September 03, 2004
CHAPEL HILL — Hurricane Frances’ impact on North Carolina remains somewhat uncertain, but University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill-affiliated public health professionals are prepared to help state officials conduct a rapid needs assessment if the hurricane creates significant damage in the state.Although Hurricane Charley only did minor damage in North Carolina, the state Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response conducted a rapid needs assessment of the damage in several southeastern counties.

They also asked the N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness, part of the School of Public Health’s N.C. Institute for Public Health, for assistance.

Responders in a rapid needs assessment determine unmet needs of food, water and electricity, and distribute health and safety information. Individual households are randomly chosen to be interviewed, and responders estimate the needs of each county or region based on their responses.

Ten teams of two people from both the state and the center completed more than 200 interviews in Onslow, Pender and Brunswick counties after Hurricane Charley in August. They met in Raleigh beforehand to learn interviewing skills and how to use new handheld computers to find selected households and enter individuals’ responses.

“While North Carolina was generally spared from hurricane damage, this was an opportunity to practice with the new equipment and test how effectively we were able to reach rural residents,” said Jennifer Horney, director of training and education for the N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness.

And with Hurricane Frances and almost three more months of hurricane season looming? “It was almost like a trial run for a more serious response,” said John Wallace, a program assistant with the center.

Charley represented only the second time a rapid needs assessment had been conducted in the state; the first was part of the public health response to Hurricane Isabel in September 2003. In the last year, the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response has been working to improve the public health response to emergencies – and Hurricane Charley was their first test of new equipment and protocols.

Using a mobile command unit is one lesson learned for future public health emergencies, such as hurricanes, said Will Service, industrial hygiene coordinator with the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response.

“We are always fine-tuning our planning and logistics,” he said. “In future rapid needs assessments, a mobile unit will be in place to train interviewers in the field to allow for more rapid deployment.”

Now that UNC is back in session, public health graduate students also may be involved in helping state officials conduct disaster surveys. Team Epi-Aid is an outbreak response team designed to give UNC public health students real-world experience while providing extra manpower to state and local health departments facing public health emergencies.

Hurricane Charley occurred before the start of the fall semester, so fewer students took part in that response than in previous field projects.

The N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness, housed in the School of Public Health’s N.C. Institute of Public Health and department of epidemiology, is one of 23 such centers located at schools of public health nationwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds the centers.

N.C. Institute for Public Health contact: Bev Holt, (919) 966-6274 or

N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness contact: Tara Rybka, (919) 966-9599 or

For further information please contact Emily Smith either by phone at 919.966.8498 or by email at


Gillings Admissions: 233 Rosenau Hall, (919) 445-1170
Student Affairs: 263 Rosenau Hall, (919) 966-2499
Dean's Office: 170 Rosenau Hall, (919) 966-3215
Business and Administration: 170 Rosenau Hall, (919) 966-3215
Academic Affairs: 307 Rosenau Hall, (919) 843-8044
Inclusive Excellence: 207B Rosenau Hall, (919) 966-7430
Room Reservations

135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400