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Northwestern Physician Participates in the Next Wave of Philippines Disaster Relief and Recovery


The Disaster Resilience Lab, an international group of disaster relief experts, is pictured below. The field team, who worked in the Philippines in December, is at left and Dr. Jennifer Chan, who supported the group from Chicago, is in the bottom inset. Read about their work in the article below.


Media attention to the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan has faded, but the needs in the Philippines continue. Many organizations and individuals still work tirelessly to provide basic needs such as healthcare, water, sanitation and shelter to the over 4 million people who have been displaced from their homes. And many concerned individuals ask:  Can we learn from this crisis, and how can we as a world become better prepared for the next inevitable natural disaster?

Jennifer Chan, MD, MPH (pictured at left crossing a bridge in Ethiopia), an emergency medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine, is part of the continuing relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines through her work with the Disaster Resilience Lab, an international group created after Typhoon Haiyan to unite the efforts of crisis managers and researchers. Dr. Chan was a first responder to Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake, and also has worked in drought-ridden Ethiopia and many other humanitarian settings around the world. She is dedicated to helping all relief workers and affected communities—whether they are providing food, medical care or other aid—to make the best possible decisions in the field, and to have access to appropriate tools and technology.

“The number of problems that need to be addressed in a disaster is overwhelming,” says Chan. “The Disaster Resilience Lab includes engineers, information technology experts, health experts and others who have expertise to solve these issues. We’re united by a mission to provide help during this immediate crisis in the Philippines, and to do in-the-field research which can help the relief and recovery communities make better decisions and be more prepared for future disasters. We want our work to have a positive impact on future relief efforts.”

The Disaster Resilience Lab team was one of the few research groups that worked directly with disaster relief workers in the Philippines, and Dr. Chan's extensive experience as a first responder was crucial to the success of the field team. Working from Chicago while keeping up with her duties as Northwestern Medicine physician, she reached out to contacts from her previous trips to connect the team with representatives in the Philippines from the World Health Organization, Doctors without Borders and other organizations. She regularly sent the team updated information, handles scheduling and completed other administrative tasks that were very difficult to do in the field due to a lack of time or appropriate materials and technology. Most importantly, she watched over the health and well-being of the team, encouraging them to sleep and to stay connected with their loved ones as much as possible.

In January, Dr. Chan and her colleagues plan met in person to begin formal data analysis. The team had completed around 35 interviews, and together they dove into the analysis of meeting notes and audio files. Says Chan, "We spent our first formal day together debriefing about the field project, where we shared our reflections as individuals in a team, discussed challenges and inspiring moments as researchers, and shared information with one of our members who was new to the disaster environment. We also discussed broader strategic topics such as future team roles and expectations. We spent a lot of time listening and talking to each other and sharing our different perspectives from our disciplines and specialties. While we view ourselves as researchers, we often speak different languages, but we used the space today to seek common ground, understand our differences, and learned how to take the next steps together." 

Ultimately, the Disaster Resilience Lab aims to bridge the gap between developers of systems and tools and the reality of a disaster.

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