Presentation: The Use of Environmental Public Health Strike Teams During the 2009 Kentucky Ice Storm

Speaker: Vonia L. Grabeel, REHS/RS, MPH


During the 2009 Kentucky Ice Storm, the Commonwealth's largest natural disaster, environmental public health strike teams helped to re-establish communications with local health departments, conduct emergency shelter surveillance, initiate morbidity reporting, assess healthcare facilities generally outside the duties of KY environmentalist (i.e. dialysis centers, hospitals, and nursing homes), and re-open permitted retail food establishments.


Authors: Smith CE, Riggs MA, Fowler K, Grabeel V, Kaelin C, Carey JT



During January 2627, 2009, an ice storm covered two-thirds of Kentucky. Thirty-six storm-related deaths occurred and about 770,000 Kentucky residents were without power for weeks. Approximately 200 emergency shelters housing about 7,884 persons opened throughout the state, requiring the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) to provide assistance.


Methodology Used:

KDPH environmental health staff were involved in rapid assessments of community public health needs and shelter surveillance. Environmental public health strike teams helped to reestablish communication with local health departments, conducted daily shelter surveillance, and inspected food establishments to permit reopening.



Environmental health inspections using a standard shelter assessment tool were conducted at 167 shelters, of which 37 were identified with immediate needs. Of those 37 shelters with immediate needs, 34 (92%) were able to receive communication by radio, satellite phone, fax, telephone, or Internet, and 32 shelters (86%) confirmed that they had heat. Three (9%) of the 34 shelters with communication capability reported residents who would run out of prescription medications within 1 week, and five shelters (15%) had medical special-needs residents.


Lessons Learned:

Rapid deployment of strike teams from within Kentucky and neighboring states assisted with public health needs in the worst affected areas. In response to KDPH recommendations, communities across the commonwealth are improving preparedness plans to address the special needs of their population.



To improve public health response, KDPH is developing an environmental public health emergency response skills assessment. This systematic method will determine the knowledge and skills of environmental public health strike team members, highlight capacity gaps, and support the development of training programs.




1.       To define the components of an environmental public health strike team

2.       To demonstrate the multiple uses of environmental public health strike teams during an emergency response

3.       To describe the challenges encountered during an environmental public health emergency response



Note: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.