Published: Nov. 30, 2023 By

As disasters affect more people across the United States, emergency managers need evidence-based information more than ever. While research can help in making key decisions, it can sometimes be hard to find and access.

Last week, Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), visited CU Boulder research leaders, facultyand staff to discuss how to ensureresearch finds its way to those who need it most. Criswell was the guest of the at CU’s (IBS) with support from the CU system . She was welcomed by Massimo Ruzzene, who leads CU’s Research & Innovation Office.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell visits with CU Boulder faculty and staff

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell visits with CU Boulder faculty and staff

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell talks with CU Boulder faculty and staff during a campus visit. Photo by Patrick Campbell/CU Boulder.

“One of the things I’m trying to help establish is creating better connections between the academic research that is out there and our operators,” Criswell told the group. “A lot of the conversations I have with our operators is that they don’t know where to go to get some of the research, but even when I talk to the researchers, they don’t know how to get it in the hands of the operators.”

Criswell noted that expanding research partnerships, especially with behavioral scientists, would benefit several aspects of her administration’s , including the areas of equity, climate resilienceand preparedness. With the knowledge to make more informed decisions, Criswell said that FEMA could become more proactive in serving the increasing number of Americans experiencing disasters.

“People recognize us as the agency that comes in and supports the response and recovery and the rebuilding,” she said. “I want to turn that around. I want people to think of FEMA as the agency that builds resilience.”

Among the research topics that could support the agency’s resilience goals are work related to climate migration, risk communicationand refining social vulnerability indices. These are issues that are central to the work of CU researchers in IBS and across the university, including in engineering and the physical sciences. For nearly 50 years, the Natural Hazards Center has played an especially important role in both advancing new disaster research and translating it for practitioners and policymakers.

“Since 1976, we’ve had one central goal, which is to move research into the hands of the people who need it most,” stated Director Lori Peek. “We focus on building connections so we can reduce the harm and suffering from disasters. Over the years, we have always remained true to that mission.”

FEMA has long been a supporter of the center through supplemental funding to its . The agency’s contribution has made numerous projects possible including the series, , and .

Criswell said that solidifying partnerships such as these are necessary to advance efforts to prepare to the nation to withstand future disaster impacts—especially considering the force multiplier of climate change.

“I think as we continue to build these relationships and bring in academia, it’s going to make a big difference,” she said. “The things we’re seeing today from a severe weather standpoint are way different than what we saw 10 years ago, and they’re going to be even more different 10 years from now. We have to continue to have these deliberate, integrated, interdisciplinary conversations all the time to really have a true impact across the U.S.”