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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Georgia State Professor Wins Grant to Study Post-Disaster School Recovery

A researcher at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University has won a $293,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study how schools recover after disasters.

school of public health Betty Lai
[Photo: Dr. Betty Lai]

The two-year project will identify patterns of school recovery among 400 Texas public schools affected by Hurricane Ike in 2008 and examine factors that may hinder or support a school’s academic recovery after a disaster. The project could ultimately help advise stakeholders, such as school administrators, teachers and policy-makers, on emergency preparedness and response planning to minimize the effects of a potential natural disaster.

The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports academic research in fields such as math, computer science and social sciences, which promote progress in national health and security.

Dr. Betty Lai, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Public Health, is co-principal investigator of the study along with Dr. Ann-Margaret Esnard, a professor of public management and policy at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State.

Dr. Lai has focused her public health research on how children and families respond to disasters and other trauma. Her recent work has analyzed children’s mental and physical health symptoms, as well as their functioning in school, following large-scale disasters, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Ike in the Gulf Coast.

Dr. Lai has a PhD in clinical psychology, with a specialization in children and families. She is also a Next Generation of Hazard and Disasters Researchers Fellow and a National Scholar for the Academy on Violence and Abuse.

“Schools have significant impact on large sectors of the population in disaster situations. During and immediately after any kind of disaster affecting the greater public, schools provide communities with access to shelter, food, medical resources, and psychological resources,” according to Drs. Lai and Esnard. “However, despite the important role that schools play, very little research has been conducted to understand how and why disaster-affected schools differ in the post-disaster recovery patterns.”