DRC-Disaster Research Center

Active Studies

NEW YORK, New York (Sept. 11)--Coast Guard crewmembers patrol the harbor after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Terrorist hijacked four commercial jets and then crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. USCG photo by PA3 Tom Sperduto. The U.S. Coast Guard Imagery Server is provided as a public service by the Office of Assistant Commandant for Governmental and Public Affairs.


Collaborative Research Proposal on Improvisation and Sensemaking in Sudden Crisis

Principal Investigators: Tricia Wachtendorf ; James M. Kendra (University of North Texas)
Senior Personnel: Jasmine Ruback (Ruback & Associates)
Current Graduate Research Assistants: Brandi Lea (University of North Texas)
Past Graduate Research Assistants:Lynn Letukas , John Barnshaw, Gabriella Waseleski
Undergraduate Research Assistants: Alicia Baddorf
Past Undergraduate Research Assistants: Chris Colindres, Jeff Engle, Deon Pfenning (University of North Texas), Brittany Scott, Michael StokesBrandi Gilbert, Lauren Ross, Caroline Williams
Funding Agencies: National Science Foundation(NSF), University of Delaware Research Foundation

Study Description

The waterborne evacuation project focuses on the unplanned waterborne evacuation of more than 500,000 commuters from Lower Manhattan by an ad hoc flotilla of ferries, tugs, workboats, dinner cruise boats and other assorted harbor craft after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, and the subsequent improvised boat-lift of supplies and equipment into the city.  The goal of this project is to examine organizational improvisation and distributed sensemaking under conditions of rapid change and urgent needs for decision making and action. The focus of this research is on geographically dispersed organizations that are able to coordinate actions and responses by "making sense" of their surroundings and environment during a crisis. 

The study works to ascertain:

The cues upon which participants relied in assessing shifting environmental information;

The existing and developing networks that were significant in coordinating action;

The processes of gathering, assessing, and disseminating information to support distributed learning; and

The significance of prior experience and the process by which it was employed in changing circumstances, including the emergence of new norms.

Principal analytical methods include an inductive qualitative approach, a social network analysis of pre- and post-attack relationships among participants and GIS mapping of vessel activity. The study will provide explanatory framework for how organizations understand rapid change, communicate with others in turbulent and complex environments and develop new strategies and procedures for emergent needs under crisis conditions.

Study Related Publications

Wachtendorf, Tricia, James M. Kendra, and Brandi Lea (Forthcoming). Community Behavior and Response to Disaster, in International Disaster Nursing (ed. Robert Powers). World Association of Disaster and Emergency Medicine.   

Kendra, James M. and Tricia Wachtendorf, 2007. Improvisation, Creativity, and the Art of Emergency Management, Understanding and Responding to Terrorism (eds. H. Durmaz, B. Sevinc, A.S. Yala and S. Ekici). IOS Press, NATO Security through Science Series E: Human and Societal Dynamics, Volume 19, 324-335.  

Kendra, James. M, Tricia Wachtendorf, and E.L. Quarantelli, 2002. Who Was in Charge of the Massive Evacuation of Lower Manhattan by Water Transport on September 11? No One Was, Yet It Was an Extremely Successful Operation. Implications? Securitas, 1 (5), September / October.

Study Related Presentations

Wachtendorf, Tricia. 2008. Improvising Disaster: The Waterborne Evacuation of Lower Manhattan. Department of Sociology Spring Colloquium Series. Rutgers University: New Brunswick, NJ. April 23.

Kendra, James, Brandi Lea, and Tricia Wachtendorf. 2008. Coordination and Partnerships in the Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Presented at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Boston, Massachusetts. April. 

Lea, Brandi, James Kendra, and Tricia Wachtendorf, 2007. Coordinating Spontaneous Resources: The Waterborne Evacuation of Lower Manhattan on 9/11. Presented at the annual conference of the International Association of Emergency Managers. Reno, Nevada. November. 

Wachtendorf, Tricia and James M. Kendra 2007. The Waterborne Evacuation of Lower Manhattan on September 11: A Case of Distributed Sensemaking? Presented at the International Research Committee on Disasters Meeting at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, New York City, NY. August 13.