For Release: October 29, 2007
Contact: Sue Knapp 603-650-1492

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Dartmouth to Lead New National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research—NIH-Funded Center Involves Institutions around the Country

Dr. Fran Norris
Dr. Fran Norris

HANOVER, NH—Dartmouth Medical School has been awarded a 5-year, $3.89 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in collaboration with several organizations, to launch a National Center for Disaster Mental Health Research (NCDMHR). The new center will conduct long-term studies that address important questions concerning post-disaster resilience and wellness.

"We're going to capitalize on the expertise of professionals around the country to establish a center that is methodologically creative, capable of rapid response, and responsive to the needs of the scientific, policy and practitioner communities," says Dr. L. Frances (Fran) Norris, a research professor of psychiatry and of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, who will direct the center.

Investigators from five prominent universities in four regions of the country will contribute to this national effort. Partners in the center include Dartmouth Medical School, University of Michigan, Medical University of South Carolina, Yale University and the University of Oklahoma.

Norris, the principal investigator, and her co-principal investigator Dr. Sandro Galea, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, stress the importance of the strong connections between and the experience of all of the experts at the partner institutions.

I think one of the most beneficial pieces of this project will be the ability to launch epidemiological and services research immediately in the after- math of a major disaster.

—Dr. Fran Norris

"We know that disasters have a substantial influence on population health," says Galea, who will serve as the center's research director. "We need to understand the health consequences of disasters much better than we do now in order to mitigate them."

The experts involved in the NCDMHR have experience in responding to and conducting mental health research in the wake of major disasters, such as Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew and Katrina; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; the 1999 mudslides in Mexico; the September 11 terrorist attacks; and the Madrid bombing in 2004.

Norris, a community psychologist, has been conducting research on the psychosocial consequences of disasters for more than 20 years. She also directs an NIH-funded research education project that mentors new investigators in disaster mental health research. Since Hurricane Katrina, she has been serving as the National Cross-Site Evaluator for the federally funded Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, for which she recently completed an evaluation of mental health services provided across 17 states in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes.

"I think one of the most beneficial pieces of this project will be the ability to launch epidemiological and services research immediately in the aftermath of a major disaster. This addresses what has been a major barrier to effective research in this field, not receiving adequate funding until several months have passed," says Norris, who is also a research associate at the Veterans Affairs' National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in White River Junction, Vt.

Many of the NCDMHR investigators affiliated from Dartmouth are all also connected with the National Center for PTSD. The University of Michigan School of Public Health scientists bring expertise in post-disaster epidemiology and survey research. Personnel at the Medical University of South Carolina have many years of experience in disaster research and development of innovative intervention strategies. The researchers from Yale bring expertise in the neurobiology of human stress response. Leaders of the Child Trauma Network's Terrorism and Disaster Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center will help the NCDMHR develop a program of research in child epidemiology and services research.


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