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Environmental Health: Disaster Epidemiology

Disaster epidemiology is the use of traditional epidemiologic tools and methods to assess the short- and long-term adverse health effects of disasters and emergencies, and to predict consequences of future disasters. Typically, the main objectives of disaster epidemiology are to: provide timely and accurate information for decision-makers, prevent or reduce the number of deaths, illnesses, and injuries caused by disasters, and improve prevention and mitigation strategies for future disasters and emergencies by gaining information for response preparation.

The Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee brings together epidemiologists from across subject disciplines to share best practices and collaborate on epidemiologic approaches towards improving all-hazard disaster preparedness and response capacities at local, state, Tribal, regional, and national levels. It is critical to use epidemiologic principles, emergency preparedness planning, and a coordinated disaster response for describing the distribution of injuries, illnesses, and disabilities; rapidly detecting outbreaks or clusters; identifying and implementing timely interventions; evaluating the impacts of public health efforts; and improving public health preparedness planning

CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee Resources

 Public Health Preparedness (PHP) Capabilities and Disaster Epidemiology Crosswalk

Members of the subcommittee created a Disaster Epidemiology and Public Health Preparedness capabilities crosswalk to provide resources to health departments on disaster epidemiology tools that are available to help meet the capabilities.

CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Tool Repository

The CSTE Disaster Epidemiology (DE) subcommittee has identified the need to share information among state, local, and federal epidemiologists on disaster related methods, tools, and lessons learned. To meet this need, the DE subcommittee has created a repository of DE tools and related guidance on their uses.

Annual National Disaster Epidemiology Workshop:
Since 2010, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) has hosted an annual workshop on disaster epidemiology that brings together partners in public health from academic institutions, national non-profit organizations, governmental organizations at the national, tribal, state and local levels to learn about recent advancements in disaster epidemiology and explore opportunities for new partnerships to improve the public response to emergencies.

Workshop resources:


  • CDC Disaster Epidemiology Community of Practice (DECoP): The DECoP, formally known as the Disaster Surveillance Workgroup (DSWG), is a collaborative group of CDC, other federal and state partners established to provide technical resources to partners; expand use of disaster surveillance tools; and evaluate tools and guidelines to improve situational awareness and response activities. They have launched a community of practice SharePoint site on disaster epidemiology and you are invited to participate in this online community. The purpose of the DECoP SharePoint is to utilize tools made available through the site and collaborate with state and federal partners by communicating information to others during an actual disaster event. This site is for everything disaster epidemiology-related. If you would like to join the DECoP SharePoint site please request access by emailing your full name, address, email address, and contact phone number to Nicole Nakata at wng9@cdc.gov.

CSTE Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee Publications

  • The Role of Applied Epidemiology Methods in the Disaster Management Cycle
    A framework for applying epidemiologic methods and approaches to emergency response during disasters has recently been published in the American Journal of Public Health1 to assist practitioners at all levels in planning for and responding to emergencies. The framework includes methods such as rapid needs assessments, health surveillance, tracking and registries, and epidemiological investigations (such as risk factor analyses, health outcome studies and evaluations of interventions). These tools and methods can be practiced throughout the disaster management cycle and can provide actionable information for planners and decision-makers responsible for emergency preparedness, response and recovery. Known as “disaster epidemiology” (applied epidemiology for disaster settings), is being integrated into the public health response to disasters and is providing the evidence base to inform and enhance response capability from the local to state and national levels of emergency response. We invite you to read about this new framework, consider how your organization may integrate epidemiological methods into your disaster response efforts, and give us feedback if you have suggestions or tips on how to help partners collaborate on disaster epi. 

Selected Webinars and Presentations

Disaster Epidemiology Links

  • Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) Following any type of disaster, public health and emergency management professionals must be prepared to respond to and meet the needs of the affected public. The Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) enables public health practitioners and emergency management officials to determine rapidly the health status and basic needs of the affected community. CASPER uses valid statistical methods to gather information about health and basic needs, allowing public health and emergency managers to prioritize their response and distribution of resources accurately
  • Emergency Responder Health and Safety Monitoring System (ERHMS) NIOSH worked with the U.S. National Response Team (NRT), and a number of federal agencies, state health departments, labor unions, and volunteer emergency responder groups to develop the Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS) system. The ERHMS provides guidelines for protecting emergency responders over a full range of emergency types and settings. It is for use by all who are involved in deployment and protection of emergency responders. This includes incident management and response organization leadership, health, safety and medical personnel, and emergency responders.
  • Assessment of Chemical Exposure (ACE) When toxic substance spills or chemical emergencies happen, ATSDR helps state and local health departments by providing ACE resources to perform a rapid epidemiologic assessment. ACE provides training on how to perform an epidemiologic assessment after a chemical incident. The ACE Toolkit is a helpful resource to assist local authorities in responding to or preparing for a chemical release. The toolkit contains materials that can quickly be modified to meet the needs of a local team performing an epidemiologic assessment. When an incident occurs, ACE provides technical assistance by forming a multi-disciplinary, often multi-agency, team to assist the state and local health department.

For more information about the Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee and its activities, please contact Alesha ThompsonClick here to view other environmental health activities or click here to view the Emergency Preparedness page.


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