June 18, 2019 / Mark Ames

Helping Communities in Times of Need

To those impacted by floods, fierce winds, and other severe weather—thoughts and words too complex to capture go out to you. With hope, these words will be a long-distance embrace, and while they cannot provide you with food or shelter, perhaps they can deliver comfort and strength to you and yours.

It is on these somber notes that we find ourselves amid another hurricane season, which formally began on June 1 and extends to November 30. This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expects between 9 and 15 named storms, including four to eight hurricanes, and two to four major hurricanes (category three, four, or five). NOAA also reminds us that “more than 80 million people in the United States live in areas that could be impacted by a hurricane, and only a fraction of those live along the immediate coast.” While enlightening, these numbers do not tell the whole story of how communities are affected by severe weather and how IHs can use their unique skills to help plan for and mitigate the many chemical, biological, and other hazards present during and long after an incident has occurred. These skills will likely be in even greater demand now and in the coming months, as some areas that are still recovering are expected to be hit by severe weather again, creating a new set of hazards to address.

Disasters have a way of uniting people to rebuild our communities and restore what was lost. During that restoration, several questions are asked, such as:

  • How can we improve our planning to make our communities more resilient in future incidents?
  • How can we quickly remove or otherwise control hazards so that people can get back to their homes and work, and rejuvenate the local economy?
  • How can I help my employer develop and implement a plan for responding to severe weather that helps protect workers and allows business to resume?

Industrial hygienists can help answer these questions and many more. For a number of great resources on the roles and functions of IHs in disasters, please visit AIHA’s Incident Preparedness and Response Working Group’s web page.

Working to help communities plan for and recover from disasters has many benefits, including helping people understand the fascinating profession of industrial hygiene. By understanding the roles and functions that IHs play in their lives, students and even adults already in the work force may become inspired to join the profession, and policymakers may be more willing to continue or expand programs that support IH and OEHS more broadly.

Opportunities for engagement exist now. Whether or not you’re in an impacted community, if you have a desire to lend your unique skills and knowledge as an IH, there’s a place for you in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. And if you’re interested in working on public policy issues, there’s a place for you there, too. The first step is an easy one—just send me an email saying you’d like to be involved, and we’ll take it from there. Of course, if you’re already involved, we’d love to hear your story too.

Mark Ames

Mark Ames is AIHA’s director of Government Relations.


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