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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Defusing Disasters

About the Project

Despite advances in our ability to predict hazardous weather events, the public health impacts of heatwaves, cold snaps, floods, and droughts remains substantial. For example, the Global Burden of Disease Study estimates that annually, approximately 1.7 million deaths are attributable to acute heat and cold exposure. To lessen the impacts of impending extreme weather events, public health officials, health systems, and emergency management teams require foreknowledge of those within their communities that are most vulnerable to extreme phenomena. The occurrence of extreme events in urban environments adds additional layers of complexity to community resilience building due to challenges associated with physical, legal, health, and social infrastructure in urban settings. Our work aims to address the complex challenges of community resilience building through the development of a community-centered approach to produce globally applicable but locally informed Hazardous Weather Vulnerability Indices.

Group Members


  • Daniel Horton, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences
  • George Chiampas, Emergency Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine

Northwestern group members:

  • Anne Brenneman, Disaster Management & Community Emergency Preparedness Initiative, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Jennifer Chan, Emergency Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Lorenzo Gallon, Medicine and Surgery, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Ryan Harp, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
  • Bill Miller, Chemical and Biological Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering
  • Reynaldo Morales, Medill School of Journalism
  • Aaron Packman, Civil and Environmental Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering
  • Mar Reguant, Economics, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

External group members:

  • Raed Mansour, director, Office of Innovation, Chicago Department of Public Health

Latest Work and Developments

Work Underway  

  • The Defusing Disasters group will work this year toward creating heat vulnerability tools that function at both the community and clinical levels. The community-level tool will be used operationally by the City of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication and Department of Public Health in both emergency prevention/response and long-term mitigation contexts. The clinical tool will be used at the doctor-patient level to identify and protect at-risk individuals.