The GIS | Health and Hazards Laboratory is a research, education, and service based facility within the Department of Geography and the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
Our research lies in the intersection of hazards and health using various geospatial approaches to work at the scale of intervention. This includes the home, street, block and neighborhood; a scale at which problems are not just identified, but can also be tackled through policy and action with expert collaborators. We primarily focus on the built environment, for example studying urban transformation after extreme externalities, such as a natural disaster. Simply put, we have considerable experience in making maps to help understand disaster landscapes, community recovery, disease and urban health disparity.
Our work usually involves a combination of field based geospatial data collection followed by spatial analysis. These methods are constantly changing because of the challenges often found in health or hazards landscapes. As a result of the geospatial work performed by the director and the co director of the lab during Hurricane Katrina we were part of a team awarded the Meredith F. Burrill Award in 2007 by the Association of American Geographers, which honors important contributions at the intersection of basic research and application, particularly with implications for policy.
We continue to work in several neighborhoods of New Orleans, and recently we have modified our spatial data collection strategies to assess the tornado devastated landscapes of Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Joplin, Missouri; the post wildfire landscapes of southern California and Colorado Springs, Colorado, and cholera impacted areas of Haiti.
Part of our rationale is the belief that health vulnerability is an underappreciated aspect of North American disasters. With this in mind, we focus on spatial patterns of recovery, merging characteristics of the landscape with health outcomes. Topics include post disaster crime, neighborhood blight, and the reestablishment and quality of services, especially those focused on mothers and children.
To be successful we also believe in a mixed methods approach, where geospatial technologies and spatial analysis are combined with local context in the form of geonarratives, which are the spatially tagged stories of ride-along community members who narrate the landscape as we collect our data.
We also strive to advance our spatial understanding of health in non-disaster related contexts. For example we are working with an endocrinologist to build a Geographic Information System (GIS) supported diabetes clinic in Los Angeles which will use both clinical data and neighborhood context (through patient interviews) to support diagnosis and treatment strategies. This project is an excellent example of actionable GIS, where results can be used in near real time as part of an intervention portfolio. Our other collaborations involve the spatial analysis of infectious and chronic disease associated with urban environments, vectored disease, and most recently, cholera in Haiti.