Prehospital and Disaster Medicine

Comprehensive Review

Challenges in Disaster Data Collection during Recent Disasters

Melinda Mortona1a2 c1 and J. Lee Levya1a2

a1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland USA

a2 Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland USA


Gathering essential health data to provide rapid and effective medical relief to populations devastated by the effects of a disaster-producing event involves challenges. These challenges include response to environmental hazards, security of personnel and resources, political and economic issues, cultural barriers, and difficulties in communication, particularly between aid agencies. These barriers often impede the timely collection of key health data such as morbidity and mortality, rapid health and sheltering needs assessments, key infrastructure assessments, and nutritional needs assessments. Examples of these challenges following three recent events: (1) the Indian Ocean tsunami; (2) Hurricane Katrina; and (3) the 2010 earthquake in Haiti are reviewed. Some of the innovative and cutting-edge approaches for surmounting many of these challenges include: (1) the establishment of geographical information systems (GIS) mapping disaster databases; (2) establishing internet surveillance networks and data repositories; (3) utilization of personal digital assistant-based platforms for data collection; (4) involving key community stakeholders in the data collection process; (5) use of pre-established, local, collaborative networks to coordinate disaster efforts; and (6) exploring potential civil-military collaborative efforts. The application of these and other innovative techniques shows promise for surmounting formidable challenges to disaster data collection.

(Received July 05 2010)

(Accepted April 18 2011)

(Revised April 26 2011)


c1 Correspondence: Melinda J. Morton MD, MPH, Captain, US Army Department of Emergency Medicine Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21205 USA E-mail:


Morton M, Levy JL: Challenges in disaster data collection during recent disasters. Prehosp Disaster Med 2011;V(N):mm–nn.