Skip to Main Content
Sign In

News In Memoriam: DRC Co-Founder Russell Dynes

Image Picker for Section 0
Dr. Russell Dynes speaking at the Disaster Research Center's 50th Anniversary.

​Dr. Russell Dynes speaking at the Disaster Research Center's 50th Anniversary.

Russell R. Dynes, 1923-2019

We are sorry to share very sad news.  Professor Emeritus Russell R. Dynes, one of the early pioneers of the disaster research field and co-founder of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), passed away on February 10, 2019. He was 95.

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.

A Great Scholar and Mentor
Enrico Quarantelli, Havidán Rodríguez and Russell Dynes press photo for the Disaster Handbook.

​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.

Noted Service to the Profession
Russell Dynes, Bill Anderson, Joe Scanlon and Tricia Wachtendorf.

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 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.


Russell Dynes with Friends

In Remembrance

Share Your Memories

To share your memories of Russell Dynes, click here.

Our Memories

As people add their memories you can view them below:



News Story Supporting Images and Text
Used in the Home Page News Listing and for the News Rollup Page
Dear DRC Family, We are writing with some very sad news: Dr. Russell Dynes, co-founder of DRC, passed away on Feb. 10th, 2019. He was 95.

Dear DRC Family, We are writing with some very sad news: Dr. Russell Dynes, co-founder of DRC, passed away on Feb. 10th, 2019. He was 95.

Page Settings and MetaData:
(Not Shown on the Page)
Page Settings
In Memoriam: Russell Dynes
MetaData for Search Engine Optimization
In Memoriam: DRC Co-Founder Russell Dynes
  • Disaster Research Center
  • University of Delaware
  • 166 Graham Hall, 111 Academy Street
  • Newark, DE 19716 U.S.A
  • Email:
  • Phone: 302-831-6618
  • DRC Forms Portal