The N.C. Institute for Public Health has been awarded an $8.5 million, five-year grant to create a new research center focused on helping protect the state from a wide range of disasters and threats.
The institute, part of the University’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, was selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to head up one of seven new Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Centers.
The new center will be known as the N.C. Public Health Preparedness Systems Research Center. Dr. Edward L. Baker, the institute’s director and professor of health policy and management in the public health school, was principal investigator of the grant proposal.
The center will focus on conducting research related to public health preparedness and emergency response in North Carolina. Researchers will evaluate disease surveillance and reporting systems, emergency alerting systems, regional response systems and the effects of health department accreditation on preparedness and response capacities.
“What will come out of this center will improve the quality of preparedness and response to all hazards, from hurricanes to contagious diseases to suspected [terrorist] acts,” Baker said. “I believe one of the reasons we secured the grant is that North Carolina is seen as a laboratory for practice research due to its innovative public health preparedness surveillance and response systems.”
Several state leaders were involved in helping bring the center to North Carolina, including State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin ’76 and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Devlin also earned her doctor of dental surgery from UNC in 1979 and her master’s in public health from Carolina in 1984. She was recognized on this year’s University Day with a Distinguished Alumna Award.
“Being prepared for any hazard is central to the public health mission in North Carolina,” Devlin said. “Clearly evaluating our state and local efforts and answering critical research questions will help us to continually strengthen our system of preparedness and response.”
“I am proud UNC has been selected by the CDC as one of seven new Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Centers,” Burr said. “Congress called for public health systems research in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which was signed into law in 2006. North Carolina has been a leader in public health preparedness and this new funding will help the state, and the nation, evaluate ways to create and maintain sustainable preparedness and response systems for future emergencies.”
Pia MacDonald, director of the N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness and research assistant professor of epidemiology in the public health school, will serve as director of the new center as well as principal investigator of one of the research projects. Carol Gunther-Mohr, a research associate with the public health preparedness center, will be the project’s program manager.
The center will be a cooperative effort among researchers from UNC, N.C. State University, the University of Arkansas, the University of Kentucky and public health practitioners from the N.C. Division of Public Health.
The six other institutions to receive funding from the CDC to set up centers are Emory University, Harvard School of Public Health, the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Washington.