Brianna Willis

Project title: Perceived exposures of disaster scientists and experts that participated in Ridgecrest earthquake reconnaissance

Degree: MPH | Program: One Health (ONE) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2020 | Faculty advisor: Nicole Errett



This study explored the perceived occupational exposures and health impacts of disaster scientists and experts that performed reconnaissance in Ridgecrest, CA, following the magnitude 6.4 and 7.1 earthquakes that occurred on July 4 and 5, 2019. We conducted and thematically analyzed semi-structured key informant interviews with 18 individuals that performed reconnaissance. Interviews explored occupational exposures, risks, and health impacts, as well as how participants proposed to mitigate these exposures and improve their occupational health and safety. Common physical and safety hazards encountered included heat, brush, and falling-object hazards. Psychosocial hazards included interactions with affected communities and long work hours. Other factors reported to influence occupational safety and health included fatigue, interactions with local officials, access to resources (e.g., food, water, and fuel), team dynamics, and training. Lack of uniform training requirements for reconnaissance activities resulted in various levels of training among study participants. Participants had various levels of experience ranging from none to over 30 years. This study provides an unprecedented look at occupational health issues faced by disaster scientists during disaster reconnaissance. We identify several opportunities to improve the health and safety of disaster scientists during future reconnaissance trips, as well as additional research needs.