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Front. Public Health | doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2018.00373

Enhancing Disaster Resilience by Reducing Stress-Associated Health Impacts

  • 1College of Charleston, United States
  • 2SEA Consulting Group, United States

Disasters are a recurring fact of life, and major incidents can have both immediate and long-lasting negative effects on the health and well-being of people, communities, and economies. A primary goal of many disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans is to reduce the likelihood and severity of disaster impacts through increased resilience of individuals and communities. Unfortunately, most plans do not address directly major drivers of long-term disaster impacts on humans – that is, acute, chronic, and cumulative stress -- and therefore do less to enhance resilience than they could. Stress has been shown to lead to or exacerbate ailments ranging from mental illness, domestic violence, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorders, and suicide to cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and other infirmities. Individuals, groups, communities, organizations, and social ties are all vulnerable to stress. We summarize selected literature about disasters, resilience, and disaster-associated stress effects and recommend eight actions to improve resiliency through inclusion of stress alleviation in disaster planning: (1) Improve existing disaster behavioral and physical health programs to better address, leverage, and coordinate resources for stress reduction, relief, and treatment in disaster planning and response. (2) Emphasize pre- and post-disaster collection of relevant biomarker and other health-related data to provide a baseline of health status against which disaster impacts could be assessed, and continued monitoring of these indicators to evaluate recovery. (3) Enhance capacity of science and public health early-responders. (4) Use natural infrastructure to minimize disaster damage. (5) Expand the geography of disaster response and relief to better incorporate the displacement of affected people. (6) Utilize nature-based treatment to alleviate pre- and post-disaster stress effects on health. (7) Review disaster laws, policies, and regulations to identify opportunities to strengthen public health preparedness and responses including for stress-related impacts, better engage affected communities, and enhance provision of health services. (8) With community participation, develop and institute equitable processes pre-disaster for dealing with damage assessments, litigation, payments, and housing.

Keywords: disasters, resilience, stress, health, well-being, Disasters, resilience, stress, Health, Well-being

Received: 16 Sep 2018; Accepted: 06 Dec 2018.

Edited by:

James K. Summers, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States

Reviewed by:

Jill Stewart, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States
Linda Harwell, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Sandifer and Walker. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Paul A. Sandifer, College of Charleston, Charleston, United States, sandiferpa@cofc.edu