Current Research Projects

The Center for Public Policy is currently working on a number of projects that span the interests of the community.

“Establishing a Practitioner Held Theory of Emergency Management and Social Vulnerability: Explaining the Realities of Addressing Social Challenges to Reduce the Effect of Disaster”

“An Investigation of the Challenges to Emergency Management and Resilience on the Texas Coast?”

“Disaster Preparedness Through Communication: How Can Local Government Increase the Publics’ Preparedness Knowledge?”

“Understanding the Perceptions of a Resilient Community through Energy Policy”

Recent Disaster Policy Publications

Williams, Brian D. (Forthcoming) "Understanding Where Emergency Management Gets The Knowledge To Solve The Problems They Face: Where Are We More Than 20 Years After The IJMED Special Edition Calls On Closing The Gap?" International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters


In 1993, IJMED published a special edition calling for a closing of the knowledge gap. The goal of this paper is to understand where we are in the knowledge gap by examining where emergency management professionals get the information needed to solve the problems they face. Twenty – four interviews were conducted with emergency management professionals in the Southeast Texas and Houston-Galveston Regions along the Texas Gulf Coast. The findings suggest that experience is pervasive as a source and most report utilizing a network of peers to gain information to solve problems. Even among those with an advanced degree, there is a perception that there is either no research out there, or at least nothing that is readily available. The findings accentuate the need for research to focus its distribution efforts through federal and state training programs and planning, for academia to facilitate a mix of education and experience in practice, and for experienced practitioners to reach out to research through degreed peers to facilitate knowledge transfer and close the knowledge gap for disasters. 

Williams, Brian D. and JP Nelson (2021) “Media, Governance and Ebola: What Local Government Needs to Understand about Media Influence of Response Operations When the Improbable Becomes Reality?” Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Vol 18, Issue 1, Pp 67-91



Research has shown that mass media can influence response operations by influencing the way that information is disseminated to the public before, during, and after disaster. After the 2014 Ebola event, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) conducted an After Action Review that proposes the need for government to ensure that the media does not control the narrative of response. The goal of this study is to understand if and how the media did attempt to control the narrative of response. To achieve this goal, we conduct a content analysis of three major newspapers, from July 26, 2014 to November 1, 2014, that focuses on Adaptive Governance in response to Ebola’s debut in the United States shortly after September 20, 2014. The results indicate that articles are more likely to focus on federal agencies and response efforts that follow established federal guidelines. However, the mention of local government, the boots on the ground first responders, is not significant to the mention of Adaptive Governance. This suggests that print media is controlling the narrative of the response and local government needs to provide the print media more access to emergency management professionals for more effective dissemination of effective local response.

Mann, Jim P. and Brian D. Williams (2021) “Policing in the Eye of the Storm” Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology Vol 36, Pp 183-192



In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a series of focus groups were held with local law enforcement agencies in Southeast Texas to discuss the implementation of their emergency plans and challenges faced. The area suffered up to 60 in. of rain and flooding within three days. Their comments became prophetic when Tropical Storm Imelda swept through the area two years later dumping 42 in. of rain within a similar time frame. The purpose of this study is to present the lessons learned from a law enforcement perspective. A thematic qualitative design was used to identify key factors. Focus groups with the major law enforcement and local governmental officials in the Golden Triangle area of Southeast Texas revealed that prior existing relationships with other government entities, nonprofit organizations, and private industry are essential to address the challenges of coordination and system barriers that occur in the initial stages of response in the eye of the storm.

Williams, Brian D. and Gary R Webb (2021)Social Vulnerability and Disaster: Understanding the Perspectives of Practitioners” Disasters, Vol 45, Issue 2, Pp 278-295



This research seeks to understand how local emergency managers perceive and define social vulnerability. While there has been a significant increase in research on social vulnerability recently, little is known about the extent to which that knowledge is being translated into practice. To address that void, we conducted semi-structured interviews with a sample of local emergency managers (N=24), asking them to describe what social vulnerability means to them. The analysis identified four primary perspectives on social vulnerability prevalent in the sample. These include social vulnerability as: (1) culture and poverty, (2) a moral imperative, (3) lack of security, and (4) lack of knowledge and awareness. Although these practitioner perspectives may not align perfectly with the definitions of social vulnerability prevalent in the hazards and disaster research literature, the results of this study do suggest a possible narrowing of the gap between research and practice as it relates to social vulnerability.

Williams, Brian D. and Gary R. Webb (2020) “Vulnerability and Disaster: Practitioner Strategies for Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Populations” Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Vol 17, Issue 2 



The strategies employed by emergency managers are intended to enhance rather than diminish the ability to meet society’s needs and specifically those of vulnerable populations. This study looks at the strategies that emergency management professionals employ to reach and meet the needs of vulnerable populations. Twenty - four interviews were conducted in 2016 with county and city level emergency management professionals from across the Houston – Galveston and Southeast Texas regions. The interview data reveals a common element of control. However, while some do talk about the need to leave disaster management activities to the professionals, the need to bring in volunteers and foster flexibility in a controlled environment are indeed important. The need to build buy-in and understand protocols reveals the need for future research to better understand the extent that emergency management combines discipline with agility to address the challenges of the unexpected and decrease the impact of vulnerability.