Goals & Projects
About the Program
"The knowledge that is generated through well-designed, effectively executed research in anticipation of, in the midst of, and after an emergency is critical to our future capacity to better achieve the overarching goals of preparedness and response: preventing injury, illness, disability, and death and supporting recovery."
The National Institutes of Health's (NIH) commitment to disaster resilience has been the foundation for more than three decades of research. Multiple NIH Institutes, Centers and grantees conduct research focusing on disaster preparedness, response and recovery issues. These efforts have contributed to a deeper understanding of disaster risks and recovery and act to provide critical information when disasters strike.
In response to recent disasters and the research conducted in their wake, NIH has committed to fund the NIH Disaster Research Response Program. This pilot program, developed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine (NLM), aims to create a disaster research system consisting of coordinated environmental health disaster research data collection tools and a network of trained research responders. Elements of the system include epidemiologic questionnaires and clinical protocols, specially trained disaster researchers, environmental health disaster research networks, a reach-back roster of subject matter experts, and a support infrastructure that can be activated and deployed during public health emergencies and declared disasters. NIEHS is building on its extensive program capabilities, research networks, and field experience in leading this pilot.
- NIEHS Disaster Research Response Efforts homepage
- Disaster Research Response: Learning from Disasters. This eight-and-a-half minute video calls for more research into the health impacts of disasters, and integration of research with response. It goes on to describe the activities of the NIH Disaster Research Response program.
- Exposure: Research and Training for Emerging Health Threats. This 10-minute video marks the 50th anniversary of the National Institue of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the 30th anniversary of the Superfund program and the Worker Training program. It describes some highlights of their activities over the decades, e.g., research into the health effects of the World Trade Center collapse and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The DR2 program was the outcome of many previous realizations and efforts in the health research and disaster response fields, including:
- A long-standing need for clinical research in disasters (e.g., H1N1 experience)
- Efforts to create a Public Health Emergency Research Review Board (PHERRB)
- National Institutional Review Board (IRB), under consideration by NIH and supported by partner agencies.
- The Report "Call to Action: Include Scientific Investigations as an Integral Component of Disaster Planning and Response: A Report from the National Biodefense Science Board" (PDF, 368 KB) (April, 2011)
- The report outlined 10 recommendations to improve research in disasters including a research office in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), a separate Emergency Support Function for research ("Scientific Response Support Annex"), a full time ASPR liaison in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a disaster IRB
- The ASPR Workshop: Scientific Preparedness and Response for Public Health Emergencies (PDF, 194 KB) (September, 2012).
- Outlined 6 areas for improvement in Research Response
1. Clinical standards protocols and datasets
2. Surveys, rosters, and medical testing
3. Specimen and scientific collections
4. Policies and processes
5. Funding mechanisms
6. Who are the responders?
- Outlined 6 areas for improvement in Research Response
- Ongoing recognition of the need for "research" as a part of public health emergency response
- Article outlining needs in disasters, Research as a Part of Public Health Emergency Response (Lurie et al., 2013)
- Readily Available Data Collection Tools and Research Protocols
- Rapid response clinical and epidemiologic research for disasters
- Field tested, IRB and OMB approved tools and protocols
- Implementation guidance, forms, and participant tracking information
- Hosted on publicly accessible NLM website. Records describing data collection tools are now available. Click Disaster Research Data Collection Tools on the Disaster Lit website.
- Environmental Health Research Response Network
- NIEHS intramural/extramural researchers, centers, grantees, and academic partners
- Engaged in the development and prioritization of the system and tools
- Trained research responders who are familiar with data collection tools, protocols, and can deploy in a disaster
- Listing of subject matter and information experts that can be called upon for assistance
- Coordination and Integration with Disaster Response and Recovery Infrastructure
- Multi-stakeholder engagement and information sharing
- Training exercises for research responders and partners
- Disaster Research Response Workshop
- Facilitate state and local environmental health research response capabilities regardless of federal disaster declarations or efforts
Sustainment of Program
After proving the utility of this program, DR2 aims to:
- Expand Portfolio Analysis to all of Health and Human Services (HHS)
- Continue funding the program
- Expand the website and databases
Previous NIH Disaster Experience
NIEHS has supported the response to many recent disasters including:
- Hurricane Katrina: Trained more than 850 workers and created and distributed over 53,000 booklets.
- Gulf Oil Spill Response Efforts: Conducted training for over 130,000 workers, GuLF Study, Deepwater Horizon Research Consortia, National Toxicology Program information and research on spill-related exposures.
