, response and mitigation are components of
UB's research focus on "extreme events," identified as one of the
university's strategic strengths by the UB 2020 strategic-planning
Western New York's unprecedented October 2006 snowstorm resulted
in extensive devastation, with major portions of the region
experiencing prolonged power outages. Yet, despite the widespread
problems, pockets of the region remained unaffected. This resulted
in a mix of first responders, some of
whom were affected by the disaster either directly or indirectly
(families and significant others) and some who were not
In addition to the first responders, the recovery effort was
supported by second responders such as the National Guard, which
arrived days after the event.
"First responders who were personally affected by the storm will
be compared with those who were not affected, as well as with the
second responders such as the National Guard, on measures including
psychological distress and its effect on decision making," Rao
Other goals of the project include determining how and when
first responders shifted from normal incident response patterns to
disaster-level patterns and whether perceptions had changed among
first responders after they experienced the unprecedented
"Prior research has shown that populations that have not
experienced major disasters tend to believe they are less
vulnerable and better prepared than their peers in disaster-prone
areas," Rao said. "However, less is known about how perceptions
change if these same populations encounter a disastrous event."
The investigators expect that the information from the research
will contribute to the current body of applied knowledge in the
disaster response literature and to policy implementation regarding
questions of how first responders respond to, and recover from,
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top five business schools for the fastest return on MBA investment,
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