As an epidemiologist, Jeff Bethel understands the vital role of public health in saving lives after a natural disaster. Most at risk, he says, are vulnerable populations — migrant laborers and people who live alone or have chronic illnesses.
“If you’re in your little bubble, you’re at higher risk,” says the assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Bethel studies how prepared people are to survive on their own when the power and water go out and food supplies are disrupted. In partnership with the Marion County Public Health Department, he is surveying Latino residents and identifying subgroups such as the elderly or the chronically ill. The county will use Bethel’s findings for publicity about disaster preparedness.
Epidemiologists can assist health-care professionals by providing up-to-date, population-based information, adds Michael Heumann, consulting epidemiologist with the Oregon Public Health Division. “In a disaster,” says Heumann, “we all need to be able to do the minimum until help arrives. That means having food, water and medicine. And we need to have the skills sets — stop the bleeding, take care of people with broken bones. It’s everybody’s business: schools, civic organizations, churches, trade associations, businesses, public health agencies.”
“Public health needs to be at the table in these conversations,” Bethel says. “It’s vital.”
Oregon State researchers are helping to prepare the state for the next great earthquake. See Oregon 9.0.