Research Alliance Aims to Help Vulnerable Communities Cope with Disaster

MD Anderson News Release 06/11/10

Leading Gulf Coast medical centers, universities and public health institutions from Miami to Houston have united to form a consortium to improve community disaster readiness and recovery through research programs targeting health disparities, disaster preparedness and environmental health.

The consortium, known as SECURE (Science, Education, Community United to Respond to Emergencies), is funded through a two-year, $4 million grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) to work collaboratively with vulnerable populations to develop best practices that promote health security, wellness and accelerated recovery from catastrophes.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave the NCMHD the opportunity to jumpstart the Trans-disciplinary Research Recovery Center for Community Health program to support recovery centers in places that have large-scale health disparities and vulnerability to recurring natural and manmade disasters," said Dr. John Ruffin, director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities. "Our goal is for recovery centers such as SECURE to help health disparity communities to plan, prepare and establish their capacity to respond to disasters of all kinds. The current hurricane season and the Gulf Coast oil spill will truly test the potential of this consortium in being a model for other communities confronting disasters as they seek to address the health, economic, and environmental impact of these disasters."

The devastation faced by those living in disaster-prone areas along the Gulf Coast is a persistent reality that challenges the medical community. Whether natural or manmade, disasters such as hurricanes and the BP oil spill can negatively impact mental and physical health long after the immediate crisis has passed.

"Many minority populations suffer from health disparities, and a disaster only adds to the burden of receiving quality care" said Lovell Jones, PhD., SECURE principal investigator and director of the Center for Research on Minority Health at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. "It's important that we educate and train vulnerable communities on disaster preparedness. Health institutions need to have a sustainable system in place that will keep individuals healthy before, during and after a disaster occurs."

"Emergencies that threaten the Gulf Coast vividly put the spotlight on the risks faced by our communities," said Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, Freeport McMoRan Chair of Environmental Policy for Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and SECURE principal investigator. "The current oil spill is a classic example not only of the common vulnerabilities, but also the communities' vast local knowledge and expertise. Together, we will make science work for our communities." The individual programs that are already in place at consortium member institutions are moving in the direction needed to obtain a cohesive research-driven and community-based system that will benefit the Gulf Coast community, the medical society and the nation.

SECURE consortium members include
Lovell A. Jones, Ph.D.
, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Maureen Lichtveld, M.D., Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; Alexandra B. Nolen, Ph.D., The University of Texas Medical Branch; W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., The University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; Armin Weinberg, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine; Patricia Matthews-Juarez, Ph.D., Meharry Medical College; Faith Forman Williams, Dr.PH., City of Houston Department of Health & Human Services.

SECURE Consortium: Existing Programs and Interventions

  • The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
    The Disaster Preparedness Education program develops school science educators through training modules, conferences and activities focusing on the exploration of human health and the environment with an emphasis on education and behavioral changes.
  • Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine
    Tulane's disaster navigation program supports Baylor College of Medicine's Project Reconnect, with a focus on directing disaster victims in the aftermath, providing training and technical assistance to community and faith-based organizations, collaborating with local health departments and agencies and integrating community participation through targeted focus groups. The goal is to create a disaster navigation blueprint for other communities across the nation.
  • The University of Texas Medical Branch
    UTMB is developing and testing methods and tools to determine health risks and best practices associated with hurricane planning and response by using disaster impact and recovery scenarios to help communities create healthier and more resilient neighborhoods. A health-in-all-policies approach is used to develop local policy options for reducing post-disaster health disparities, and developing toolkits for community disaster research workshops to be implemented in specific vulnerable areas.
  • The University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine - Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
    Developing two interventions to determine the best method of reducing post traumatic stress immediately after a disaster and measuring effectiveness by examining psychological distress, relapse of alcohol or drug abuse, quality of life and sleep patterns with a goal to stabilize the person while determining whether additional trauma treatment is necessary.
  • Baylor College of Medicine
    Provides technical assistance to Project Reconnect Disaster Preparedness Training Workshop participants conducted in New Orleans. Incorporating lessons learned, developing a remapping exercise to better define resources available, exploring strategies for expanding workshop to other communities, developing a Global Emergency Preparedness Risk Protocol, and organizing a web-based conference to identify and analyze current methods of Federal Government response to disaster and terrorists.
  • Meharry Medical College
    Developing a predictive model and data modeling management system that will be open to all researchers interested in health disparities and disaster preparedness and management.
  • Houston Department of Health & Human Services
    Disaster education targeting students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) and their families with a focus on preparedness.