June 30, 2008

Health Officials Survey Iowa Flood Victims

By Lex Alexander, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

Jun. 30--GREENSBORO -- After record flooding earlier this month in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, two Greensboro public health officials were among people brought in to assess the community's public health needs.

One was Steve Ramsey, a public health preparedness manager for the Guilford County health department. Along with Wendy Boggs, a nursing services consultant, he traveled to Iowa to look into the public health vulnerabilities and needs of people living in areas affected by the floods.

They and four other North Carolina public health officials supervised data collection by 10 two-person teams from Iowa and Florida who were using hand-held computers to record survey responses.

Ramsey said the most widespread problem was the need for mental-health services: More than 58 percent of households had at least one member having difficulty sleeping, and 47 percent reported at least one member having difficulty concentrating since the flood.

Environmental hazards were a major issue. The teams looked for, among other things, people running generators without adequate ventilation, a recipe for lethal carbon-monoxide poisoning.

And Ramsey said there is a need for "one-stop shopping" for information for flood victims, such as where to go to file insurance claims or get food and medications.

"We're going to have to get creative in the ways we get information out to the community ... even if it's driving down the street with a bullhorn and answering people's questions," Ramsey said.

On Day 1 of the three-day sweep, the teams conducted 214 interviews in Cedar Rapids in an area in which about four homes in five had suffered flooding in a living area.

On Day 2, they garnered 111 interviews in four flooded rural counties. And on Day 3, they conducted 128 interviews in Iowa City.

Each interview took about 15 minutes. The North Carolina team then crunched the data to prepare its reports.

"Our guarantee is that from the time we hit the ground to the time the report is in hand is 72 hours, and we actually did much better than that," Ramsey said.

Many interviews took place in people's homes, although most of those people still weren't living there.

"They were tearing out drywall, tearing out carpet, carrying out furniture," Ramsey said. "But they were mostly staying with family and friends overnight."

The experience was valuable training for state and county workers who will have to do similar work after a natural disaster in North Carolina, he said.

The floods provided lessons for residents, too.

"The other lesson is how important it is for the community to be resilient and help people out," Ramsey said. "Know your neighbors. Know the people you live around. They're going to be part of your support network when something does happen."

Contact Lex Alexander at 373-7088 or [email protected]


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