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National Preparedness Month Feature: Highlight on CSTE’s Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee

Posted By Hayleigh McCall, CSTE Program Analyst for Environmental Health, Friday, September 28, 2018
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2018
Written in the spirit of the National Preparedness Month theme: “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.”

Pictured: Participants of CSTE’s 9th Annual National Disaster Epidemiology Workshop in Atlanta, GA, May 2018 (Photo credit: Hayleigh McCall, CSTE)

When thinking of epidemiologists working in public health preparedness and response, thoughts traditionally jump to many infectious disease-related activities: contact tracing in West Africa during the Ebola crisis, GIS-mapping as Zika was being locally-transmitted in the U.S., and deployments for Epi-Aids as a measles outbreak is detected. Yet, there is an entire sector of public health epidemiologists that prepare for and respond to environmental and man-made disasters – the disaster epidemiologists.

Disaster epidemiology, as defined by CDC, is “the use of epidemiology to assess the short- and long-term adverse health effects of disasters and to predict consequences of future disasters.” Its goal is to prevent further morbidity and mortality by addressing immediate and long-term needs by using gathered information to adjust priorities, allocate resources, and plan for future needs and/or disasters. In simpler terms, disaster epidemiology provides reliable and actionable health and needs information to public health response incident commanders, planners, and decision-makers.

With nearly one of every five CSTE members subscribing to the group, the CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee is very active in its efforts to promote, support, and drive the efforts of disaster epidemiology at STLT health agencies. Meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at 2:00 pm ET, the group discusses best practices, lessons learned, and ongoing challenges related to current disaster situations via monthly presentations. In addition, the subcommittee has three current workgroups working to develop products, such as a resource guide for epidemiologists new to the field, a guidance document on shelter surveillance, and tools and resources for epidemiologists to collaborate with emergency managers.
Further advancing the nation’s capacity in disaster epidemiology, the CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee, in collaboration with CDC, invites STLT epidemiologists to participate in an Annual National Disaster Epidemiology Workshop in Atlanta, GA. In May 2018, over 200 participants (100 in-person and 100 virtual) came together at the 9th Annual Workshop to address and discuss the tools and assessments that can and have been utilized prior to, during, and post-disaster. Recordings of each day of the workshop, as well as an annotated agenda with time-stamps of presentations, can be found in the CSTE Webinar Library.
As you may know, September is National Preparedness Month, and the CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee encompasses this National Preparedness Month’s theme of “Disasters Happen. Prepare Now. Learn How.” Epidemiologists who work in this arena accept that disasters happen and learn how to prepare now through data collection and analysis pre-, during, and post-disaster. However, given the complexity of recent and current disasters, epidemiologists traditionally separate from public health emergency responses and are welcome and encouraged to join! If interested in joining and/or learning more, please visit the CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee webpage or contact Hayleigh McCall at hmccall@cste.org.

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