Kent State professor analyzes Oklahoma tornado damage


Photo courtesy of Andrew Curtis, Kent State Geography Professor.

Katy Coduto

Andrew Curtis, director of the Kent State Geographic Information Systems Health and Hazards lab, is used to traveling around the country to assess tornado damage. When tornados struck Oklahoma City in the middle of May, many grieved over the destruction. But Curtis and his team were fascinated by it.

“We go to post-disaster locations and collect data of the damage,” he said. “From that damage data, we start to look at what happened in terms of the damage.”

While in Oklahoma, Curtis scoured every road within the tornado’s path to collect as much data as possible. He and his team used geospatial equipment to record the coordinates of damaged areas to survey the effect of the storm’s reach.

With this, Curtis said there are two main goals in understanding the data. First, the team wants to understand where the damage occurs.

“If we analyze the damage data, we can look for patterns of damage,” he said. “What we continue to look at with our data is how you can look at the variation of damage within that path. You’ll have one street that fared better than another. We’re trying to identify why these particular sections of geography fared better.”

The other goal is to assist in recovery.

“We want to try to understand and assess what are the best pathways to recovery,” Curtis said. “I think most disaster recovery is a pretty haphazard event. We can help inform where there is some flexibility for decision-making and what may be the best strategy to move forward.”

Curtis doesn’t do this research alone. While in Oklahoma, he was assisted by Spencer Baker, who just graduated with his undergraduate degree in geography. Baker himself found the entire adventure rewarding to his studies.

“This was my first opportunity to go and study a disaster situation academically and with a lab,” Baker said. “It was a great experience for me in a lot of ways, getting to see the aftermath of nature’s worst and seeing people coming together and doing their part to recover from that … It was very motivating for me.”

Until traveling to Oklahoma with Curtis, Baker’s work had been locally focused. He went with Curtis partially due to his previous experience with the equipment, which he made sure were functioning throughout the trip.

Contact Katy Coduto at [email protected].