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Public Health Impacts of Extended Power Interruptions: Scenario scoping, public health responses, and health priorities

Focus area:
Medical and Public Health Preparedness and Response

The electrical power grid is an integral part of 21st century life, with nearly all facets of everyday activities depending on electricity. Yet, the energy grid is at risk: It has become a prime target for cyberattacks and is vulnerable to naturally occurring outages due to weather events and disasters. The health consequences of crippled electrical power infrastructure could potentially be significant. The health system, many water utilities, communication systems, and others are dependent on the functioning of the electrical grid, which, if threatened, could cause cascading health impacts. Health impacts are likely to increase in frequency and severity as outages increase in length. Research is needed to identify the particular pathways by which power outages directly or indirectly (eg, via disruption of other services that require power to operate) affect public health, and the actions that can be taken to reduce vulnerability and hasten recovery.

Although optimal restoration of electric power service following an event has been an active area of research, maximization of restoration of service is often measured by number of customers or amount of electric load served. However, consideration of public health consequences and, in particular, supply chains for essential services and products that depend on electricity could result in very different sequences of actions, in terms of which distribution circuits are energized and which power plants restarted.

This research project is a joint research project with faculty members in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, with a particular emphasis on encouraging multidisciplinary collaboration between engineering and public health faculty. The project seeks to determine the health-focused priorities for power recovery and public health response actions to manage long-term power outages in order to reduce morbidity and mortality from electrical power grid failure. Findings and recommendations from this work could be used to improve emergency response planning by utilities and public agencies across the nation to be used in small and more frequent outages as well as large-scale potentially catastrophic events. This work will provide an important foundation for future inquiry into the relationship between electrical power grid resiliency and public health.

Project team lead: Tara Kirk Sell, PhD

Project team: Amanda Kobokovich, MPH; Elena Martin, MPH; Thomas Inglesby, MD

Engineering project team: Benjamin Hobbs, PhD; Puneet Chitkara, PhD; Umesh Korde, PhD; Kenming Xu

Project supported by: Chaomei Chen and Yu Wu

 

 

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