Disaster Epidemiology

Disaster Epidemiology is defined as the use of epidemiology to assess the short- and long-term adverse health effects of disasters and to predict consequences of future disasters. It brings together various topic areas of epidemiology including acute and communicable disease, environmental health, occupational health, chronic disease, injury, mental health, and behavioral health. Disaster epidemiology provides situational awareness; that is, it provides information that helps us understand what the needs are, plan the response, and gather the appropriate resources. The main objectives of disaster epidemiology are to

  • prevent or reduce the number of deaths, illnesses, and injuries caused by disasters,
  • provide timely and accurate health information for decision-makers,
  • improve prevention and mitigation strategies for future disasters by collecting information for future response preparation.

Health Studies provides expertise in surveillance and the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response during a disaster.

During a disaster, it is important to conduct surveillance to determine the extent and scope of the health effects on the affected populations. Surveillance is the systematic collection, analysis, and interpretation of deaths, injuries, and illnesses which enables public health to track and identify any adverse health effects in the community. It allows us to assess the human health impacts of a disaster and evaluate potential problems related to planning and prevention.

During a disaster, public health and emergency management professionals must be prepared to respond to and meet the needs of the affected public in a timely manner. HS’s rapid needs assessment toolkit, the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER), can be used by public health practitioners and emergency management officials to determine the health status and basic needs of the affected community in a quick and low-cost manner.

Page last reviewed: January 13, 2012