NJIT professor receives NSF CAREER award for emergency response research


David Mendonca, Ph.D., an assistant professor of information systems at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) who has worked to improve the way society responds to disasters, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award - the foundation's most prestigious award for new faculty members.

The award recognizes and supports the early career development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. The award is a five-year grant of $400,000.

"Disasters routinely create non-routine situations," Mendonca said. "History repeatedly teaches us that flexibility and an ability to improvise are key to emergency preparedness and response. We must therefore plan, but also plan to improvise."

At the core of Mendonca's work, under this grant, will be improving the public's understanding of how to improvise successfully in emergencies. The work builds upon his prior research on the response to the 2001 World Trade Center attack and on managing the nation's critical infrastructures. NSF supported both projects. In addition to researching responses to previous disasters, Mendonca will work with state and local emergency response personnel to uncover how they think in deciding when and how to depart from emergency plans.

Concurrently, Mendonca will develop information technology-based solutions to support training in improvisation. These technologies and other training tools will be designed to help response personnel learn to overcome barriers to successful decision-making when they are faced with non-routine situations.

Mendonca's work will include education and outreach. A course in improvisation for New Jersey emergency response personnel will be offered through NJIT's Homeland Security Virtual Academy for New Jersey. He will also make presentations to high school students in the Newark area to introduce them to the field of emergency response. "Newark is an appropriate place to reach out to local students since the area has been so intimately connected to the 2001 World Trade Center attack," he said.

To unify these research and education activities, Mendonca will develop an online community for all participants. "I hope to see high school and university students, researchers and emergency response personnel communicating with each other over time through this community," he said. Electronic resources will be available to this on-line community and to the public through the Internet.

In addition to many other papers on emergency response, Mendonca was lead author of "Studying Organizationally-Situated Improvisation in Response to Extreme Events" in the August, 2004 issue of The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters (August, 2004). Mendonca's work has involved studies of improvised decision-making in jazz as well as emergency response, and has included projects with emergency response teams at the Port of Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Fire Academy. He received his PhD in decision sciences and engineering systems from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an MS from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA from University of Massachusetts/Amherst.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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