Disaster citizen is the use of scientific methods by the public to address preparedness, response, or recovery needs. Disaster citizen science applications with public health relevance are growing in academic and community sectors, but integration with public health emergency preparedness, response, and recovery (PHEPRR) agencies is limited.
We examined how local health departments (LHDs) and community-based organizations have used citizen science to build public health preparedness and response (PHEP) capabilities. The purpose of this study is to help LHDs make use of citizen science to support PHEPRR.
We conducted semistructured telephone interviews (n = 55) with LHD, academic, and community representatives engaged or interested in citizen science. We used inductive and deductive methods to code and analyze interview transcripts.
US and international community-based organizations and US LHDs.
Participants included 18 LHD representatives reflecting diversity in geographic regions and population sizes served and 31 disaster citizen science project leaders and 6 citizen science thought leaders.
We identified challenges LHDs and academic and community partners face in using citizen science for PHEPRR as well as strategies to facilitate implementation.
Academic and community-led disaster citizen science activities aligned with many PHEP capabilities including community preparedness, community recovery, public health surveillance and epidemiological investigation, and volunteer management. All participant groups discussed challenges related to resources, volunteer management, collaborations, research quality, and institutional acceptance of citizen science. The LHD representatives noted unique barriers due to legal and regulatory constraints and their role in using citizen science data to inform public health decisions. Strategies to increase institutional acceptance included enhancing policy support for citizen science, increasing volunteer management support, developing best practices for research quality, strengthening collaborations, and adopting lessons learned from relevant PHEPRR activities.
There are challenges to overcome in building PHEPRR capacity for disaster citizen science but also opportunities for LHDs to leverage the growing body of work, knowledge, and resources in academic and community sectors.