NIEHS Now Hosting
Disaster Research Program Launches New Website
For more than 20 years, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has played a lead role in our nation’s health research following oil spills, hurricanes and other environmental calamities. Now, NIEHS is providing a new home for the Disaster Research Response (DR2) program and its vast collection of website-based resources for scientists to conduct vital and timely public health research in the aftermath of disasters.
More than 500 curated research tools and resources are now organized into an easy-to-use online portal, available on the NIEHS website free of charge.
The resource portal updates and enhances the original collection hosted by the National Library of Medicine, which has been a fundamental partner to the program.
“Going forward, NIEHS has sole oversight of the program, but it’s still a collaborative effort within NIH,” said Dr. Aubrey Miller, NIEHS senior medical advisor and DR2 program director for NIH. “We work across governments, and even internationally, to help ensure that all of us in public health research are ready to act to collect vital scientific information when an emergency or disaster happens.”
Every disaster and public health emergency, no matter the type or cause, uniquely affects the environment and people. Research is essential to understanding the human health effects of events such as floods, earthquakes, wildfires, chemical or oil spills and even large-scale acts of terrorism.
“Program goals are to provide information people need about exposures right after an event, and to inform preparedness actions and policies that will help make communities more resilient to future events,” said Miller.
Research following a disaster often faces tight windows of opportunity for collecting essential information.
“A ready-to-go set of data collection tools can save time for disaster researchers,” Miller pointed out. “It’s useful to see how a question was successfully asked before or how a biological sample was collected.”
At the same time, research activities must not interfere with life-saving efforts. Institutional review boards (IRB), which are concerned with the ethical conduct of research and participant protection, help ensure studies achieve this balance.
DR2 strives not only to prepare researchers, but also to prime IRBs in their assessment of research plans and procedures. They are given guidance, templates and training for the efficient and effective review of protocols for these studies.
Miller said researchers can help people in disaster-affected communities understand answers to questions such as:
- Is my area or home safe?
- What are risks to my family and pets of being exposed to hazardous substances in our homes, yards, schools and parks?
- How will recovery and clean-up efforts help us?
- What health effects might we experience?
- Are there concerns for longer-term physical and mental health consequences?
Information from disaster research can answer short-term questions. And, over a longer term, it can provide knowledge that helps people recover from an incident and prepare for or avoid future disasters and public health emergencies.
For example, in summer months when wildfires are more prevalent, researchers can access DR2 materials to find ways to collect information about types of chemicals in smoke. They can also build on prior studies by using the same research methods to assess certain health conditions and determine how people exposed to wildfire smoke are affected over time.
With an outstanding search engine for the multidisciplinary collection, the right resource is easy to find.
Using DR2 resources also can improve data interoperability and harmonization across studies.
“The collection continues to grow as users submit new resources,” Miller added. “We’re always looking for good tools to share with the disaster research community in the U.S. and globally.”
Find the new site at https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/dr2/.