JHU Team Joins NSF-funded Effort to Keep Critical Community Services Afloat During Natural Disasters

August 29, 2014

Judy Mitrani-ReiserWhen Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012 and four flooded hospitals had to be evacuated, their patients, doctors, and services were left in chaos and upheaval for months. People who had no idea where to go for treatment wandered the city. Physicians set up at makeshift offices had trouble accessing medical records. Prescriptions went unfilled.

Johns Hopkins University researchers will help lead a National Science Foundation-funded effort to prevent these sorts of critical community services from falling apart in the wake of natural disasters.

Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland will split a three-year, $2.5 million grant, working to build a model that exposes a community’s vulnerabilities during a hurricane or an earthquake and suggests ways to strengthen a region’s complex, intertwined network of services.

The goal is to map the myriad ways in which critical systems, like a community’s health care system, depend on services like water, electricity, gas, roads, and, of course, the soundness of many individual buildings. In an emergency, these services also require constant communication with everyone from doctors, nurses, and technicians to administrators, facilities managers, and janitors to emergency responders, policymakers, and suppliers of drugs, equipment, and even food.

“How do all of these pieces connect and how does one piece affect the resilience of the entire health care system?” said Judy Mitrani-Reiser, a civil engineer who is leading the Johns Hopkins team. “We are trying to connect the vulnerabilities of the physical components to community outcomes through disruptions in services.”

Others at Johns Hopkins working on the project include computer scientist Matt Green, health policy expert Helaine Rutkow, Dr. Tom Kirsch, who directs the university’s Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, and Jonathan Links, director of the university’s Center for Public Health Preparedness.

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