University of Pittsburgh
April 19, 2013

Pitt Disaster Management Expert Available to Comment on Fertilizer Plant Explosion

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Louise Comfort, professor of public and international affairs and director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Disaster Management, is available to comment on the explosion Wednesday of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and the response from emergency management personnel. Professor Comfort can speak about the management of risky chemicals, decision making during emergency events, and the critical processes of monitoring and planning involved in preventing such disasters.

“The critical question is whether people in the town knew of the risk, and were they informed of a contingency plan?” said Comfort. “Certainly fertilizer plants are risky facilities, and they would be governed under Environmental Protection Agency regulations. How closely has the company been working with emergency responders? Were volunteer responders aware of the danger in that facility? 

“Here in Pittsburgh, everybody knows the nuclear plant is in Beaver Valley, and so there are regular drills with city, county, state, and federal agencies almost every year. People know well the risk. Was this the case in Texas?”

As director of the University’s Center for Disaster Management, Comfort oversees Pitt’s academic minor in civil security and emergency management. A fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, she teaches a class at Pitt on managing emergencies. Her most recent book is Designing Resilience: Preparing for Extreme Events (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). Among Comfort’s other published work in the fields of disaster management, decision making under conditions of rapid change, and public policy is a study she conducted of four states’ management of hazardous material that compared the states’ responses, which differed despite being governed by the same policies.

Comfort can be reached at 412-648-7606 or