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LSU launches Stephenson Disaster Management Institute

This fall will see the opening of the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute (SDMI), located in LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, LSU sought to initiate a new research center exclusively focused on issues of disaster and crisis management. On February 23, 2007, LSU alumni Emmet and Toni Stephenson announced a $25 million gift, among the largest gifts ever to the University, as part of the “Forever LSU” campaign.

Approximately $11 million of their gift to the E. J. Ourso College of Business was committed to create a world class organization in which engaged academic researchers, experienced disaster managers, and experts from the private sector collaborate to study disaster management problems, develop effective solutions to long-standing problems, and disseminate smart practices through executive education and outreach programs.

The SDMI will bring together a multidisciplinary group of academics who engage in research that directly helps to improve the effectiveness of national and international disaster response operations. In the face of severe threats to the functioning of critical infrastructures and life-sustaining systems, the public counts on government officials (local, state, and federal) to cooperate and work with the private and non-profit sectors to save lives and protect goods. This is no easy task. Disaster responders are faced with hard challenges, as they have to act under conditions of deep uncertainty and extreme urgency. Recent disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the 9/11 attacks have tested the management capacity of first response networks.  

Consequently, despite the nation’s long experience with disaster events, its ability to meet the challenges of large, complex events remains tenuous. The nation has invested enormous resources in organizational reforms and new technologies to build a more effective disaster response. Responders, however, continue to struggle with key management problems: how to implement coherent command and control procedures; coordinate and deploy resources; make life-or-death decisions; and communicate with government agencies, private companies, NGOs, and with the public. They struggle, in part, because disaster response is inherently a very hard problem, but also because some of the most persistent management challenges have not received sufficient attention from researchers.

The SDMI’s mission becomes all the more urgent as disasters of the future create new and unforeseen challenges. Increased complexity of tightly coupled systems lead to more cascading crises. Development of new technologies, the continuing threat of modern terrorism, and the changing climate likely bring disasters of an entire new category. The SDMI will help develop insights and strategies that will enhance resilience and improvisation during such disasters.

The SDMI, whose mission is to help save the lives of people and animals by continuously improving disaster response management through research and education, aims to help the nation respond to future catastrophes by:

Located on the first floor of Patrick F. Taylor Hall, formerly CEBA, the SDMI will be home to academics and practioners with experience in public administration, crisis and disaster management and executive education. 

Arjen Boin, the director of SDMI, comes to LSU from Leiden University’s Department of Public Administration in the Netherlands. There, he was an associate professor, director of the Leiden University Crisis Research Center, and co-founder of the European Crisis Management Academy. He has published widely on crisis management, institutional design, and leadership.

Warren Eller is the associate director of SDMI. Eller was previously with the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, where he taught research methodology and currently serves as managing editor of the Policy Studies Journal. 

Jennifer Butler is the assistant director for Grants & Contracts. Butler was previously with the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City, where she was responsible for more than $100 million in federal grants and contracts related to first responders.

“This is an exciting opportunity for LSU to demonstrate to the world that it fosters the type of research that is so desperately needed,” Boin said. “Through their generous gift, the Stephensons have made it possible to do research that matters. It is up to us now to make it happen.”

Arjen Boin | Director, Stephenson Disaster Management Institute | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Fall 2007


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