Participatory public health systems research: Value of community involvement in a study series in mental health emergency preparedness


  • O. Lee McCabe, PhD
  • Felicity Marum, MHA
  • Natalie Semon, MSEd
  • Adrian Mosley, MSW, LCSW-C
  • Howard Gwon, MS
  • Charlene Perry, RN, BSN
  • Suzanne Straub Moore, MEd
  • Jonathan M. Links, PhD



public health systems research, participatory research, disaster mental health, psychological first aid training, guided preparedness planning


Background: Concerns have arisen over recent years about the absence of empirically derived evidence on which to base policy and practice in the public health system, in general, and to meet the challenge of public health emergency preparedness, in particular. Related issues include the challenge of disaster-caused, behavioral health surge, and the frequent exclusion of populations from studies that the research is meant to aid.
Objective: To characterize the contributions of nonacademic collaborators to a series of projects validating a set of interventions to enhance capacity and competency of public mental health preparedness planning and response.
Methods: Setting(s): Urban, suburban, and rural communities of the state of Maryland and rural communities of the state of Iowa. Participants: Study partners and participants (both of this project and the studies examined) were representatives of academic health centers (AHCs), local health departments (LHDs), and faith-based organizations (FBOs) and their communities. Procedures: A multiple-project, case study analysis was conducted, that is, four research projects implemented by the authors from 2005 through 2011 to determine the types and impact of contributions made by nonacademic collaborators to those projects. The analysis involved reviewing research records, conceptualizing contributions (and providing examples) for government, faith, and (nonacademic) institutional collaborators.
Results: Ten areas were identified where partners made valuable contributions to the study series; these “value-areas” were as follows: 1) leadership and management of the projects; 2) formulation and refinement of research topics, aims, etc; 3) recruitment and retention of participants; 4) design and enhancement of interventions; 5) delivery of interventions; 6) collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; 7) dissemination of findings; 8) ensuring sustainability of faith/government preparedness planning relationships; 9) optimizing scalability and portability of the model; and 10) facilitating translational impact of study findings.
Conclusions: Systems-based partnerships among academic, faith, and government entities offer an especially promising infrastructure for conducting participatory public health systems research in domestic emergency preparedness and response.

Author Biographies

O. Lee McCabe, PhD

Department of Mental Health, Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center, Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland; Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Felicity Marum, MHA

Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center, Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

Natalie Semon, MSEd

Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center, Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.

Adrian Mosley, MSW, LCSW-C

Office of Community Health, Johns Hopkins Health System, Baltimore, Maryland.

Howard Gwon, MS

Office of Emergency Management, Johns Hopkins Health System, Baltimore, Maryland.

Charlene Perry, RN, BSN

Kent County Health Department, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Chestertown, Maryland.

Suzanne Straub Moore, MEd

Episcopal Diocese of Easton, Maryland.

Jonathan M. Links, PhD

Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center, Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.


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How to Cite

McCabe, PhD, O. L., F. Marum, MHA, N. Semon, MSEd, A. Mosley, MSW, LCSW-C, H. Gwon, MS, C. Perry, RN, BSN, S. S. Moore, MEd, and J. M. Links, PhD. “Participatory Public Health Systems Research: Value of Community Involvement in a Study Series in Mental Health Emergency Preparedness”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 7, no. 4, Sept. 2012, pp. 303-12, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2012.0103.




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