Temple Times Online Edition
    FEBRUARY 17, 2005
NewsEventsArchivesPhotosStaffLinksTemple Home

Multidisciplinary center will help states prepare for disasters

How can local and regional emergency response agencies, public and mental health providers, and the private sector effectively work together to provide vital services to those affected by unforeseen catastrophes such as earthquakes, fires and terrorists attacks? What are the most effective ways of communicating this information to emergency personnel and to the public?

These are the types of questions that researchers at Temple’s new multidisciplinary Center for Preparedness, Research, Education and Practice (C-PREP) seek to answer. This work comes at a critical juncture. Mounting pressures on federal bioterrorism aid and cuts in public health budgets have states across the country struggling to come up with effective strategies for dealing with disasters, both natural and perpetrated.

“C-PREP builds on Temple’s historical commitment to the community and the region,” said Kenneth J. Soprano, vice president for research and graduate studies. “The center’s work will have real-world impact, by helping make cities, regions and states better prepared for disasters.”

The goal of the C-PREP team, which includes faculty and students from 13 departments and disciplines across Temple, is to address gaps in localities’ disaster preparedness by determining the mental health impact of disasters on victims and emergency personnel; the role of risk communication in preparedness; and how to improve current preparedness policies and practices across a range of industries.

“We will look at how to develop effective partnerships between private businesses, public emergency response systems and citizens that can reduce or prevent the mental and physical harm caused by disasters,” said Alice Hausman, director of C-PREP and professor and chair of public health.

A recent report issued by Trust for America’s Health (available at http://healthyamericans.org/reports/bioterror04/BioTerror04Report.pdf) ranked each state on its readiness to respond to bioterrorist attacks and other health emergencies. The criteria included the level of coordination between state and local health departments, the availability of qualified public health workers and a state’s bioterrorism response capabilities (facilities, technology, and equipment). Of the 10 indicators, more than two-thirds of states met six or fewer of these criteria. New York had five and Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., had four, while Florida and North Carolina scored the highest, with nine each.

According to the report, “Bioterrorism preparedness planning still lacks strategic direction, well-defined priorities, and appropriate levels of resources to match the needs.”

Research on public responses to emergency events dates back to the early 1960s and recent events have brought this issue to the forefront. But according to Hausman, the research surrounding such events as the Three Mile Island disaster and the 9/11 terrorist attacks has failed to answer the key questions needed to develop effective preparedness initiatives and practices: What is the most effective way to quickly get vital information to the public? and, How do we identify and treat mental distress during and after a disaster?

“This last question is especially important for emergency responders who need to continue performing their job amidst extreme stress and then learn how to cope with the memories weeks and years later,” Hausman said.

Multidisciplinary collaboration and research in the area of disaster preparation at Temple has steadily increased over the past few years and spawned collaborations with several local and state agencies. Last spring, with support from the state Department of Health, a team of faculty and graduate students from the public health department was able to contribute questions to the annual Pennsylvania and Metropolitan Philadelphia Survey by Temple’s Institute for Public Affairs. The survey collects data from area residents on a research topic related to the survey’s central theme: the quality of life in the state and region.

“Our questions assessed conditions of Pennsylvanians’ preparedness, including concerns about natural disasters and terrorism, current preparedness practices, awareness of state resources and preferred communication formats,” Hausman said. “The data will support a variety of proposals for risk communication research, social marketing for preparedness, and mental health service delivery.”

C-PREP’s 16 individual projects are funded, in part, through a grant with the state Department of Health, with additional support from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.

Faculty interested in submitting projects for consideration should contact Hausman at hausman@temple.edu.

- By Tory Harris

C-PREP participants
Alice Hausman, director, public health; William Aaronson, Cochran Research Center, Fox School of Business and Management; David Baron, psychiatry; Sarah Bass, public health; Thomas Gordon, public health; Jeff Featherstone, Center for Sustainable Communities; Julie Fesenmaier, Cochran Research Center, Fox School of Business and Management; Robert Gage, OVPR; Nina Gentile, emergency medicine; Joe Jeff Goldblatt, professional development program, Fox School of Business and Management; Earl Henderson, microbiology; Clark Hu, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management; David Karras, emergency medicine; Mel Kollander, Institute for Survey Research; Linda Kruus, emergency medicine; Elizabeth Leebron, broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media; Len LoSciuto, Institute for Survey Research; Vasileios Megalooikonomou, computer and information sciences; Priscilla Murphy, strategic and organizational communication; Thomas Nakayama, School of Communications and Theater; Jerry Ratcliffe, criminal justice; Sheryl Ruzek, public health; Wayne Satz, emergency medicine; Brenda Seals, public health; Jay Segal, public health; Denise Sloan, psychology; Nancy Harvey Steorts, executive in residence, Fox School of Business and Management; Alexander Tsygankov, microbiology; Robert McNamara, emergency medicine; Albert Wertheimer, School of Pharmacy; Gerald Wydro, emergency medicine; Ernest Yeh, emergency medicine.