Katherine Branscum

Katherine Branscum

Immediately after a multi-vortex tornado tore a mile-wide path of destruction through Joplin in May 2011, churches in the area opened their doors to a flood of donations and volunteers from across the United States. A few months later, Honors College fellow Katherine Branscum arrived in Joplin. Her mission? Draw on her studies in supply chain management in the Sam M. Walton College of Business to document best practices for faith-based disaster relief.

Katherine worked with World Vision, a Christian relief organization, to interview pastors who shared an up-close view of what went right – and wrong – in Joplin. Take bottled water, for example. Though needed immediately after the tornado hit, there were more than 1 million bottles in Joplin four weeks later, with no place to store them.?“If the bottled water sits out in the sun, the water reacts with the plastic,” Katherine said, rendering the water undrinkable. “You only need water until the pipes get fixed,” she added. 

Gift cards that channel funds into the local economy are more helpful in the long run. “It’s all about the money flow,” Katherine said. To complete her internship, she distilled information gleaned from interviews and a four-inch binder of disaster relief materials from World Vision into a 20- to 30-page disaster relief logistics handbook. The handbook includes a day-by-day disaster relief timeline, a description of key roles such as volunteer coordinator, and lists of supplies that are needed, and not needed.

Katherine plans to continue her work on the handbook for her Honors College thesis, directed by Matthew Waller, chair of the supply chain management department in Walton College. She hopes to expand on her Joplin experience by interviewing pastors who responded to the Mississippi River floods and Hurricane Katrina as well as individuals in Japan who provided relief following the recent earthquake and tsunami.