Russell R. Dynes, 1923-2019
Professor Russell Dynes was born in Dundalk, Ontario on October 2, 1923, and later moved to the United States with his family. During World War II, he was assigned to an Army Specialist Training Group in Engineering at the University of Alabama and then to the 138º Petroleum Distribution Company. Upon his discharge in 1946, he completed his Bachelor’s (1948) and Master’s (1950) degrees at the University of Tennessee, and his Ph.D. in Sociology at The Ohio State University (1954).

It was here, as a faculty member at OSU, that he met Enrico Quarantelli and Eugene Haas. In 1963, he co-founded what would become one of the most renowned centers in the world focused on the social aspects of disasters. Quarantelli and Dynes continued as DRC co-directors for many years, mentoring students who would become leaders in the disaster research field. Russell Dynes’s influence on scholars stretched beyond disciplines and borders, providing the foundation for much of our knowledge about individual and organizational behavior during disasters.

Enrico Quarantelli, Havidán Rodríguez and Russell Dynes, 2006
Enrico Quarantelli, Havidán Rodríguez and Russell Dynes, 2006


Many of those who remember Professor Dynes well will recall his cheerful demeanor. Even as his health and physical vitality declined in his later years, his mind and easygoing good nature remained intact and were a treat for everyone at DRC and those who would visit. Throughout his career, the moment he met a student, a scholar new to the field, or an international visitor to the Center, he would immediately be able to conjure a recollection of a visit to the person’s home-city, a tie to their interest, a connection upon which to build. He had the wonderful ability to set someone at ease and quickly build rapport. It is how many of us learned that he was born in Ontario, Canada. We heard his accounts of his time during World War II when he helped build the petroleum pipeline from India, through Burma, and into China. And we heard both the challenges and discoveries during the early days of the disaster research field and descriptions of the early days of emergency management.

In 1995, his article on disaster research policy networks was published in the Journal of Applied Sociology. In addition to providing a fascinating autobiographical background, he wrote of the importance of “transnational and comparative work, that sociological knowledge should have application, and that sociology, like any intellectual activity, needs to be supported by creating interpersonal networks.” Professor Dynes – through his Fulbright Awards that brought him to Egypt, India, and Thailand, his international fieldwork, and his conference travel that brought him around the globe several times over – forged and fostered connections that would last a lifetime, influenced his thinking and writing, and would be passed down to his students.

Professor Dynes was, at all times, a sharp observer of human behavior, as individuals and in groups and organizations. His classic book, Organized Behavior in Disaster, now nearly 50 years old, presents durable analyses and findings that remain foundational in our understanding of disaster. His research in the early years of the Center undertook topics others are finding anew today.

Russell Dynes and G. Poghosyan, 1995
Russell Dynes and G. Poghosyan, 1995

Neil Postman, the noted communications theorist, in Technopoly, bitterly criticized the social sciences, saying that “Theories in social science disappear, apparently, because they are boring, not because they are refuted.” Professor Dynes’s work was never boring, but it has been refined and has thus steadily informed generations of researchers around the world.

His early research focus, and his dissertation topic, was the sociology of religion—perhaps an unlikely early preparation for building the field of disaster research. Nevertheless, these studies, encompassing perception, production of knowledge, and organizations, were an indirect yet excellent ground for studying organizational change in disaster: change that is itself grounded in perceptions, interpretations of changing conditions, and formal and informal organizing processes. In his dissertation which focused on “a study of the contrasting typologies of Church and Sect,” with its focus on “social order” and “cultural definitions,” we may see a glimmer of the thinking that went into the “DRC typology” of established, expanding, extending, and emergent groups.

