UNC-CEHS members aim to enhance community capacity in counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew
Professor Lawrence Engel.

Dr. Larry Engel

Hurricane Matthew caused record flooding in North Carolina, not only resulting in an estimated $1.5 billion in damage and displacing thousands of residents from their homes, but also creating medium- and long-term public health impacts. With issues of adverse mental health effects, waterborne diseases, and respiratory illnesses, it is important to create a plan for local agencies and residents to address impacts of future floods and disasters.

As a result, a team of SPH researchers and graduate students, led by Dr. Larry Engel, aim to provide local public health professionals and state decision makers with a curated web-based resource that can be used to prioritize and target community-level interventions in affected communities. Looking at Cumberland and Robeson counties, this project will begin with a community needs assessment, focused on understanding environmental hazards and health issues caused by the hurricane. Interviews and focus groups with stakeholder agencies and residents will inform this initial phase.

In phase two, data will be used from the first phase to create maps of the most impacted areas overlaid with sources of possible human environmental health hazards, vulnerable populations affected by hazards, and locations of community assistance resources. Ultimately, this web-based tool, which will be presented to local health departments and other decision makers, could play a vital role in improving public policy for responding to natural disasters by generating and making publicly available data accessible for local, state, and federal responders.

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