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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2007
 

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University to lead disaster aftermath research center

U-M is the lead research institution in a $3.89 million grant to fund a consortium to study the health consequences for victims in disasters.

The consortium, called the National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research, includes researchers from U-M, Dartmouth Medical School, Medical University of South Carolina, Yale University and the University of Oklahoma. The center is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"We know that disasters have a substantial influence on population health. We need to understand the health consequences of disasters much better than we do now in order to mitigate them," says Sandro Galea, associate professor at the School of Public Health and co-principal investigator.

The center is the first to be established with the explicit goal of having the money and infrastructure in place to allow researchers to respond immediately after a disaster occurs, he says. The center also is expected to be the leader in the field of disaster research, in many ways setting the research agenda in the area.

"One of the biggest challenges is that disasters happen when you don't expect them. Setting up research takes time and it has been very difficult to rigorously study disasters. What we now have is a funding method and infrastructure in place so we can launch a study in a very short time after an event hits," Galea says. "We aim to be in the field within a month after a large event. Without this center that would have been impossible."

Much of the research and data collection will take place at the School of Public Health and the Institute for Social Research. Dartmouth is the grant administrator and Fran Norris, research professor of psychiatry at Dartmouth Medical School, is the center director and the principal investigator on the project.

"We're going to capitalize on the expertise of professionals around the country to establish a center that is methodologically creative, capable of rapid response, and responsive to the needs of the scientific, policy, and practitioner communities," Norris says.

Galea is a nationally known expert on disasters. He has conducted research in New York City after the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks; in Madrid after the March 11, 2001, train bombings; in Israel during the intifada; after the 2004 hurricanes in Florida; and most recently after Hurricane Katrina. In addition, all of the investigators involved in the center have extensive experience in responding to and conducting mental health research in the wake of major disasters, such as Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, and Katrina; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; the 1999 mudslides in Mexico; the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; and the Madrid bombing in 2004.

Once in the field, researchers will recruit 1,500-1,800 healthy adults to study two, four, and 14 months after the disaster. The researchers will do interviews and behavioral assessments, collect biological specimens and do two waves of interventions.

Each university plays a critical role. Michigan brings expertise in epidemiology and survey research; Dartmouth in post-disaster services and clinical trials; Yale in genetics and neuroendocrinology; Medical University of South Carolina in secondary prevention, and Oklahoma in children.

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