Professor Dynes’s work will persist in things that we talk about every day: emergence, the DRC typology of organizations during disasters, social capital. Every time we write about those things, we preserve his legacy and his memory. He led us down interesting paths. He challenged us to expand the horizons of disaster research, be it to reconsider what we can learn from slower onset and chronic processes and hazards, to consider historical accounts, such as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake as the first modern disaster, or even further back to Genesis, Noah, and disaster planning and the cultural significance of the great flood story. We can be grateful for his long and productive life, one whose pursuits led him abroad and kept him coming into the office well into his 80s. Although we are deeply saddened, those of us who knew him will reflect on many good times. Those who know him only as an important scholar in the field have the benefit of his many contributions.

Russell Dynes, Bill Anderson, Joe Scanlon and Tricia Wachtendorf, 2010
Russell Dynes, Bill Anderson, Joe Scanlon and Tricia Wachtendorf, 2010.


Many of his accomplishments were in service to the sociological profession. He chaired the Department of Sociology at The Ohio State University (1974-1977), then left OSU to become Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association (ASA) from 1977 to 1982. He served, over the years, as chair or member on many regional committees, national policy committees, and was editor of ASA’s Footnotes. After the Three Mile Island accident, he served as the head of the Task Force on Emergency Preparedness and Response for the President’s Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island, and then joined the University of Delaware as chair of the Department of Sociology from 1982-1988, a momentous interval. It was during that time that Enrico Quarantelli and the Disaster Research Center moved from OSU to its present home at the University of Delaware.

Professor Dynes served as President of the Research Committee on Disasters from 1986-1990 and its executive committee from 1990-1994. His honors are many, including multiple Fulbright awards and scholarly awards from the disaster research community: the E.L. Quarantelli Award for Contributions to Social Science Disaster Theory, and the Charles E. Fritz Award for Distinguished Career Service to the Field of Disaster Research, both from the International Sociological Association Research Committee on Disasters. He was specially honored in the Research Committee’s business meeting at the World Congress of Sociology in 2010. Reflecting on this session, we are reminded of many other recent losses to the community. Professor Dynes Skyped into the session and another revered DRC alum, the late Bill Anderson, sent comments, which were read by Joe Scanlon, now also gone. But Dr. Anderson’s comments speak a powerful testimony to how we all feel about Russell Dynes:

“My mentor and friend Russell Dynes has been a most remarkable and productive figure in the social science disaster research community for nearly five decades. With far reaching intellect and collaborative nature, he arrived on the scene of the nascent disaster research field at just the right time to provide leadership to help build a community of scholars that cuts across national borders and to show the way to new and creative ways to capture the essence of human behavior in disaster, train future generations of researchers, and build bridges to policy makers and practitioners.”

The passing of Russell Dynes is, for DRC, the end of an era. We were saddened by the loss of DRC co-founder and disaster research pioneer Enrico Quarantelli just two years ago. With the loss of Professors Dynes and Quarantelli, our DRC family is feeling acutely the effect of passing years. Professor Dynes and Quarantelli were friends and colleagues for over a half-century. Theirs was a unique scientific partnership, two people who came from very different scholarly backgrounds in sociology to build a field that has not only nurtured and nourished generations of scholars but which has at its central moral guidepost the benefit of our societies and communities. Certainly, two lives well-lived.

Russell Dynes with Norma Anderson and Marccus Hendricks at the William A. Anderson Fund fall workshop, 2017.
Russell Dynes with Norma Anderson and Marccus Hendricks at the William A. Anderson Fund fall workshop, 2017.

Professor Dynes was predeceased by his wife, Susan, who also formed strong connections with students and fellow scholars over the years. He was also predeceased by his son, Jon. In his late years, Professor Dynes’s children – Russ Jr., Patrick, and Greg – made a special effort to keep the DRC family informed and to bring him to various retirement parties and student workshops. We are so grateful to them for generously sharing their father with us over the years, and extend our deepest sympathies to the entire family at this time. The family’s obituary for their father and grandfather is posted here, including a lovely collage of family photos.