- Hurricane Sandy: Conducted Worker Training Program Site hazard assessments, site specific training for more than 550 workers, and funded 31 grants for Hurricane Sandy recovery research in partnership with HHS/ASPR and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Ebola: Conducted research question development/prioritization. In response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Institute of Medicine convened a workshop (links here and here) to develop and prioritize research questions about Ebola. The workshop was held, in part, as an experiment in convening experts and developing research questions during an ongoing public health emergency. The workshop summary, released less than two weeks after the workshop, identifies research priorities to guide agencies in their decisions on projects and funding.
Selected Bibliography on Disaster Research Response
- Colf LA, Brothers R, Murata CE. A role for science in responding to health crises. Health Security 2016 Jul-Aug;14(4):272-9. PMID: 27482881 PMCID: PMC4976254 DOI: 10.1089/hs.2016.0001
- Decker JA, Kiefer M, Reissman DB, Funk R, Halpin J, Bernard B, Ehrenberg RL, Schuler CR, Whelan E, Myers K, Howard J. A decision process for determining whether to conduct responder health research following large disasters. American Journal of Disaster Medicine. 2013 Winter;8(1):25-33. PMID: 23716371 PMCID: PMC4593614 DOI: 10.5055/ajdm.2013.0108
- Lurie N, Manolio T, Patterson AP, Collins F, Frieden T. Research as part of public health response. New England Journal of Medicine 2013 Mar 28;368(13)1251–1255. PMID: 23534565 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMsb1209510
- Malilay J, Heumann M, Perrotta D, Wolkin AF, Schnall AH, Podgornik MN, Cruz MA, Horney JA, Zane D, Roisman R, Greenspan JR, Thoroughman D, Anderson HA, Wells EV, Simms EF. The role of applied epidemiology methods in the disaster management cycle. American Journal of Public Health. 2014 Nov;104(11):2092-102. PMID: 25211748 PMCID: PMC4202981 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302010
- McNutt M. A community for disaster science. Science. 2015;348:11. PMID: 25838355 DOI: 10.1126/science.aab209
- Miller A, Birnbaum L. Preparing for disasters. Letter to the editor. Science. 2015 May:766-7.PMID: 25977543 DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6236.766-c
- Miller A, Yeskey K, Garantziotis S, Arnesen S, Bennett A, O'Fallon L, Thompson C, Reinlib L, Masten S, Remington J, Love C, Ramsey S, Rosselli R, Galluzzo B, Lee J, Kwok R, Hughes J. Integrating health research into disaster response: the new NIH Disaster Research Response Program. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016 Jul 4;13(7). pii: E676. PMID: 27384574 PMCID: PMC4962217 DOI:10.3390/ijerph13070676
- Packenham JP, Rosselli RT, Ramsey SK, Taylor HA, Fothergill A, Slutsman J, Miller A. Conducting science in disasters: recommendations from the NIEHS working group for special IRB considerations in the review of disaster related research. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2017 Sep 25;125(9):094503. PMID: 28949918 DOI: 10.1289/EHP2378
- Resnik DB, Miller AK, Kwok RK, Engel LS, Sandler DP. Ethical issues in environmental health research related to public health emergencies: reflections on the GuLF STUDY. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2015 Sep;123(9):A227-31. Erratum in: Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Feb;124(2):A29. PMID: 26325057 PMCID: PMC4559957 DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1509889
- Yeskey K, Miller A. Science unpreparedness. Commentary. Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 2015 August:444-5. PMID: 25898771 DOI: 10.1017/dmp.2015.53
Please send any comments or inquiries to DR2@niehs.nih.gov.
Other Related Projects
- HHS SHARPER: Science, Healthcare, Preparedness, Evaluation and Research
SHARPER is an initiative to better utilize metrics and evaluation research in improving hospital and healthcare system preparedness.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Emerging Threats Working Group
The workgroup is a trans-NIEHS strategic body that coordinates responses to emerging threats (hydro-fracking, climate change) and disaster situations across divisions. It focuses on integration, support, and planning for future events with the goal of expanding NIEHS capacity and processes, organizational infrastructure, and response capabilities.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery
The Disaster program at SAMHSA exists to provide information and resources to professionals and the public for emergency preparedness and response. Technical assistance for responders, including a research information exchange, can be found at the SAMHSA Disaster Technical Assistance Center.