January 2008

Grant Results

SUMMARY

Researchers at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University conducted more than 40 in-depth interviews with public health and emergency workers who were at the scene in the days and months following the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

The goals were to:

  • Ensure that a set of oral histories of key workers and officials would be available for future generations of policymakers and historians.
  • Document the effects of the September 11th attacks on the nation's public health infrastructure.

Key Results

  • A research team conducted interviews with 43 public health and emergency workers. The interviews, most lasting one and one-half to two hours, were transcribed and will be deposited in Columbia University's Oral History Collection, allowing access by future scholars.
  • Drawing on these interviews, and other research, co-project director David Rosner, Ph.D., and Gerald Markowitz, Ph.D., authored the book Are We Ready? Public Health Since 9/11 (University of California Press, 2006). The book examines the reaction to September 11th among public health practitioners at the federal, state and local levels.

Key Conclusions
Rosner and Markowitz outline a number of key conclusions in Are We Ready Yet? Public Health Since 9/11, including:

  • New York's extensive public health and social welfare infrastructure played a critical role in the relatively smooth response to the immediate crisis in the days and weeks following the September 11th attack.
  • Much of the success in organizing a response had less to do with the formal organization of emergency planning or conscious preparation than with the existence of an on-going infrastructure of services, laboratories and personnel.
  • Researchers and policy makers need to expand their understanding of the limitations of the individualized mental health system and integrate that system more broadly into the public health infrastructure.
  • The failure to acknowledge uncertainty in communications is nearly always a big mistake.
  • When national threats are present, clear lines of federal and other authority need to be delineated.

The book was published by the University of California Press in its Series: California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public. It has received a number of reviews.

  • "Rosner and Markowitz provide a well-researched account that should have an impact on the implementation of future public health policy. Their extensive interviews and use of public statements offer readers the opportunity to assess their research and to judge their analysis and commentary. The first-person reports of the chaos of the moment, especially in New York, will enlighten the naïve and invoke harsh memories for readers who more intimately lived through the events." — Science
  • "An insightful story of shifting priorities and challenges in the days, months, and years since September 2001…. The resulting narrative is rich in unflinching detail….The authors allow readers to generate their own conclusions in response to the question their book's title poses; this decision is laudable." — British Medical Journal

Funding
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project with two grants totaling $319,633. The second was made under its Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research program. See also Grant Results on the program. The Milbank Foundation provided support for publication of the book, Are We Ready Yet? Public Health Since 9/11.

After the Grant
Co-project director Nancy VanDevanter received $168,902 (ID# 060257 transferred from ID# 057199) from RWJF to collect oral histories from city and state public health workers and officials involved during and after Hurricane Katrina.

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GRANT DETAILS & CONTACT INFORMATION

Project

The Public Health Response to the September 11 Attacks

Grantee

The Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health (New York,  NY)

  • Collecting Oral Histories of Public Health Professionals Response to the September 11 Attacks and the Aftermath
    Amount: $ 45,826
    Dates: February 2002 to January 2003
    ID#:  044755

  • Unnatural History of Public Health: From Epidemics and Injuries to Chronic Illness and Bioterrorism
    Amount: $ 272,042
    Dates: July 2003 to June 2007
    ID#:  047730

Contact

David K. Rosner, Ph.D.
(212) 305-1727
dr289@columbia.edu
Nancy L. VanDevanter, Dr.P.H., R.N., Ed.M.
(212) 998-5328
nvd2@nyu.edu

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Report prepared by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: James R. Knickman
Program Officer: Lori Melichar

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