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YSPH Students Respond to Disaster in the Philippines

November 22, 2013
by Michael Greenwood

The raw force of Typhoon Haiyan was almost unprecedented. Its top winds were recorded at nearly 200 mph, and when it made landfall in the Philippines the devastation was staggering.

Thousands of people perished in the storm earlier this month and a swath of physical destruction cut through the heart of the Philippine archipelago that affected millions. It left in its wake a growing humanitarian crisis.

Half a world away and far from the storm’s destructive power, Yale School of Public Health students, in collaboration with peers from Tulane University in New Orleans, began mobilizing even before Haiyan made landfall. They created and distributed a comprehensive report on the Philippines, the storm and the destruction it caused that is now being used by an array of governmental and non-governmental agencies responding to the scene.

The report, delivered electronically in the form of both a PDF and downloadable PowerPoint slides, provides background information, weather outlook, the situation on the ground after the storm hit, health, food and nutritional concerns, hospital locations (with GPS coordinates), the status of response operations, and a host of other information, including interactive maps.

It is intended to provide actionable information, including facts and figures that are updated daily, that emergency responders and planners, including the U.S. Department of Defense, need as they coordinate emergency relief efforts.

The report was prepared by students in EHS 581, public health and medical emergency planning and response class, taught by Dr. Sandy Bogucki and Lt. Col. Joanne McGovern, who is retired from the U.S. Army. Under their guidance, YPHS students have provided the virtual medical operations center reports supporting responders to every major national and international disaster since the calamitous earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Examples of some of the other major incidents include the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, tornadoes and floods in the United States., flooding in Thailand and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria.

All of the information contained in these situation reports is publicly accessible and can be used by responders however they see fit. The exercise, meanwhile, provides students with an opportunity to use their public health training to analyze the information and report it in a format that facilitates an effective emergency response.

“It’s much more effective than sitting in lectures,” said Bogucki, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at the Yale schools of medicine and public health. “It provides [students] with an understanding of what is needed, over what time frame, and how the requirements can be met. They get a much more hands-on view.”

Students work on one to two pages each and provide updates as the situation changes in the days and weeks since the typhoon struck.

One participating M.P.H student, Craig Rothenberg, said that helping to prepare the report was an invaluable experience.

“Working on the project gives perspective on how complex a disaster can become,” he said. “Emergency response becomes a lot more complicated when considering issues like disease outbreaks, gender-based violence and malnutrition.”

In addition to the DOD, the YSPH-Tulane report is posted on the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) virtual on-site operation center and is being used by a host of other agencies. Bogucki estimates that hundreds, if not thousands, of emergency responders have used information in the report either directly or indirectly.

“The Yale-Tulane report is fantastic; it illustrates the complexity of information that must be collated to provide a comprehensive and useful picture of a disaster area,” said School of Public Health Dean Paul Cleary. “This project also is a superb example of how we should be educating future health and health care leaders; give them the necessary knowledge, data, and tools and then guide them in the development of solutions to some of the most daunting problems facing us.”

Beyond these daily operational reports, Yale students have mobilized in a variety of other ways to help people in need in the Philippines. Students, faculty, administrators and local residents are conducting a series of fundraising and awareness efforts, including online giving campaigns, a T-shirt sale, a benefit concert, a dinner and a candlelight vigil.

The reports can be viewed at:

Submitted by Denise Meyer on November 22, 2013