All disasters are local, and health departments form the backbone of response. Scientific research is critical for understanding the characteristics of a disaster, documenting adverse outcomes, and testing strategies for preventing disasters and reducing their harms. Disaster science has typically been performed by professional researchers. But, today, the public has a much bigger role to play. The field of citizen science may hold the key to performing better research and delivering better results for communities everywhere. Citizen science, also sometimes called community science or street science, is public engagement in scientific research as scientists rather than study subjects. When applied to disasters, the field is called disaster citizen science. With the invention of new technologies, scientific knowledge, tools, and methods have become accessible to everyone in ways that did not exist before. By harnessing these advancements, health departments could obtain data that address critical needs to improve preparedness planning, while using an approach that is inherently designed to promote public participation, education, and understanding of science. Everyone benefits.

The authors designed this toolkit to provide guidance to health departments on engaging with disaster citizen science to support public health preparedness. Regardless of the specific disaster problem, or the size or scope of the intended project, the toolkit explains how to carry out a study that results in quality data. Ultimately, this toolkit should help health departments design and implement disaster citizen science projects and identify resources to support activities.

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The research described in this report was prepared for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted by the Community Health and Environmental Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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