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American Red Cross: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Impact Surveillance System for Natural Disasters



E Paz-Argandona, J Malilay


Since 1987, the American Red Cross and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have collaborated on the Health Impact Surveillance System for Disasters, which collects data on morbidity and mortality related to disasters in the United States and its territories. We describe the surveillance system and present an analysis related to 104 disasters occurring from 1994 to 1996. Associated with these disasters were 426 fatalities, 9,846 cases of morbidity in the disaster-affected populations, and 2,752 cases of morbidity among 45,066 American Red Cross personnel. Injuries were the most frequent cause of death in 1994 and 1995, whereas drowning were the most common in 1996. The percentage of disaster-related deaths that were due to drowning increased from 32.9% in 1994 to 52% in 1995; however, the distribution of disaster types also changed. The use ·of motor vehicles was heavily implicated in drowning deaths. Injuries and illnesses in the disaster-affected population occurred with greater frequency during the impact phase of acute-onset disasters such as tornadoes and hailstorms and during the post-impact phase of floods and tropical cyclones. The estimated risk for morbidity among ARC staff members was greatest for tropical cyclones. Illnesses exceeded injuries among ARC staff members for every disaster type except wildfires across the 3 study years. We recommend that prevention efforts focus on preventing deaths by drowning and those caused by motor vehicle-related mJunes.
Special Publication (NIST SP) - 931
Report Number


medical services, earthquakes, epidemiology, health hazards, disasters


Paz-Argandona, E. and Malilay, J. (1998), American Red Cross: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Impact Surveillance System for Natural Disasters, Special Publication (NIST SP), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed June 18, 2024)


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Created August 1, 1998, Updated November 10, 2018