In 2018, we began a conversation with Professor Dynes, indicating how much his former students and the research community would like to honor his impact. We are thankful that we had those discussions prior to his passing, and that he knew – we hope – how much we valued and cherished him as a scholar, a mentor, and a friend.

The family has indicated that those wishing to make a contribution in memory of Russell Dynes to help establish a fund in his honor at the University of Delaware can do so at the Disaster Research Center gift site, selecting the fund for Dr. Russell Dynes.

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As people add their memories you can view them below:

I remember my first DRC holiday party at Kathleen Tierney’s house, back in 1996. As a new Master’s student, I was in such awe meeting the great disaster sociologists Quarantelli and Dynes. I picked number tickets for the holiday gift exchange with Professor Quarantelli. I enjoyed the dessert offerings with Professor Dynes. It was like meeting rock stars. But these rock stars were humble, kind, and generous mentors. As soon as Russ found out I was from Canada, he went on to share his origin story from north of the border, finding a way to connect and make this nervous graduate student still contending with imposter syndrome feel at ease. Over the years, he would graciously ask about family, or share a story that would connect with research I was grappling with. Sometimes this was in the hallways of DRC – perhaps a pause from typing on his reliable typewriter well into retirement. Other times, it was as he was guarding the outside door to the Center, cigarette in hand. I also recall trying to orchestrate the Skype-in for Russ to accept his award at the 2010 IRCD meeting in Sweden. Although certainly not innovative today, the fact that Russell Dynes – a hold out for not getting a computer and sticking with the typewriter – was Skyping in for an international meeting seemed like something out of Star Trek. It is a blessing to be a part of the DRC family and disaster research community, both of which owe so much to Russ and Henry. The students at DRC, as well as DRC alumni, enact their legacy every day. I am certain that across the world, upon hearing his passing, more than a few former students and friends poured a martini (or alternative beverage, depending on their taste) and offered a toast to a remarkable man. With much sympathies and gratitude to the Dynes family, Tricia Wachtendorf, Disaster Research Center / Department of Sociology & Criminal Justice, University of Delaware

– Tricia Wachtendorf

I arrived at DRC as a post-doc in 2000, and I remember Russ’s kindness and the attention he gave me as a mentor. He was retired by then, but he gave his time generously. He read drafts of papers; he answered questions about theory and methods; and he talked about the development and structure of the field. What a privilege to have this private tutorial! Much of this happened at a nearby restaurant, at the bar, over Buffalo wings. Good memories. I also remember a lucky escape he had, in DRC of all places. One day, he had just left his office to walk across the street to pick up his newspaper and coffee: his daily routine. While he was gone, the ceiling collapsed. Pieces of tile and ventilation parts fell down onto his chair and desk. This incident may have indirectly contributed to DRC’s ability to move into different space.

– James Kendra

Russ and Henry provided me with open access to the DRC archives when I was a wee grad student who they did not know at all. Over the years they continued to give freely of their time with ample mentoring and wizened insights. Gradually–and without them ever saying a word about it–I began to comprehend the massive scope and scale and magnitude of the work that they are their colleagues did over the years. Russ himself was a personal inspiration. I admired his dry wit and his prodigious intelligence. He left a tremendous legacy not only in terms of his ideas and discoveries, but also through the many people who were (and continue to be) inspired by him and his work. Thanks Russ!

– David Mendonca

I never met Professor Dynes but his work provided a foundation for my PhD studies. I have worked in the disaster management sector for nearly 20 years in Australia and still go back to those fundamental theories and work to inform what we do now. His contribution to the disaster management/emergency management sector will continue.

