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Disaster Medicine

Center for Public Health and Disasters at the University of California, Los Angeles

By Cristina Grijalva, MD, Disaster Fellow
Vol. 13, Issue 3, July 2004

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Public Health and Disasters (CPHD) was established in 1997 to address the critical issues faced when a disaster impacts a community. It promotes interdisciplinary efforts to reduce the health impacts of domestic and international natural and human-generated disasters. The center is based in the Department of Community Health Sciences in the UCLA School of Public Health and was the first such program in the United States to offer multiple graduate-level courses in emergency public health. CPHD faculty and staff have diverse backgrounds that include emergency medicine, environmental health, urban planning, engineering, international health, health services, epidemiology, gerontology, sociology, and community health.

The center has been designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an Academic Center for Public Health Preparedness (A-CPHP). As part of its comprehensive effort to prepare for and respond to a bioterrorist attack, the CDC has incorporated an important national asset, the accredited schools of public health (SPH), to generate new knowledge, new training protocols, and proficient national deployment of necessary skills and information.

This network of academic centers began with four centers in 2000. With the events on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent public heath threats of anthrax and smallpox, the four centers have now grown to 21 centers in 2003. This rapid growth and development of activities over a short period of time illustrates that schools of public health can mobilize to serve as national resources for enhancing public health workforce preparedness.

The purpose of this network of academic public health centers is to promote a collaborative team approach to improve the capacity of the frontline public health and health care workers through education and training to quickly respond to bioterrorism, infectious disease outbreaks, and other public health threats and emergencies. Collectively, as a network, the centers share products, expertise, and information to leverage resources and reduce duplication. Individual A-CPHP conducts core activities including, but not limited to:

  • supporting state and local public health agencies in achieving preparedness by assessing their needs and providing technical assistance;
  • developing and delivering competency-based training in bioterrorism preparedness; and
  • evaluating the success of the training in meeting local, state, and national goals for preparedness (CDC 2004).

The UCLA Center fulfills its A-CPHP role through research, training, evaluation, assessment, and graduate-level education. It has an extensive curriculum in emergency and disaster public health, which is offered through the departments of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology in the UCLA School of Public Health and to community partners. The courses are available to both students studying public health, as well as frontline disaster practitioners. In this manner, these courses bring together MPH students who have a strong theoretical and research background with individuals who are skilled and experienced in disaster management.  This combination of theory and practice provides lively classroom discussions and enriches the future pool of public health disaster experts. In addition to graduate level courses, the center also hosts an annual conference each May regarding public health and disasters to educate practitioners and encourage networking among those in the disaster medicine and public health fields.

The center acknowledges and fosters the importance of interagency disaster management and facilitates interaction between public health, medicine, engineering, physical and social sciences, and emergency management. The center collaborates with local and state public health agencies, community-based organizations, schools, hospitals, and agencies in the public and private sector. This interdisciplinary comprehensive approach to emergency public health is applied to the education and training of practitioners and researchers in the conduct of collaborative research and service to the community. The center offers an emergency public health fellowship for individuals who have completed a residency in emergency medicine and wish to pursue an MPH with a concentration in emergency public health. At the completion of this fellowship, the graduate student should be prepared for professional activities in one of two major areas: 1) a leadership role in a public health agency in the field of emergency health planning and response or 2) an academic position that synthesizes emergency medicine and emergency public health.

The center is directed by Steven Rottman, MD, Director; Linda Bourque, PhD, Associate Director; and Kimberley Shoaf, Dr.PH, Assistant Director. Each leader brings various strengths to the center including expertise in pre-hospital care, trauma, emergency medicine, community programming, community assessment/evaluation, and qualitative and quantitative research methodology. For more information, contact the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disaster at (310) 794-0864 or go to www.cphd.ucla.edu.

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