The Use of U.S. academic institutions in community medical disaster recovery

Arnauld Nicogossian, Thomas Zimmerman, Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Kevin Thomas, Gary L. Kreps, Nelya Ebadirad, Sulava Gautam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To explore the role of public schools, and other academic institutions, in community medical disaster preparedness and recovery. Methods: A literature search on the subject of public schools utility in community medical disaster preparedness and recovery was performed. Relevant publications were selected, reviewed, and categorized for the strength of evidence. Spatial distribution of schools, and academic facilities, within rural and urban communities using Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis was conducted. GIS of the Northern Virginia (NOVA) region, adjacent to the nation's capital, was used to identify the spatial distribution and relationship of schools, and other academic and healthcare facilities, within rural and urban communities and the walking accessibility distance within a residential area. A group of subject-matter experts was convened to identify lessons learned and solicit opinions on the use of schools for medical disaster preparedness. All information was integrated in the final assessment of the role of public schools and academic institutions in medical disaster preparedness and recovery. Results: Literature on the use of schools and academic institutions for medical disaster preparedness and recovery is sparse. Meta-analysis or randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were not found. Most of the relevant information was located in state or federal government websites. Fair evidence supports that: (1) Schools were used, either as healthcare or as shelter facilities, by federal agencies and privately funded humanitarian relief organizations such as the American Red Cross (ARC). Many U.S. states have executed agreements with ARC for such purposes. (2) Schools, on their own, usually lack resources, facilities, and liability coverage to serve as physical and logistic assets for community medical disaster recovery beyond their traditional role of protecting students and staff. (3) University campuses possess educational and infrastructure resources capable of supporting community medical needs following disasters. Some universities have already established emergency preparedness departments, and are recipients of federal and state grants to develop medical disaster educational programs. With modest investments, such programs can be adapted by local schools for additional community outreach activities. (4) GIS analysis can help identify unique physical attributes of schools of interest to medical disaster planning and recovery programs. In the NOVA region, schools have different spatial relationships to the communities and other resources of potential benefit for medical disaster recovery. In the rural areas, schools are not always located within walking distance from residential areas. (5) Community emergency preparedness networks are not fully integrated and may not benefit diverse demographic groups. Discussion: Backed by adequate resources and planning, schools can be used in a dual Function - to care for students and the community. Policy Implications and Conclusions: Schools and other academic institutions should be integrated into community disaster planning and recovery. Best practices from local health departments and privately funded relief organizations, engaging schools, should be incorporated into a nationwide disaster planning framework. NOVA's experience suggests that local health departments can integrate schools into community disaster preparedness and recovery. Adequately funded schools can help with community educational networks for disaster preparedness. Further research into the interdependencies between local health departments and schools and best practices targeting community disaster networking should be undertaken. Limitation: This is a preliminary review intended to identify lessons learned and research gaps in the use of schools for medical disaster preparedness and response. Using the NOVA region, part of the nation's capital region, as a study model may not be applied to other U.S. geographic regions due to the uniqueness of the Washington Metropolitan area. However, the NOVA region may be a good representation of a suburban area. This review is focused on public schools and to some degree state universities. Private schools and/or universities were not included due to the difficulty of acquiring information from parochial organizations and could have introduced additional bias.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalWorld Medical and Health Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • communication nodes
  • community resiliency
  • medical disaster preparedness
  • mitigation
  • NOVA
  • outreach
  • recovery
  • role of schools
  • shelters
  • training
  • university
  • county health department
  • DHS
  • DOE
  • evacuation
  • FEMA
  • impact
  • K-12
  • logistics


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