– Allison Rifai

In March 1973 I was en route for Managua, following the eathquake of December 1972. I was embarking on PhD research into shelter following disasters and visited Russ and Henry in the DRC in Columbus Ohio. For two days, with endless patience and generosity they opened their memories, insights, files and library to me, as a total ignoramus in tbe subject. The hospitality was so typical of these two giants in disaster research in asssisting a total stranger and newcomer into the complexities of this subject. In the late 1970’s Russ became chair of the US Academy of Sciences study of the functioning of the US Government’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and he kindly invited Michel Lechat, John Seaman and myself to join the committee as foreign participants. That gave all of us on the committee the opportunity to see Russ in action as a brilliant chairman, carefully guiding our deliberations and firmly resisting interventions from Government officials seeking to influence the findings in some self-serving directions. Russ wrote so many brilliant books and papers. For me his masterly study of the 18th century Lisbon Earthquake was an outstanding example of historical research as he delved into the religious and philosophical debates that raged in the earthquake aftermath. We all miss a wonderful person who not only developed but also greatly enriched disaster research, benefitting all societies and all whose lives he touched.

– Ian Davis

I have many memories, but I especially remember a speical session entitled, “An Hour with Enrico Quarantelli and Russell Dynes, ” convened at an annual meeting of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute. As the chair in a room overflowing with at least 100 “Earthquake Engineers,” I listened along with them as Russell and Henry shared stories of their experiences laced with pearls of wisdom. Everyone learned from this experience that could have easily lasted all day.r

– Walter Hays

Remembering Dr. Russell R. Dynes In the early morning of November 1, 1963, Dr. Russell R. Dynes drove three nely hired DRC staff members to Indianapolis, Indiana: James R. Hundley, John Quast, and Tom Drabek. En route they discussed a first draft of a field interview guide that was to be the main topic of a staff conference in a week or two. Since none of them had ever done field research after a major disaster, this was a training opportunity that transformed all of our lives. They learned from Russ how to “talk their way” past security by legitimating their purpose, how to obtain authorization to conduct interviews with lower level members of the emergency response network, and how to obtain access to perishable materials like agency logs and audio recordings of organizational actions. On a side note, they learned from Russ that driving a few extra miles to enjoy a restaurant he knew about, was the right thing to do. This and so many other lessons, helped them gain perspective about things that really matter in life, things like good food, friendly conversation, and family loyalty. So began my career in disaster research and my wife’s role as assistant. Years later, February 29, 2004, to be exact, I sent letters to both Russ and Henry on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the DRC. Other commitments precluded our attendance. In these letters, I singled out a few of the many gems of wisdom that I gained from each. No need to repeat all of that here, but two from Russ’s letter illustrate my sense of appreciation for and endebtedness to, the man we first knew as Dr. Dynes. “Unlike too many bureaucrats who lack much understanding of the concept of ‘community’, you articulated the inherent shortcomings in administrative models rooted within a ‘command and control’ ideology.” “Similarly, your recent comparisons of the responses to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the bombing of Hamburg, and the destructive impacts of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, provide another insightful analysis that will help all of us maintain a sense of perspective. It is this ‘sense of perspective’ that I have learned from you that I consider to be most invaluable.” Both of these words of appreciation and substance are as relevant today as they were then, back 15 years ago. Accompanying these letters was a photo booklet that Ruth and I prepared—mainly Ruth—for distribution at the anniversary event. Those photos, featuring Russ and Henry, provide a link to the past and celebrate the maturity of the vision now superbly being carried forward by DRC staff at the University of Delaware. But the wisdom shared by Dr. Dynes was not limited to sociological analyses. For those of us who were blessed with interactions with Russ over decades learned that his wisdom went far beyond; it really reflected an approach to life. Certainly his warm supportive style from which so many of us benefitted, like his continual acknowledgment of Sue and other family members, are qualities that all of us should seek to emulate. Happy trails to you our friend. You will be missed, but we find some comfort in knowing that through your work, your family, and rich collegial networks, you will live on. Tom and Ruth Drabek

– Tom and Ruth Drabek

Yes, raising a glass in your honor, Russ, with enormous gratitude for your passionate scholarship and generous spirit. About the time I thought disaster sociology was not for me, I found you. How kind you were to take me to lunch in Boulder early on to discuss my developing ideas around gender & disaster — and yours. And how kind to just chuckle and not chop off the head of the graduate student (?!) we heard complaining on a panel about “lack of organizational analysis” in the field. These two small moments have stayed with me – and yes, I wish I’d written this to you years ago. Thanks to all who have helped sustain the work and spirit of Russell Dynes.

