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University of Wisconsin - Madison College of Engineering
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  5. Donald R. Schramm


The 2011 Ragnar E. Onstad
Service to Society Award


Donald R. Schramm.

Donald R. Schramm
Engineering Professional Development

Don Schramm has a superpower that he can share with the world. It is the ability to mitigate disaster.

In 1982, Schramm cofounded the UW-Madison Disaster Management Center (UWDMC), which provides practical disaster management training to local and national governments and international organizations. As director of the UWDMC and faculty associate in the Department of Engineering Professional Development, he has secured more than $8.9 million as the principal investigator for grants to develop the UWDMC’s self-study distance education and onsite custom workshop programs. Schramm has developed and implemented training programs focused on disaster management in 135 countries, serving more than 50,000 participants and mitigating potential disaster due to natural and human made hazards. His work has been an integral part of disaster management processes for agencies including the United Nations, the ProVention Consortium, the World Food Program, the Pan American Health Organization, and many more.

Schramm has enabled engineers, planners, medical professionals and governmental leaders across the globe to save lives through better pre-event planning and post-event response to natural hazards. Colleagues say Schramm has had global impact upon reducing the human and societal tragedy caused by earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural hazards. Additionally, he has made an equally important contribution in helping engineers work effectively across cultures, countries, and continents, a critical outcome in the increasingly global nature of engineering teams and projects.

When the UWDMC was founded nearly 30 years ago, there was limited information about the theory and practice of disaster management; training and support texts were nearly nonexistent. More than 95 percent of disaster and emergency management practitioners in developing countries had no access to training. In response, Schramm and the UWDMC established a curriculum of self-study courses on a wide range of disaster and refugee management topics, with input from colleagues worldwide. While there is a long tradition of distance education at UW-Madison, its application to disaster management in developing countries was an important innovation. The self-study courses became accessible to practitioners across the globe at very low cost.

Schramm estimates he has traveled to 100 countries in the course of his work for the UWDMC. Now, more than 10 such centers have begun with some input from Wisconsin.