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Iowa State researchers evaluate impact of Marshalltown tornado

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS - Iowa State University undergraduate researchers walk down West Main Street Friday to gather data on the impact of the July 19 tornado. From left: Enrique Rubio-Delgado, Ruben Hernandez, Jasmine Khammany and Emily Vanek.

Sometimes the most important things to learn exist outside the classroom.

A team of Iowa State University researchers are studying the impact of the July 19 tornado in Marshalltown and are talking to hundreds of impacted residents about their experiences.

“What I’m hoping is that some of the findings of our survey results would be, for example, informing and helping the Long Term Recovery Committee in Marshalltown to decide and and respond to some of the urgent types of needs that are there,” said research leader and ISU assistant professor of community and regional planning Sara Hamideh.

She and four undergraduate students are going door-to-door all across the tornado’s path of destruction in northern Marshalltown. Hamideh said at least 600 housing units will be surveyed in the study.

The researchers are asking residents to answer two surveys. One is to assess the physical damage from the tornado while the other will focus on the residents’ own experiences.

“As a social scientist, I’m very interested in understanding the disparities in the impact of disasters, including this tornado, on different types of households,” Hamideh said.

In other post-disaster environments, she said there have been documented gaps in services based on impacted residents’ racial-ethnic identity or income status.

“We want to see if that is the case in Marshalltown,” Hamideh said.

The students walking the neighborhoods are also curious about what their research will find.

“Based on talking with some of the residents, I have seen a lot of compassion within them,” said ISU civil engineering student Enrique Rubio-Delgado.

Fellow student researcher Jasmine Khammany said disasters in small towns need to be taken seriously. She and the rest of the research group, Ruben Hernandez and Emily Vanek, are majoring in community and regional planning.

“I think it’s a very important thing to look into,” Khammany said. “We’ve got to be able to support our communities, especially smaller communities where they can’t necessarily get a lot of assistance … especially in a timely manner.”

Hamideh said she hopes the research will be useful for helping Marshalltown tornado victims get the services they need. She also said the data may be used to help communities like Marshalltown prevent or respond to natural disasters in the future.

She said small, rural areas like Marshalltown don’t get the help and attention they need after a disaster, even from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“I call them low-attention disasters,” she said. “Yes, Marshalltown is a small town and did not get individual assistance from FEMA, but that doesn’t mean the magnitude of this disaster is small.”

The research is being funded by $5,000 from the ISU Hazard Mitigation and Community Resilience Program and $2,700 from the University of Colorado at Boulder Quick Response Grant Program.

“We are applying for other funding resources to continue this project, to expand it,” Hamideh said.

She said she hopes the team will have the data from the study collected by December so that analysis can begin.

Iowa State University has extension and outreach offices all over the state. Both Iowa State and the University of Iowa are also research institutions which cover an array of topics, including agriculture, medicine, engineering and more.

For more information on the ISU research team in Marshalltown, visit https://www.news.iastate.edu/news/

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com

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