SECURE Recovery in the Face of Disaster

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By Katrina R. Burton, Staff Writer, MD Anderson

As tropical depressions form in vulnerable coastal waters, hurricanes hurtle towards thriving businesses and homes, residents scramble to safer places and "diehards" prepare for impact, Gulf Coast residents are reminded of past and present disasters closer to home.

Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and the BP oil spill, are just a few of the disasters that have wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast community's economic stability and even more important -- the community's health and well-being.

Helping communities prepare and recover more quickly from disasters such as these -- natural or man-made -- is the primary focus of a recent alliance between seven leading medical centers, universities and public health institutions including MD Anderson Cancer Center. Supported by funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the SECURE (Science, Education, Community United to Respond to Emergencies) consortium has plans under way.
"Our goal is for recovery centers such as SECURE to help health disparity communities plan, prepare and establish their capacity to respond to disasters of all kinds," says John Ruffin, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health, which allocated $4 million to fund this initiative.

Members of the consortium are combining their services and systems that are already in place to develop a systematic blueprint that will aid researchers and health care providers in addressing the many health concerns vulnerable communities face during and after a disaster.

"Currently, there is no unified system in place along the Gulf Coast that will enable vulnerable communities to keep moving forward and obtain the necessary health care needed when disasters occur," says  Lovell Jones, Ph.D., director of the Center for Research on Minority Health and lead principal investigator of SECURE. "This is an ongoing problem that contributes to health disparities."

Leading the efforts of the consortium, the Center for Research on Minority Health in the Department of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson has developed a disaster preparedness education program designed to engage local youth through training modules, workshops and activities that focus on human health and the environment with an emphasis on disaster preparedness.

Other members of the consortium, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Baylor College of Medicine, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, have tools in place to help strengthen communities and organized rescue groups with programs that educate Gulf Coast residents on how to prepare for and handle disasters, thus reducing health disparities during catastrophic times. 


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