Science During Crisis: Best Practices, Research Needs, and Policy Priorities

A Call to Action

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Rita R. Colwell and Gary E. Machlis
The Public Face of Science

Environmental and technological disasters cannot be eliminated. Each disaster and its legacy will be characterized by a unique combination of location, timing, size, duration, losses, decisions, and response. Yet risks and damage can be reduced and responses improved by the timely application of scientific knowledge. Science across all relevant disciplines will continue to play an important role in informing critical decisions and helping to guide response and recovery. The scientific community, in partnership with the emergency management community and decision-makers at all levels, has been involved in conducting, organizing, staffing, communicating, and archiving science during crisis. But further progress is needed. Best practices must be defined, a research agenda put in place, and policy reforms initiated.

Science during crisis has many long-term benefits. It can foster interdisciplinary collaborations within and among the scientific community, emergency response managers, local communities, federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector. Effective engagement of local communities and citizens—particularly those underrepresented or highly vulnerable—can improve trust, risk perception, communication, and coordination during crisis, as well as improve long-term outcomes. The scientific community can provide more efficient and effective scientific responses to future crises.17

This report is a call to action for federal, state, and local agencies, academic institutions, professional organizations, and stakeholders who rely on and contribute to science during crisis. Future climate and weather disasters will only be more frequent, severe, costly, and deadly; the communities affected by these events will need the very best science during crisis supporting them. We hope the recommendations in this report will contribute toward that important goal.


  • 17Marcia K. McNutt, “Convergence in the Geosciences,” GeoHealth 1 (1) (2017): 2–3; and Mease et al., “Designing a Solution to Enable Agency-Academic Scientific Collaboration for Disasters.”