Public Release: 

Building healthier communities should be a priority when preparing for and recovering from disasters

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON -- U.S. communities and federal agencies should more intentionally seek to create healthier communities during disaster preparation and recovery efforts - something that rarely happens now, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine. By adding a health "lens" to planning and recovery, a community can both mitigate the health damage caused by disasters and recover in ways that make the community healthier and more resilient than it was before.

"We have an opportunity to transform our response to devastating disasters into an effort to meaningfully enhance the healthiness of our communities," said Reed Tuckson, chair of the study committee that wrote the report, and managing director of Tuckson Health Connections LLC, Sandy Springs, Ga. "Each year, millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent to restore communities after disasters. This report provides practical guidance for disaster and health professionals, government and elected officials, communities, and individuals that can not only enhance disaster recovery but also advance the realization of maximally health communities."

Healthy communities are conducive to healthy behaviors and free of environmental toxins and risks, and they include a robust human services infrastructure. They have roads that facilitate exercising such as running, biking, and walking; houses that are safe; and ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They are also well-served by health and social services professionals who assist people in staying healthy and optimally managing diseases, noted the committee.

When roads, houses, and health infrastructures are lost in a disaster, communities should use all available federal, local and philanthropic dollars to rebuild in a manner that creates a community that is healthier than it was before the disaster. The report includes recommendations, case studies, and other supportive material to provide practical guidance for accomplishing this.

For example, local and elected public officials should incorporate a vision for a healthy community into community strategic planning. Healthy community planning should be the norm for all communities, and these plans should be connected to the pre-disaster planning that communities are also urged to conduct. Leadership by local officials is essential to bringing these two related activities together on behalf of their communities.

The report also provides specific guidance for federal agencies such as FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies involved in implementing the National Disaster Recovery Framework. For example, FEMA should update the National Disaster Recovery Framework to include health implications for the activities of all support functions involved in disaster recovery. In addition, federal agencies should use existing grant programs to enhance state and local ability to plan for and implement a healthy community perspective in disaster recovery.

"Thousands of dedicated, and too often unrecognized, professionals tirelessly serve our nation by helping communities recover from disasters," said Tuckson. "We hope these recommendations can facilitate their ability not only to respond to the immediate effects of disasters but also to create a more fertile foundation for creating communities that are as healthy as possible."

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The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. A committee roster follows.

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Pre-publication copies of Healthy, Resilient, and Sustainable Communities After Disasters are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above). A workshop summary on a related topic, Regional Disaster Response Coordination to Support Health Outcomes - Summary of a Workshop Series, was also released today and is available from the National Academies Press.

INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE

Board on Health Sciences Policy

Committee on Post-Disaster Recovery of a Community's Public Health, Medical, and Social Services

Reed V. Tuckson, M.D., FACP (chair)
Managing Director
Tuckson Health Connections LLC
Sandy Springs, Ga.

Daniel Aldrich, Ph.D., M.A.
Associate Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Ind.

Steven Blessing, M.A.
Chief, Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness Section
Division of Public Health
Delaware Health and Social Services
Smyrna

Lynn Britton, M.B.A.
President and CEO
Mercy Health
Chesterfield, Mo.

Harry L. Brown, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Community Planning and Initiatives
United Way of Central Alabama
Birmingham

Terry L. Cline, Ph.D.
Commissioner of Health
Oklahoma State Department of Health
Oklahoma City

Lawrence Deyton, M.D., M.P.S.H.
Clinical Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine and Health Sciences
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.

Alisa Diggs, M.P.H.
Program Manager
Office of Preparedness and Response
Maricopa County Department of Public Health
Phoenix

Dennis Dura, B.S.
Emergency Management Consultant
Trenton, N.J.

J. Barry Hokanson, M.S.
Principal
PLN Associates
Grayslake, Ill.

David E. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Director of Research
National Center for Healthy Housing
Chicago

Agnes F. Leshner, M.A.
Former Director
Child Welfare Services
Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services
Potomac, Md.

Robert S. Ogilvie, Ph.D.
Director
SPUR Oakland
San Francisco

Richard Reed, M.S.
Senior Vice President
Disaster Cycle Services
American Red Cross
Washington, D.C.

Richard Serino
Member, Field Innovation Team, and
Distinguished Visiting Fellow
National Preparedness Leadership Initiative
School of Public Health
Harvard University
Abington, Mass.

Ciro R. Ugarte, M.D.
Director of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief
Pan American Health Organization
Washington, D.C.

Linda Usdin, Ph.D.
President
Swamplily LLC
New Orleans

STAFF

Autumn Downey
Study Director

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