Engaging a Chemical Disaster Community: Lessons from Graniteville
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Community engagement remains a primary objective of public health practice. While this approach has been adopted with success in response to many community health issues, it is rarely adopted in chemical disaster response. Empirical research suggests that management of chemical disasters focuses on the emergency response with almost no community engagement for long-term recovery. Graniteville, an unincorporated and medically underserved community in South Carolina was the site of one of the largest chlorine exposures by a general US population. Following the immediate response, we sought community participation and partnered with community stakeholders and representatives in order to address community-identified health and environmental concerns. Subsequently, we engaged the community through regular town hall meetings, harnessing community capacity, forming coalitions with existing local assets like churches, schools, health centers, and businesses, and hosting community-wide events like health picnics and screenings. Information obtained from these events through discussions, interviews, and surveys facilitated focused public health service which eventually transitioned to community-driven public health research. Specific outcomes of the community engagement efforts and steps taken to ensure sustainability of these efforts and outcomes will be discussed.