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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Scientific Research

When facing a disaster, access to accurate, timely and reliable information is critical to improving health outcomes and saving lives. The advancement of scientific research before, during and after a disaster or public health emergency enables scientists to operate within a finite window of opportunity to identify, collect, and analyze critical and time-sensitive data that may be available only during the immediacy of the event or incident. This information forms an evidence base for making immediate, short-term and long-term decisions that protect the health and safety of responders, communities and our Nation.

Hurricane Sandy Recovery

It can take years, and sometimes decades, for a community to recover from a disaster like Hurricane Sandy. As recovery efforts begin, community members and leaders face a host of decisions, not just about rebuilding but also about how to make the community even better than it was before the disaster, and how to bounce back faster and stronger when the next disaster strikes.

Historically, decisions have been made without the benefit of a strong body of scientific evidence. The DHHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have collectively funded 40 grants for Hurricane Sandy recovery research. These research efforts, funded under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act (DRAA) of 2013, demonstrate the role the scientific community can play in emergency preparedness, response, recovery and the importance of being ready to do so when disasters strike.

In September 2013, ASPR dedicated $8.6 million to a series of two-year research grants that examine long-term recovery of health systems and communities in areas of the country hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. These grants will provide an evidence base for community members and leaders as they make decisions about recovery and about their future preparedness and response efforts. In conducting the research, the organizations will bring together members of the community, and the networks created through this approach will further boost long-term recovery. ASPR is leading additional efforts to build on, augment, and enhance the original research grants by funding collaborative research and activities among the grantees.

In October 2013, CDC awarded a series of grants for research to aid the long-term recovery of areas hard hit by the storm. The research projects cover a wide range of health issues related to Hurricane Sandy recovery, including fungal exposure and its link to respiratory issues in children; mental health issues; morbidity, mortality and hospitalization trends; worker health and safety; and other critical topics.

NIEHS supported the development of exposure model programs and for the training and education of workers engaged in activities related to hazardous materials and waste generation, removal, containment, transportation and emergency response.

In January 2013 ASPR, CDC and NIEHS grantees and awardees gathered together for a meeting to kick-off their research efforts and to foster collaboration and data-sharing. Participants included representatives from each of the research projects, as well as community partners, public health stakeholders, and DHHS personnel involved in response and recovery. The meeting successfully brought together disparate groups of researchers and allowed them to share their ideas, goals, and concerns about the ongoing recovery projects.

As an outgrowth of that meeting, $4.3 million in additional funds were made available under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act for ASPR to support collaborative projects between existing grantees from ASPR, CDC, and NIEHS. The collaborative grants build upon, augment, or enhance the original ASPR, CDC, and NIEHS Sandy recovery science awards. Most of the researchers are working with other Sandy recovery science grantees to take advantage of synergies between their projects. Some researchers are working independently to build tools that facilitate collaboration among researchers. And others are using the ASPR Hurricane Sandy Dataset to evaluate how administrative claims data can inform how well individuals, communities and health systems responded to Hurricane Sandy. While ASPR will administer all of the collaborative grants, ASPR will continue to partner with CDC and NIEHs to support the grantees and to integrate their findings back into Hurricane Sandy response and recovery practice.

The findings of some of these studies have been published.  To learn what these investments helped us learn about a wide variety of issues related to disaster health, check out the Hurricane Sandy Grants research results.

Watch, Listen, Learn

YouTube Video:  Planning for Disaster Research

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  • This page last reviewed: January 05, 2016