– Elaine Enarson

After the massive flood of 1985 in West Virgina I took a job as’the pastoral care consultant for the inferreligious crecovery group of west Virgina and Westren Maryland INC. Casting around for helpful literature I discovered Russel book on long-term emotional health after disaster (Still an important read) A few years later I met Russ at the Natural Hhazards Workshop and found him to be open an helpful to this newcomer’. Some years later Ben Wisner and I decided to suggest a panel on religion and worldviews and disaster research and recovery and i asked Russ to be part of that. His response was I would love to, I have wanted to do something on the Lisbon eartquake and the impact that had on western thinking. The room was acked and russel was wtiiy and wonderful. I will miss him but he will still all us to good work as our ascestor.

– Richard Krajeski

For me, Russ Dynes was the embodiment of clarity, foresight, guidance, and trust. I was fortunate to have him as my mentor and M.A. thesis advisor during my time at DRC. In terms of clarity, he helped me focus my sometimes foggy and rambling thoughts. He suggested the title of my master’s thesis and his suggestion stuck. I couldn’t come up with anything better. In terms of foresight, Russ was always leaning forward to try to see what was just beyond “next”. I was defending my thesis in 1993 just after the first attack on the World Trade Center and we exchanged some knowing glances that this wasn’t going to be the end of that story. That twinkle in his eye really stuck with me as a momentary connection that seemed to spark again and again throughout my tenure at DRC. In terms of guidance, Russ helped me to figure out some difficult situations on my own such as when someone from the Israeli National Police asked for the home address of a scientist in Teheran. I knew the answer because I read a lot, but Russ asked me to think about how the inquiring party might use the information. He helped me to set some limits on what I (and the DRC) was willing to share. This ethical exercise paid off as additional challenges arose. I would spend some time inquiring why particular information was needed by certain parties and would not go further until I was satisfied with the answer. In terms of trust, Russ gave a lot of it to his grad students. When the White House called to inquire about some obscure scientific fact that they needed, his grad students were there to help them try to find the answer. When geopolitical conditions changed and Russian scientists were free to visit DRC and exchange information with us, his grad students were there to participate in the foundation of the new relationship. I will miss Dr. Dynes. He sure had a positive impact on my life!

– Bruce D. Crawford

Russ, I miss you. I always saw you as a good and patient man. As my professor you taught me how to think as an applied sociologist. Along the way you discovered my interest in using computers and being curious, you asked me many questions. Sometimes out of politeness, as you were a gentleman and a gentle man. Computer technology was not your first love. As a mentor and senior colleague, I appreciated your ideas, advice and recommendations. You were always available to talk and help a younger sociologist and disaster researcher find his way. I viewed you as akin to bring my intellectual uncle. So, dear uncle thank you for all you given your students. And, thank you for the contributions of your scholarship which showed us the way. Test my friend for you have earned it.

– Henry (Hank) Fischer

From 2003 to 2005 (after I retired from FEMA), I worked on the DRC’s study of FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Program. I spent one day a week at the DRC, and I always started my day visiting with Russ. I greatly enjoyed talking with him about the disasters and the people over the years that we both had experienced. And of course talking about the changes in the disaster program over the years. I will always remember those times with Russ.

