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Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Dr. Jamie Kruse

JAMIE KRUSE: Advancing the science

Dr. Jamie Kruse is recognized for her research in economics and decision- making under uncertainty especially as it relates to natural hazards. Kruse is founding director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at ECU, and she served as director of the RENCI Center for Coastal Systems Informatics and Modeling for its first two years of operation.

Her funded research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Niagara Mohawk, State of Texas and the State of North Carolina. She has been principal investigator or co-investigator of research projects totaling almost $20 million.

Kruse recently spoke about her career with ECU News Services.

Q: How did you begin studying the economics of natural disasters?

Before coming to ECU in 2004, I had the opportunity to work with the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University. This was my first experience with a truly multidiscliplinary research center.

Q: What are you working on now?

Two research projects are in process. One is a joint project with the University of Delaware looking at a stakeholder approach to hurricane mitigation and insurance. I’m working with engineers to look at how people approach self-protection measures when it comes to hurricanes. The study is funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The second project is a National Science Foundation-funded study with Texas Tech University on the economic determinants of resiliency to hurricanes and other severe storms. Resiliency is the “it” word now when it comes to hazards. Over time, ecological, societal, structural and economic definitions of resiliency have developed. We don’t know a lot about how they are interrelated. I think one of the big questions is when something bad happens, something that creates a shock to the system, how well does the system withstand the shock and how does it continue to operate or improve?     

Much of my time in the last year has been devoted to working on approval for a Ph.D. in economics with an emphasis on risk as it relates to natural hazards and public health. It will go to General Administration soon for final approval to establish the program. The first students would start in fall 2014 if approved.

We are also working on an Integrative Graduate Education Research Training (IGERT) proposal to NSF to fund graduate students in economics and coastal hazards. The proposal is for $3.3 million over five years and would be used for stipends and research support for doctoral students. We will find out early next year if we were successful for this highly competitive federal grant.

We’re planning the third annual ECU/N.C. Emergency Management Hurricane Workshop that will be held at the Murphy Center on May 23.

Q. What have been or are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work?

High level work that makes you feel like you’re advancing the science appeals to me. Pushing yourself as far as you can is very empowering. Thankfully, academics allows us to do that. The work I’m doing now provides the opportunity to identify better solutions that can have a direct impact on people’s lives, and that part is pretty cool.    

Whatever you do, it needs to be of the highest quality. That’s the hallmark of good academic research. To be able to help the people of North Carolina and coastal areas is a real bonus.

In 2010, I spent a year as chief economist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (The senior executive service position serves as senior advisor for all aspects of NOAA’s economics and social science efforts in support of a climate responsive nation, sustainable coastal communities and ecosystems, a weather-ready nation, and sustainable and resilient fisheries.)

In April 2010 we had Deepwater Horizon so it was a very busy summer. I did not go to the explosion site, but I was on the science team that had twice weekly meetings from June until the fall. We determined what kind of scientific information needed to be collected and what kind of scientific work needed to be done.

We were able to initiate a new project looking at community health and resiliency and an oral history project.  It was difficult to get new economic projects going even though NOAA and BP were cooperating on collecting geological and biological samples. With the expectation of future litigation, there was a close hold on any information pertaining to economic research at NOAA, the Department of Commerce and the interagency level.

Q. How do you measure the impact of your research?      

That’s the challenge of academics in general. Hopefully we’re advancing the science to lead to good solutions, better financial instruments, and a better understanding of how people make decisions that lead to more effective policy. The introduction to every proposal for externally funded research includes a motivation of why it is important to advance the science and the broader beneficial impacts that are expected. When faculty do high quality work that is important to the region and publish the work in outlets including well-regarded academic journals, this enhances the reputation of the university nationally and internationally and benefits the region.

Q. What will you showcase at the open presentation during research week?

I’ll talk about the economics of natural hazards and define the measurable effects of natural disasters. When a disaster occurs, it’s a hardship, but certain economic measures improve afterwards. History indicates that some regions come back stronger than ever. The challenge is to identify the kinds of public investment that spur faster recovery or reduce the adverse impact of a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Q. What are your thoughts on receiving a lifetime achievement award?  

It’s thrilling. Looking at the others who have been honored - it’s humbling.

I’ve been very appreciative of the collegiality of the research community at ECU, especially the coastal community. There are a lot of good people here.

--- Crystal Baity

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