The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in Austin has established a CASPER team to assist and partner with local and regional health departments in responding to natural disasters in their communities. The objective of a community assessment is to document population-based needs following a natural disaster. This method has been successfully used in responding to hurricanes, floods, and ice storms.
Local and regional health officials can use the results of the community assessment to:
- identify health and service needs and hazards that might not be immediately obvious, or that develop as the disaster progresses
- target relief efforts at the people who need them most (e.g., assessing medical needs and providing services to high risk groups)
- identify which needs have been successfully met
This assessment can provide accurate estimates of the numbers of people affected and the severity of the physical damage after a disaster.
Community assessments can also provide real-time information about whether people returning to their homes have access to:
- safe food and water supplies
- sources of power (e.g., gas, electricity)
- communication services (e.g., telephone, radio)
- medical and public health care for both acute and chronic conditions, including access to prescription drugs
After natural disasters, needs for services and medical care may vary within the affected community and may differ according to the needs of specific populations. In addition, these needs can change rapidly over time as relief activities progress and as people move in and out of the community. This assessment can provide rapid (within 48 hours usually), valid, and relatively precise estimates of the needs of the community.