The NIEHS-funded Worker Education and Training Program and the EHS Core Centers Program collaborated on this innovative activity focused on developing a network of trained "Research Responders." This activity was designed to initiate discussions on how the EHS Core Centers' network could mobilize its researchers and community engagement teams in a prompt and safe manner in the aftermath of a disaster. The NIH is interested in developing a disaster research system consisting of coordinated environmental health disaster research data collection tools and a network of trained research responders. This activity supports findings and gaps following many large disaster as indicated in this recent article, Research as a Part of the Public Health Emergency Response. 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. This activity helped NIEHS examine how it can build on its extensive program capabilities, research networks, and field experience to inform a larger NIH pilot.
The day began with a bus tour along the coast to highlight the density and proximity of industrial plants in Los Angeles. The tour provided participants with a mental image of the potential hazard exposures: refineries, solid waste facilities, rail yards, and the ports. The tour was guided by community leaders, labor union representatives, and researchers.
After the tour, participants gathered at the Bannings Landing Community Center where they were divided into small groups for a facilitated tabletop exercise. This activity aligned to a fictional scenario in which an earthquake in Alaska caused a tsunami to hit California. Participants, which included community members, workers, union members, Core Center grantees, WETP grantees, Federal government officials, port authorities, and state and local public health government officials, were assigned a role and reflected on how each organization might be able to take coordinated research action to meet the needs of the first responders, decision makers, and community residents when responding to disasters. This activity enabled NIEHS Research Leadership to:
- Assess the needs/opportunities to support disaster research
- Identify issues with the deployment and research CONOPS
- Discuss activation of the disaster research response team
- Identify and engage selected stakeholders and partners
- Identify areas in which the research and worker training programs can complement one another; i.e. create a synergy in terms of disaster response
- Explore opportunities for community-engaged research