The catastrophic effects of Hurricane Harvey have left the homes of thousands of Texans in complete disrepair. With over 325,000 displaced residents in the greater-Houston area alone, students and faculty in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University have jumped in to help lead the relief efforts.
In the wake of Harvey, many counties currently remain underwater — with no end in sight. Heather Clark, clinical assistant professor in health education and coordinator for the community health internship program, has spent years researching and working for effective community organizing, and assessing needs throughout Texas. She talked about the nation’s outpouring of support for disaster victims.
“The relief response that we are seeing is an amazing example of community organizing that is organic in nature with people coming together to work towards a common goal,” Clark said. “Our health education students are able to learn from this incident by thinking about the critical health promotion and prevention education messages that need to be communicated.”
Many students in the Department of Health and Kinesiology (HLKN) have gotten involved in aiding relief efforts through their internships. Some of Clark’s community health students recently started internships at Houston Methodist Hospital and MD Anderson.
Other HLKN student efforts have ranged from work in Houston shelters and neighborhood cleanup campaigns to water rescues and National Guard duty. The national honorary student health society Eta Sigma Gamma adopted a classroom at McAdams Junior High in Dickinson.
“It’s heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time, but we must remember that there are so many places that are in need across Texas,” she said. “People have really been given a unique opportunity to come together and help regardless of their level of expertise.”
An important factor that is often overlooked in emergency situations is how to properly disperse critical aid, Clark said. Millions of dollars in relief donations can be made in the form of food, water and clothing. However, shelters across Texas are seeing an over-saturation of donated resources like clothing while other immediate resources they are in need of go unmet.
Clark highlighted the importance of listening to the specific needs within affected communities in order to be as effective as possible.
“Assessing and prioritizing the needs of those who need help most is just as important as wanting to help. There are many ways to do so – formally and informally,” she said. “This process of assessing needs can help those organizing efforts outside of the immediate impacted areas to better meet the needs of shelters and their occupants.”
Additional safety issues and concerns, and opportunities for providing health education to keep in mind during the rescue and relief process include:
- Food safety issues with consuming food and drink that may have come in contact with flood waters as well as food left in homes that have been without power for prolonged periods of time.
- Contact with floodwaters could cause tetanus, fecal contamination and chemical contamination.
- Awareness that people who quickly evacuated may have left behind important, life-saving medication.
- Stress, PTSD and stress management services are important for victims and rescuers.
- Electrocution and live wires.
- Access to resources for assistance.
This story by Justin Ikpo originally appeared in Transform Lives.