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An "All-Hazards" Approach to Disaster

By Dawn Fallik

In the past five years, from the terrorist attacks on September 11 to the flooding of New Orleans last fall, the United States has developed a whole new definition for disaster. Suddenly communities large and small find themselves wondering how to protect themselves... and from what.

Lynn Goldman, MD, MPH '81, MS, co-director of the new national Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER), hopes to be able to provide those answers. Funded by a three-year $15 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, the new research consortium will examine a wide range of potential disasters—from medical epidemics to the wrath of Mother Nature. Goldman calls it an "all-hazards" approach.

"We'll look at the whole practice of preparedness in communities and the tools they can use to assess their vulnerability and their readiness to respond," says Goldman, professor of Environmental Health Sciences, who is joined by center co-director Gabe Kelen, MD, director of Emergency Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. (Kelen also directs CEPAR, the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Johns Hopkins, which will provide the seat for the new consortium.)

"We're also interested in how formal networks like FEMA, NEMA [the National Emergency Management Association] and health departments can better marshal communities through faith-based and neighborhood organizations," Goldman says.

Last summer's unwelcome surprise had a direct effect on the proposal process, she says. "We wrote the proposal a year ago, but on the second day of our site visit, that's when New Orleans was filling up with water," she says. "Our nation needs the science to inform preparedness and response to a variety of high-consequence disasters."