Start Year: 2017

Integrating Health into Disaster and Resilience Planning

Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is a fast-growing practice in the U.S. that provides practitioners and policymakers with a tool to predict the health outcomes of decisions. The National Research Council of the National Academies defines HIA as “…a systematic process that uses an array of data sources and analytic methods and considers input from stakeholders to determine the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program, or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. Along with other partners at the Bloustein School, EAC joined in undertaking two HIAs designed to inform on-going disaster recovery and resilience planning decisions in two case study communities. Mystic Island is an unincorporated, mostly residential community within Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County. Bordering the marshes that line Great Bay and Barnegat Bay, and open to the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Mystic Island was created in the 1960’s by joining together several islands on land connected by lagoon channels that give homes direct access to open water in their backyards. The entire community is located within the 100-year floodplain, and Mystic Island has the highest concentration of repetitive loss properties in Little Egg Harbor Township. The focus of the Mystic Island HIA was to assess the physical and mental health outcomes associated with the implementation of voluntary home buyout scenarios in which properties would be restored to a natural state to provide flood protection.  Hoboken is a historic, densely populated city in urbanized Hudson County which was once an island surrounded by the Hudson River to the east and tidal marshes on its western edge. Today, parts of Hoboken still lie near or below sea level. Wastewater treatment for Hoboken includes a Combined Sewer System (CSS) that is designed to collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater in the same pipes. During periods of heavy rainfall and high tides in the Hudson River, the volume of water entering the combined sewer system exceeds the capacity of the treatment plant resulting in back-ups that flood city streets and the basements of private property, while untreated wastewater discharges directly into the Hudson River. The Hoboken HIA was designed to inform the City’s stormwater management planning process and to examine the potential positive and negative health effects of the City adopting amendments to its Stormwater Management Plan and ordinances that would implement green infrastructure strategies.

Photo Credit:  The Atlantic

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Jeanne Herb