November 12, 2014 UT Groups Use Research, Heart to Improve Appalachian Region


UT students and professors from various disciplines are working together to make an Appalachian community a safer and healthier place to live—and serve as a model to help other communities like it.

Clay County, Kentucky, ranks near the bottom for the state’s major health indicators, including obesity, infant mortality, and disability. In rural areas, clean water is hard to come by, flooding is common, and mold is ubiquitous.

Professors and students in the Global Disaster Nursing program, with their counterparts in architecture, environmental engineering, and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) based in UT’s Institute for Public Service, are working with community partners to improve the area’s community wellness and disaster preparedness.

The three-year project is now in its second year. The first year was spent gathering and sharing information between the UT groups and community residents and partners. Now students in engineering, architecture, and nursing are working in teams with community members to develop real-world solutions to the county’s biggest challenges.

Clean water access: During the first year of the project, nursing and engineering faculty and students met with local officials and toured the existing dam to understand water supply issues. Engineers developed plans for a new reservoir to serve the county seat, and nursing and architecture students examined approaches for getting clean water to homes in remote rural areas—including a water kiosk currently in design for the Red Bird Mission, a project partner.

Home safety and sanitation: Residents live in isolated hollows tucked away in steep mountains with no cell service, few septic systems, and no sewer lines. Integrated student teams are taking part in home and health assessments that examine safety of structures damaged by flooding, determining health problems related to structural failure and its consequences, such as mold. They are developing low-cost solutions for repairs or replacement, including the use of low-cost sustainable materials such as green oak, and they are also devising strategies for mold reduction and eradication. Also, Appalachia Project directors are writing grants and seeking funding to bring septic systems to the most remote areas.

Emergency preparedness: Students in architecture, nursing, and engineering are addressing a gap in readiness, working side by side to design an addition to the Red Bird Volunteer Fire Department. Law enforcement specialists from LEIC have provided courses on management of crisis events for law enforcement and are helping to acquire emergency technology. Nurses have provided training on management of disaster events, and integrated student teams are working with community partners to update emergency preparedness plans.