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Dornsife Researchers Detail Tool to Assess Disaster-Related Health Risks for Vulnerable Populations

Child fleeing natural disaster with parent

October 3, 2019

In September 2019, the American Journal of Public Health published a special issue on public health emergency preparedness to coincide with National Preparedness Month.

The issue includes the work of Esther Chernak, MD, MPH, FACP, associate clinical professor and director of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH) and the paper’s lead author, Rachel Peters, MPH, a doctoral student in Health Policy at DSPH, along with Thomas Hipper, MSPH, MA, program manager of the Center, and Hilary Kricun, MPH. Their article, “A Quantitative Public Health Risk Assessment Tool for Planning for At-Risk Populations,” explores the uses and purpose of the tool.

The Public Health Assessment Tool (PHRAT) was developed to create a way for jurisdictions to assess the public health impact of different hazards or events, using quantifiable measures and incorporating estimates of the planning needs of different at-risk populations. The tool also allows agencies to track their preparedness for different events over time. The tool calculates risk based on an event's probability and severity measured across five domains: human health, health care services, in-patient health care infrastructure, community health, and public health services. The PHRAT has been used in Philadelphia, for example, to focus planning for extreme heat emergencies and target preventive measures on high-risk populations.

The tool emphasizes "the responsibilities of public health organizations and agencies during emergencies that impact the health of the public," according to the team, and the need to plan specifically for at-risk populations. 

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