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Promoting comprehensive disaster policy through interdisciplinary collaboration
  1. Lainie Rutkow1,
  2. Judith Mitrani-Reiser2,
  3. Daniel J Barnett3
  1. 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Department of Civil Engineering, Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Lainie Rutkow, Associate Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 N. Broadway, Room 513, Baltimore MD 21205, USA; lrutkow{at}

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Systems science is a field dedicated to the study of systems within society or nature.1 It routinely draws on disciplines including engineering, medicine, economics and the environmental sciences. Analyses that use a systems science approach typically consider interactions between a system (eg, public transportation within a city) and the environment in which it functions (eg, weather conditions), and account for dynamic behaviour (eg, individuals’ responses to a severe weather event).2

Although public policy provides an additional layer of societal context for any given system, legal and policy factors are rarely integrated into systems science analyses. Because policy plays such an important role in injury prevention,3 incorporating policy considerations into systems science analyses holds great promise as an emerging methodological approach to improve population health. This is especially true for natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, and human-caused disasters, such as terrorist acts,4 as these scenarios pose challenges within and across systems and jurisdictions. While each type of disaster raises unique concerns for planning, response and recovery, they share the potential to produce wide-ranging physical injuries. For example, disasters are associated with drownings, falls, lacerations, amputations and long-term disability.5–8

As described in detail below, by partnering with engineers to apply methods within the systems science framework, lawyers and policy analysts can bring an important—and often missing—dimension to models intended to inform preparedness plans and reduce injuries. These collaborations can occur both concurrently and serially, allowing multiple disciplines to contribute throughout relevant analyses. This article first describes the separate contributions of law and engineering within emergency preparedness efforts, and then explores their synergy when combined within a systems science approach.

Laws provide an infrastructure for emergency planning, response and recovery. In the USA, every state government, along with the federal government, has the authority to …

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  • Contributors LR, JM-R and DJB designed the work. LR drafted the manuscript, and JM-R and DJB provided critical revisions. All authors provided final approval of the manuscript and are accountable for all aspects of the work. LR is the guarantor.

  • Funding This project was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation (1234228).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.