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Making a Difference: Appalachian Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project

The Mission

Clay County, Kentucky was recently described by the New York Times as the “hardest place in America to live.” The interprofessional Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project aims to strengthen community wellness, and through a process of community engagement and knowledge-sharing enhance emergency preparedness and readiness. Community leaders have worked with project staff and identified increasing access to clean water and sanitation resources in rural areas, improving home safety, and enhancing emergency preparedness as community priorities. To aid the community in achieving these goals, UT students in nursing, architecture and engineering, working collaboratively with the law enforcement innovation center, are united in interprofessional teams that bring together the expertise of multiple disciplines to create innovative solutions.

Appalachia 1

Engineering students take soil samples to determine stability for building

The Partners

Faculty and students from the Colleges of Nursing, Architecture and Design, Engineering (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering), and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center collaborate with Red Bird Mission and Clay County Emergency Management Services.

Impact on UT

UT students from nursing, architecture and engineering work side by side on integrated teams to immerse themselves in Appalachian culture and history, understand rural existence in isolated, mountain towns, and combine their expertise and perspectives to create innovative solutions that one discipline alone could not have conceived. Students gain hands-on experience working in the field through design and implementation of proposed solutions to improve water quality, sanitation, disaster preparation and other aspects of basic health and safety.


Students discussing water kiosk design with community members

Impact on Community

In Spring and summer 2015, a kiosk designed by the UT team for purposes of bringing clean water to the region will be built with private donor funds and the help of the community. Since the project’s inception in 2013, UT students have conducted education in home winterization; prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning, including distribution of carbon monoxide monitors; mold prevention, including distribution of mold eradication kits. Students and faculty have collected water specimens from natural springs, well, and creeks, and tested them for bacteria, heavy metals and conductivity, identifying numerous areas where water is unsafe. Engineering students completed preliminary design and cost estimate for an extensive new water reservoir to serve the county seat. Hospital officials have been trained in basic and advanced disaster life support, with hospital nurses scheduled to receive training in spring 2015. When the Appalachia Project concludes, other anticipated results include a strong disaster preparedness plan, safer homes, septic solutions, and a safer and healthier community conduct health surveys; to assess damage caused by severe flooding.

Related Feature: New Video: Appalachian Water Kiosk Update>>



Tennessee Today: Water Kiosk Spring Break
Torchbearer: Service and Learning in Appalachia
Knoxnews: Students Gain Experience While Helping Others
Appalachia UTK on Facebook
Tennessee Today: UT Groups Use Research, Heart to Improve Appalachian Region
Mission Appalachia on Youtube: The Story of Red Bird


Lisa Davenport with The Appalachian Project,

Click here to read about more Partnerships that Make a Difference.

The Appalachia Community Health & Disaster Readiness project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under UD7HP26205 and Nurse Education, Practice, Quality, and Retention Inter-professional Collaborative Practice grant. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.