By John C. Scott – Center for Public Service Communications
Community Health Maps (CHM) recently joined forces with community based
organizations and residents in North Miami, and Florida International University faculty
to map health risks associated with the 2017 King Tides, September 19th and 20th and
again on October 7th , the time of the highest of the inundations.
Several communities in Miami experienced predictable tidal flooding during the highest
tides of the year. The Shorecrest community is among them. Sampling of the
floodwaters during previous King Tides has established that they contain elevated
concentrations of bacteria. The aim of this project was to prepare residents of the
community to record and map data that will help them plan their daily activities to
protect their health, and give them tools to communicate with the city and county about their environmental health risks.
Complicating the task of collecting data in the community was Hurricane Irma which hit
South Florida only a week before the September measurements, causing dislocation of
residents, power outages and other disruptions that resulted in the decision not to tax
neighborhood residents by expecting them to learn the CHM workflow and map hazards
in the community.
For the CHM/King Tides mapping project, community members were trained on the
CHM workflow before collecting and mapping environmental health data during the King Tides in the Shorecrest community of Miami. A physical tool box containing needed
technology, sampling equipment, key contact information, and protocols for community
engagement in data collection during King Tides was created by Jan Booher of
Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida and Drs. Tiffany Troxler and Susan Jacobson of
Florida International University Wetland Ecosystems Research Lab and School of
Communications, respectively. Based on the initial data collection and mapping effort
with the Fall 2017 tides, a community report will be generated in collaboration with
community leaders to be shared with residents and decision-makers in the community and with appropriate members of City of Miami and Miami-Dade County staffs.
For those of you who are new to Community Health Maps, the initiative was founded on
the premise that community-based organizations, environmental health advocacy
groups, public health agencies are in a better position to serve their constituents when
they can collect and maintain their own data, rather than relying solely on national, state
or city agencies, or majority-institution partners to provide data to them.
The CHM approach involves using relatively low cost tablets and smartphone platforms, combined with a selection of low/no-cost applications that run on them, to collect data in
order to better understand health status or health risks to the community and support
decision-making leading to appropriate allocation of resources to improve health conditions and prevent or mitigate risk. Using the CHM workflow, those data can then
be analyzed, shared and presented using low cost/open source software. These tools
allow expert and novice users, with little budget resource, to implement mapping
A common way in which prospective users have learned the CHM workflow is through
our CHM Training Workshops. The CHM workshop presents an opportunity to learn
and discuss new ideas and methodologies, which will empower community
organizations, teachers, and students serving vulnerable or underserved populations
with low cost, intuitive mapping technology. During the workshops, we also share
experiences where the CHM workflow has helped MPH programs and other academic
health centers and community-focused organizations visualize their data and better
understand and portray their significance to the community.
The Florida King Tides was a more ambitious project than usual for CHM. While most
of the work of the CHM team consists of training and building capacity of communities
to map and better-understand their health risk to environmental factors, this was our first opportunity to work in the field with users of the workflow. Together with the core CHM team of NLM, Center for Public Service Communications and Bird’s Eye View, CHM teamed with Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida (UUJF) and it’s The Rising Together project, which works residents in vulnerable communities in coastal Florida about how to prepare for and react to the public health effects of climate change. Through its association with UUJF, the Community Health Maps team also trained and worked with Quaker Earthcare Witness, New Florida Majority, and Florida International University’s Wetland Ecosystems Research Lab and School of Communication and Journalism.
It is our vision that data collected by neighborhood residents about conditions affecting environmental health can be visualized via CHM, together with databases available from city, county, state and federal governments to, as one example, identify potential predictable impact of future king tides so that public transportation and school walking routes can be modified to avoid health risks.
While collecting data for risk maps a Miami Herald reporter stopped by the Shorecrest
neighborhood where we were working. Here’s his story about our initiative.