NCDP 20th Anniversary Reflections and Impacts

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October 26, 2023

NCDP 20th Anniversary

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax exposures, centers throughout the United States were set up to prepare for and make our nation more resilient. In 2003, the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), Columbia University, was founded to provide an academically based, interdisciplinary center focused on the capacity to prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters. NCDP has a rich history, from the early preparedness efforts for governmental and non-governmental systems to the complexities of population recovery, the power of community engagement, and the risks of human vulnerability. Below are reflections and commentary from members of the NCDP team.

Read also about our beginnings of NCDP.

Reflections About NCDP

Jeff Schlegelmilch, MPH MBA, NCDP Director, Research Scholar

Jeff SchlegelmilchNCDP builds on a legacy of linking the experiences of people and communities to larger forces of how we conduct research and design policy and practice programs. At the core of this work are amazing insightful and dedicated staff that have, and continue to, be what makes the work so relevant and impactful. In a world of increasing disasters and uncertainty, I am inspired by my colleagues and all of their work, and am constantly humbled at the extraordinary privilege to lead a center like ours.

Thomas Chandler, PhD, NCDP Deputy Director, Research Scientist

Thomas ChandlerIn the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the NCDP team had several meetings to determine how we could be most effective in responding to this unprecedented disaster in the Gulf Coast, which had caused the largest migration of U.S. residents since the Civil War. We quickly developed online and in-person training programs regarding socially vulnerable populations while also implementing some of the longest longitudinal studies about disaster displacement and recovery. Lastly, through a partnership with the Children’s Health Fund, we delivered mobile medical units to Louisiana and Mississippi, which provided urgent clinical care. The memories of working on these projects stay with me to this day, as the U.S. and the world face new coastal threats due to rising seas and more intense storm surges.

Josh DeVincenzo, EdM, NCDP Assistant Director for Education and Training

2020 was a critical moment for NCDP in the sense that all aspects of our day-to-day would be different across the board. I was exceptionally proud of how our teams were able to quickly adapt and innovate to the large-scale challenges that administering a national training program during a global pandemic would entail. I was also proud of NCDP during this period for providing thought leadership and highlighting many of the inequities that the pandemic illuminated.

Director of Research Administration, Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, formerly with NCDP, Jackie Ratner

Jackie RatnerWe counted out hundreds of M&Ms by hand as a learning aid for the in-person FEMA courses in the before-COVID times. That’s a dedication to excellence.



The Impact of Our Work at NCDP

Thomas Chandler, PhD, NCDP Deputy Director, Research Scientist

Thomas ChandlerThe National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) has been at the forefront of research, training, and public policy-oriented projects for more than the past 20 years and is still going strong. Having been awarded training grants from the CDC, FEMA, and research grants from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and GSK, among others, this center has had a long-lasting positive impact on U.S. and international disaster preparedness, response, and long-term recovery. In particular, NCDP’s curriculum development efforts on post-disaster economic recovery, housing recovery, mass care, pandemic planning, climate change and equity, have provided thousands of learners with fundamental skill sets and resources that are hard to find elsewhere.

Josh DeVincenzo, EdM, NCDP Assistant Director for Education and Training

Being part of NCDP’s training and education team has been an honor these past five years. Some of my fondest memories have been witnessing our training program from early development to nationwide implementation. Through the work at NCDP, we have been able to humanize the disaster preparedness process by working directly with people and communities. Sometimes, I think it is tough to visualize the impact and purpose of the curriculum development process; however, with our team at NCDP, each project seems special, and the team members working on each project make it easy to feel hopeful and confident that the work matters and will have an impact.

Jackie Ratner, Director of Research Administration, Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, formerly with NCDP

Jackie RatnerIt was always a privilege to work directly with community leaders who opened their lives to us and trusted us with their personal and professional vulnerabilities. Being able to move at the speed of trust is an NCDP specialty, I think it’s achievable because of the genuine empathy the staff express, coupled with the ability to solve complex problems in a holistic way.

Hannah Dancy, Project Coordinator, NCDP

Hannah DancyIn July 2022, we traveled to California to work with a community affected by the Camp Fire. We modified a course on long-term housing after a major disaster to fit the post-disaster framework. We spoke with community members to ensure the course information would apply to their community. Decision-makers, stakeholders, and community leaders were all present at the training, and from the evaluations received, this training provided hope and solutions in their community.

Lauren Esposito, MS, PMP, Senior Project Manager, NCDP

Lauren EspositoFrom its earliest foundation of preparedness after the terrorist threats of 9/11 and anthrax, NCDP continues to evolve to address complex challenges, whether caused by climate change, biological hazards, critical infrastructure failure, cyber-attacks, or nuclear threats. I am impressed with the depth of expertise, research, and the Center’s ability to pull together individuals from all aspects of the spectrum to address these challenges. I look forward to seeing what part the NCDP plays in and creates for the next twenty years and beyond.


The National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), Columbia Climate School, Columbia University is an academically based, interdisciplinary center focused on the capacity to prevent, respond to, and recover from disasters. NCDP’s approach combines research, policy, education, and high-level advocacy to ensure that the best thinking — and best practices — become part of our national disaster preparedness and recovery systems.