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In the devastation that follows a major disaster, there is a need for multiple sectors to unite and devote new resources to support the rebuilding of infrastructure, the provision of health and social services, the restoration of care delivery systems, and other critical recovery needs. In some cases, billions of dollars from public, private and charitable sources are invested to help communities recover. National rhetoric often characterizes these efforts as a “return to normal.” But for many American communities, pre-disaster conditions are far from optimal. Large segments of the U.S. population suffer from preventable health problems, experience inequitable access to services, and rely on overburdened health systems. A return to pre-event conditions in such cases may be short-sighted given the high costs—both economic and social—of poor health. Instead, it is important to understand that the disaster recovery process offers a series of unique and valuable opportunities to improve on the status quo. Capitalizing on these opportunities can advance the long-term health, resilience, and sustainability of communities—thereby better preparing them for future challenges. With support from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), the Veterans Health Administration (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Institute of Medicine* (IOM) convened an expert committee to develop an approach to disaster recovery that mitigates disaster impacts on health and promotes healthy communities.
* As of March 2016, the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine continues the consensus studies and convening activities previously undertaken by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).