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NIOSH Respiratory Diseases Research Program

Evidence Package for the National Academies' Review 2006-2007

NIOSH Programs > Respiratory Diseases > Evidence Package > 10. Emergency Response and Disaster Preparedness

10. Emergency Response and Disaster Preparedness

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NIOSH participates in agency-wide responses to emergencies and catastrophes as designated by CDC. Emergency response workers must conduct rescue, administer first-aid, decontaminate, and attempt recovery in constantly changing and complex hazardous environments. Often the precise nature of the hazards cannot be initially determined. In addition, exposure is not necessarily limited to hazardous chemical, biological or radiological materials; it may also involve fire, explosion and other physical dangers including traffic hazards and crowd control.

Pre-event preparation, training and access to readily available information are critical to minimizing deaths, injuries and illnesses, and promote overall workforce resilience. It is not possible to delay or stop the response in order to restructure the organization, management, or approach during an emergency. Thus, the emergency environment places responders under a time-urgent, dual-cognitive demand: they must attend to the hazards (including attention to personal and crew members’ safety and health), and they must perform the work necessary to complete a rescue. The quality of the coordination among crew members as they carry out a rescue can define the probability of risk for death, injury, and illness to those responders.

NIOSH participated in its first emergency response in the aftermath of the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption in 1980, focusing on respirator protection and the problems of city service workers and workers in the logging industry. NIOSH was not called upon again until the 9/11 terrorist attacks when NIOSH staff were among the first responders. Since then NIOSH staff has responded to bioterrorism events (anthrax), Hurricanes (Katrina and Rita, 2005) and emerging infections (Tularemia, SARS and currently avian influenza).

In order to most effectively respond to disasters, natural and man-made, NIOSH formed the Coordinating Office for Emergency Preparedness and Response in 2004. The office provides rapid on-site support to protect emergency response providers and others affected by an event and advances research to support such efforts. Information about the Coordinating Office for Emergency Preparedness and Response can be found at (A10-1).

This section will briefly present two examples of response to emergencies with important respiratory components: the World Trade Center disaster September 11, 2001 (chapter 10.1) and responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 (chapter 10.3). RDRP efforts to protect buildings from chemical, biological, or radiological attacks occurring in the aftermath of 2001’s anthrax attacks are also described (chapter 10.2). Responses to the anthrax attacks of 2001 and recent outbreaks of SARS and avian influenza; and efforts to prepare for pandemic influenza are also important examples of emergency response and disaster preparedness relevant to respiratory disease. Activities related to these diseases are described together with other infectious diseases in chapter 6.