HS Disaster Response Activities

HS provides expertise in disaster epidemiology to local, state, federal and international public health partners to help them prepare for and respond to natural and man-made disasters. To do this, HS coordinates and conducts surveillance, rapid needs assessments, and epidemiologic studies after a disaster.

Deepwater Horizon Gulf Coast Oil Spill – 2010

On April 20, 2010, the Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) Deepwater Horizon exploded 40 miles south of the coast of Louisiana. This event resulted in 11 deaths, 17 injuries, and the largest marine petroleum release in history. The CDC Emergency Operations Center (EOC), as well as several state EOCs, activated during the first week of May 2010. Over the following three months, over 4.9 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Although the oil well was capped on July 15, 2010, the released crude oil has prolonged negative effects on marine biota and potential health hazards for those exposed to or affected by the oil spill. CDC HS staff co-led the Epidemiology and Surveillance Desk of the EOC and, along with state and local health departments, conducted surveillance across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida for health effects possibly related to the oil spill using national and state-based surveillance systems. In addition, at the request of the Alabama and Mississippi state health departments, Community Assessments for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPERs) were conducted in the Gulf coast counties of Alabama and Mississippi. Information was collected on physical health including respiratory, cardiovascular, dermal and ocular conditions; mental health including anxiety, depression, social context and quality of life, and behavioral health including alcohol use, drug use, and violence. Respondents also answered questions about changes in income, recreational activities on the coast, and consumption of seafood.

Haiti Earthquake – 2010

Following the devastating earthquake in January 12, 2010 the CDC Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated to aid in the response. Members of the HS Preparedness and Response team led the Epidemiology and Surveillance desk within the EOC for the first few months of the response. Because of logistic limitations that prevented sending large teams to the field, the role of the team became invaluable to the response. CDC in collaboration with PAHO and the Haiti Ministry of Public Health set up the National Sentinel Site Surveillance System. The objectives were to monitor disease trends, detect outbreaks, and characterize the affected population to target relief efforts. Fifty-one hospital and clinic surveillance sites affiliated with the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) were selected to report daily counts by e-mail or telephone for 25 specified reportable conditions. Between January 25, 2010 and April 24, 2010, the Epidemiology and Surveillance team led by HS staff produced daily reports of surveillance data which were distributed to a wide audience of disaster-responders in Haiti.

American Samoa Tsunami and Earthquake – 2009

On September 29, 2009, an earthquake measuring a magnitude of 8.3 struck American Samoa (AS) in the Pacific Ocean. The American Samoa Department of Health (ASDOH) requested assistance from the US Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to assess community public health needs. HS scientists responded to the ASDOH request and assisted in setting up drop-in surveillance, re-establishing ongoing public health surveillance, and conducting two Community Assessments for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER). The objectives of the initial CASPER were to identify basic public health needs of affected communities, special needs and vulnerable populations, and environmental and other health hazards that could lead to further morbidity and mortality. The objectives of follow-up CASPER were to identify ongoing community public health issues and needs and assess the effectiveness of the public health response since the initial CASPER.

Kentucky Ice Storms – 2009

On January 26, 2009, a massive ice storm hit Kentucky (KY), causing 36 deaths and leaving 770,000 people without power across the state. The KY Department for Public Health (KY DPH) requested CDC’s assistance. CDC assisted KY in conducting shelter and carbon monoxide (CO) surveillance and rapid needs assessments. The shelter surveillance consisted of 49 shelters during January 27—February 12, collecting surveillance data using CDC’s Disaster Surveillance Workgroup aggregate form. CO surveillance found that of the identified 36 storm-related deaths, 10 (28%) were attributed to CO poisoning. Of those 10, 8 (80%) were associated with improper location of a generator. The other two CO-related deaths were linked to use of a charcoal grill indoors and use of a propane heater that was suspected to be faulty. CASPER was used to assess the community needs of 10 severely impacted counties in the western part of the state. The CASPER results found that most residents reported having enough food and water for the next three days and most felt safe and secure in their homes and neighborhoods. Most residents reported having the ability to procure needed medication and transportation, if necessary. Eleven days after the storm (Feb. 6th), many residents were still waiting for power to be restored by the electric company; however, some were using generators. With the exception of Christian county, nearly half the residents had used generators at some time since the ice storm. CDC recommended KY DPH to continue to disseminate public health messages about carbon monoxide poisoning.

Hurricane Ike, Texas – 2008

On September 13, 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston, Texas, as a category two hurricane with sustained winds of 110 mph. The Texas Department of State Health Services (TDHS) requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) in Liberty, Manvel, and Galveston counties. The objectives of the assessment were to identify the most important needs of the affected community and to provide recommendations for managing emergency response to local emergency coordinators. In addition to the CASPERs, the TDHS implemented HS-developed disaster-related mortality surveillance and were able to obtain information on Hurricane Ike related deaths from 17 counties.

Iowa Floods – 2008

During June 2008, heavy precipitation and 500-year flood events resulted in the displacement of thousands of families throughout Eastern Iowa. The objectives of this study were to assess the effectiveness and preferred sources of health messages communicated to the public following the disaster.

Arizona Heat Wave Epi-Aid 2005

In summer 2005, Maricopa County, Arizona experienced a 182% increase in reported heat-related deaths in comparison to 2000–2004. CDC examined at-risk populations and excess mortality and characterized heat-related deaths using descriptive and multivariate time-series analyses of county vital record data from June–September 2000–2005. During this study period, 136 heat-related deaths (0.68 per 100,000) were reported; 49 (36%) occurred in 2005. In July 2005, a 14-day heat wave resulted in 28 (57%) reported deaths—a 102% increase in comparison to the same time period in 2000–2004. Decedent demographics in 2005 did not differ from previous years. The mean age of all 136 deaths was 56 years (range: 7–92 years). Of those with discernable reported injury locations, 62 (66%) were identified outdoors. Forty-eight (77%) decedents identified outdoors were <65 years; conversely, 26 (82%) decedents who were found indoors were ≥65 years. A 6% (95% CI: 1.00–1.13) increase in mortality risk was observed for each degree (F) increase in heat index. Conclusions from the study included: heat impacted a younger population (>65 years of age) in Maricopa County and consecutive days of heat exposure—even among a heat-acclimated population—can increase mortality risk.

 Top of Page

Page last reviewed: January 13, 2012