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Prehosp Disaster Med. 2006 Jan-Feb;21(1):32-9.

Enhancing local health department disaster response capacity with rapid community needs assessments: validation of a computerized program for binary attribute cluster sampling.

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Office of Policy Planning and Evaluation, Louisville Metro Health Department, 400 East Gray Street, P.O. Box 1704, Louisville, Kentucky 40201, USA



Local health departments are among the first agencies to respond to disasters or other mass emergencies. However, they often lack the ability to handle large-scale events. Plans including locally developed and deployed tools may enhance local response. Simplified cluster sampling methods can be useful in assessing community needs after a sudden-onset, short duration event.


Using an adaptation of the methodology used by the World Health Organization Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), a Microsoft Access-based application for two-stage cluster sampling of residential addresses in Louisville/Jefferson County Metro, Kentucky was developed. The sampling frame was derived from geographically referenced data on residential addresses and political districts available through the Louisville/Jefferson County Information Consortium (LOJIC). The program randomly selected 30 clusters, defined as election precincts, from within the area of interest, and then, randomly selected 10 residential addresses from each cluster. The program, called the Rapid Assessment Tools Package (RATP), was tested in terms of accuracy and precision using data on a dichotomous characteristic of residential addresses available from the local tax assessor database. A series of 30 samples were produced and analyzed with respect to their precision and accuracy in estimating the prevalence of the study attribute. Point estimates with 95% confidence intervals were calculated by determining the proportion of the study attribute values in each of the samples and compared with the population proportion. To estimate the design effect, corresponding simple random samples of 300 addresses were taken after each of the 30 cluster samples.


The sample proportion fell within +/-10 absolute percentage points of the true proportion in 80% of the samples. In 93.3% of the samples, the point estimate fell within +/-12.5%, and 96.7% fell within +/-15%. All of the point estimates fell within +/-20% of the true proportion. Estimates of the design effect ranged from 0.926 to 1.436 (mean = 1.157, median = 1.170) for the 30 samples.


Although prospective evaluation of its performance in field trials or a real emergency is required to confirm its utility, this study suggests that the RATP, a locally designed and deployed tool, may provide population-based estimates of community needs or the extent of event-related consequences that are precise enough to serve as the basis for the initial post-event decisions regarding relief efforts.

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