Fulbright expands Norton’s disaster debris research


Ashley Washburn, March 9, 2016 | View original publication

Fulbright expands Norton’s disaster debris research

A Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant is helping Terri Norton expand her research into disaster debris management.

The associate professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction will use the award to research Japan’s faster-than-expected recovery from a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Norton plans to use the information to help people around the world.

“I’m excited because this is the beginning of what my research goals and plans are,” Norton said. “There are other international sites that I’d like to visit — I’d like to go to Haiti — but there are so many cool takeaways that I’m learning because of the connections I had previously made in Japan.”

Three months after the disaster struck, Norton visited Japan and saw the massive debris fields. Upon returning this past summer, Norton was amazed and impressed with the progress made in the recovery.

“They’re rebuilding, but there’s not a complete buildup. They have some new housing, but they have areas where the population is still in temporary shelters,” Norton said. “To see the transformation from complete desolation to see how life is beginning again, that’s important.”

While in Japan, Norton has been working with faculty at Tohoku University and its International Research Institute of Disaster Science to increase spheres of influence. In 2017, she and a colleague will be presenting a collaborative paper at the 16th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering in Chile.

Norton said funding from the Fulbright grant will be spread over three-month periods the next two summers and could allow her to also spend time learning how people in the United States, specifically New Jersey and New Orleans, responded after major disasters.

The research could also lead to expanded course offerings for students, Norton said, and hopefully to more prestige for the college’s construction engineering program.

“This can set us apart from so many others in my research area. This is a niche that not many people are doing,” Norton said. “This should help not only my name but UNL’s be among the top in the field. And, at a Big Ten institution like Nebraska, it’s important to have faculty and researchers with that type of notoriety both nationally and internationally.”

Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 360,000 students, scholars and scientists from around the world a chance to further academic studies and research and work toward solving shared international concerns.

Fulbright alumni have won 53 Nobel Prizes and 82 Pulitzer Prizes and include some of the world’s foremost innovators and inventors.

Norton said the magnitude of the award has not yet sunk in.

“I think right now I’m just excited about the opportunity to expand my research program,” Norton said. “The prestige and notoriety, that’s not the ultimate goal. I don’t want to get caught up in all of that because I still have to press on. There’s so much I still have to do. This is a tool to allow me to make it to that next step.”

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