Students conduct emergency preparedness community assessment

School of Public Health students learn community data collection and analysis for disaster situations from inception to conclusion
November 19, 2018

Students from the Texas A&M School of Public Health conducted a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) to measure perceptions of household and pet emergency preparedness in the Bryan-College Station communities as part of a class project for their Disaster Epidemiology graduate course. The students participating included members of the Disaster Epidemiology course and student volunteers (both graduate and undergraduate) from the school’s EpiAssist program. EpiAssist is a student volunteer group that provides students with the opportunity to gain applied public health experience by assisting Texas’ state, regional and local health departments with outbreak investigations, disasters and emergencies, community health assessments and other projects.

The students from the Disaster Epidemiology course developed the survey instrument, designed the just-in-time training for the volunteers, created a script and definitions page for survey administrators to ensure consistency in data collection, and then went out in pairs to the randomly selected households. The objective for the CASPER from an educational point of view was to teach students about one of the primary methods of data collection and analysis conducted in the context of disaster situations.

“CASPER assessments provide important data and information to emergency managers, public health practitioners, and first responders to inform not only planning processes, but also resource allocation during response and recovery phases of disasters,” said Angela Clendenin, PhD, instructional assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiologyand Biostatistics. “The opportunity to learn how to develop and conduct a CASPER assessment provides the students invaluable experience with engaging the community, data collection and analysis, and reporting results. This project has turned what would appear to be ‘just another course’ into a living laboratory where the students were provided an environment to apply the lessons learned in a very real and practical way. In addition, the students are able to experience the importance of evidence-based public health practice as it relates to emergencies and disasters.”

“Our CASPER provided an educational experience that not only allowed us to learn more about the community of Bryan-College Station, but also gave us an opportunity to connect with our peers and faculty here at Texas A&M,” said master of public health (MPH) student Gabriela Machado, a student in the Disaster Epidemiology course. “As a result, we were able to produce a survey and obtain feedback for research that will, in turn, allow us to be better prepared in future states of emergency and disaster.”

The students completed their assessment in just over five hours and achieved a 62 percent participation rate, which exceeds the national norm for face-to-face survey response rates. The data collection complete, the students in the course will begin data entry and analysis, learning how to deal with inconsistent, incomplete or missing data, and will write a final report summarizing their findings. This project has provided students the opportunity to witness assessment from inception to conclusion.

“Developing and executing a CASPER survey as a class project enabled my peers and me to gain knowledge of survey development and data collection by providing a hands-on learning experience that extended beyond the classroom,” said Brianna Proctor, another MPH in the Disaster Epidemiology course. “Having this ‘boots on the ground’ public health opportunity opened my eyes to the amount of work that is put into data collection and research which will in turn serve as an enhancement to the state of future disaster preparedness. The vast amount of knowledge I gained from this experience exceeded my expectations and is something I will always be grateful for.”

Results from the CASPER, as the project was approved by the Texas A&M Institutional Review Board, will not be published, as it was strictly to be conducted as a teaching method within the discipline. However, the survey instrument will be able to be adjusted and used in future research studies and will potentially be one of the first assessment tools to address pet preparedness and impact as such a significant portion of the assessment.

Health departments in need of extra help for tasks such as completing community health assessments should send requests to an EpiAssist listserve, where students can respond and organize trips to areas in need. For more information on EpiAssist, please visit

— Rae Lynn Mitchell

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