Health Research in the Wake of Disasters: Challenges and Opportunities for Sensor Science

John Volckens, Erin N. Haynes, Sharon P. Croisant, Yuxia Cui, Nicole A. Errett, Heather F. Henry, Jennifer A. Horney, Richard K. Kwok, Sheryl Magzamen, Ana G. Rappold, Lingamanaidu Ravichandran, Les Reinlib, Patrick H. Ryan, Daniel T. Shaughnessy

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Disaster events adversely affect the health of millions of individuals each year. They create exposure to physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial hazards while simultaneously exploiting community and individual-level vulnerabilities that allow such exposures to exert harm. Since 2013, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has led the development of the Disaster Research Response (DR2) program and infrastructure; however, research exploring the nature and effects of disasters on human health is lacking. One reason for this research gap is the challenge of developing and deploying cost-effective sensors for exposure assessment during disaster events. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this commentary is to synergize the consensus findings and recommendations from a panel of experts on sensor science in support of DR2. METHODS: The NIEHS convened the workshop, “Getting Smart about Sensors for Disaster Response Research” on 28 and 29 July 2021 to discuss current gaps and recommendations for moving the field forward. The workshop invited full discussion from multiple viewpoints, with the goal of identifying recommendations and opportunities for further development of this area of research. The panel of experts included leaders in engineering, epidemiology, social and physical sciences, and community engagement, many of whom had firsthand experience with DR2. DISCUSSION: The primary finding of this workshop is that exposure science in support of DR2 is severely lacking. We highlight unique barriers to DR2, such as the need for time-sensitive exposure data, the chaos and logistical challenges that ensue from a disaster event, and the lack of a robust market for sensor technologies in support of environmental health science. We highlight a need for sensor technologies that are more scalable, reli-able, and versatile than those currently available to the research community. We also recommend that the environmental health community renew efforts in support of DR2 facilitation, collaboration, and preparedness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number065002
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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