– Richard Buck

Dr. Dynes was a true inspiration for me. The world is a lesser place now that he is gone from it. His work has been a constant guidepost. It is hard to imagine the Disaster Research landscape without his many contributions. Consider true “classics” like Organized Behavior in Disaster; his co-edited volume on collective behavior, the first edition of the Handbook of Disasters and many others. Consider papers on religion, social capital, warnings, emergence, culture, mass media, and so much more. His time at ASA, his work on 3-mile Island, his consultation on the formation of FEMA. So many lasting ideas. But to me he was much more. Dr. Dynes was actually the very first person I met at DRC on my very first visit. He was outside “taking in some fresh air” when I walked up searching for the building. At that point, I knew of his work, but had never met him. I saw this everyday guy hanging out and asked if he knew where the Disaster Research Center was. He pointed to the building and asked why I was visiting. I proceeded to tell Russ about the history of DRC and that it was one of the best places to study disasters and I was hoping to convince them to take me on as an RA. He must have just chuckled inside…he just said, “Yeah? I know the place I can show you up.” He walked me up the stairs and showed me to then Director Kathleen Tierney’s office. He told me “good luck.” I politely said “Thank you.” It was not until he quietly turned and walked into his office next door that I realized who I had just met. He could have dressed me down or embarrassed me for not knowing who he was. How important a person. But he didn’t really care about that stuff. Over the years we would talk often at DRC and he even served on my thesis committee. I can clearly see him sitting behind a beige electronic typewriter clicking away. He was a special person both brilliant and the every man; wise and humble. He never failed to meet whatever student, colleague, or visitor might be making their way through DRC. To make them feel important. In the end, my work was transformed by Russ, but I cannot help but think that his example on how to be a human being, his mentorship of so many, his accessibility taught me as much. Especially, in the modern academic environment where pressures and tasks lists abound. His life reminds us of the importance of warmth and kindness. He taught sociology and disasters, but he taught other important lessons too.

– Joe Trainor

I was a graduate research associate at the DRC in the late 1960s when it was at Ohio State. Russell was more of a mentor to us graduatestudents than a boss. Of all the memories that I have of Russell, the one that still makes me smile is about the party that he and Sue gave for us research assistants at their home in Upper Arlington. (They lived in the same neighborhood as Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes, the Ohio State football coach.) I had gone into the kitchen to refill my wine glass, but all the wine bottles were empty. Then Russell came in, holding a bottle wine and muttering to himself about how he didn’t understand how we could drink so much. He wasn’t angry, just amazed at how much we students could imbibe.

– Robert A. Stallings

Russ Dynes was somehow simultaneously larger than life, and also so beautifully, completely human. I, like so many of us, met Russ when I was still a graduate student. So that sense of him being larger than life was so real! But he was so charming and disarming in every way, with that laugh, sense of humor, and twinkle in his eye, the sense of intimidation seemed to somehow slip away. I have so many memories of Russ (including when he happily climbed into the front seat of my Mini Cooper to hitch a ride to downtown Boulder during the Natural Hazards Workshop!). Perhaps what influenced me the most, though, was how he talked to me after Hurricane Katrina. We were together at an American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, and he came up to me and said something along the lines of “I hear you and Alice Fothergill are studying children after Katrina.” When I told him yes and proceeded to share a bit about the project, he listened carefully, agreed that it was good to record childen’s stories, but also gently reminded us to “never forget that children are embeded in families and neighborhoods, and their lives are shaped by organizations and broader forces.” That was so perfectly Russ. He was simultaneously supportive while also pushing us to not forget our sociology. My heart goes out to the Dynes family, and also to the DRC family that he helped to nurture and grow over the years. It is a beautiful thing to see the web of scholars and practitioners that he helped mentor and that the DRC has helped shape over these many decades. Thank you for giving us this chance to share our memories. – With love.

– Lori Peek

It was 1982 when I met you in person, Russ! Me still rather young and naïve as a researcher; you very experienced and established. Together with Henry (Enrico) and other colleagues you were welcoming and helpful in helping me and colleagues to bring a sociological perspective to disaster research and planning in Italy. It was six year after the Friuki earthquake. Thanks and goodbye. Bruna

– Bruna De Marchi

There are no words that can truely speak to this GIANT of a man.

– DeGeis