Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience
As a Clinical Associate Professor at the NYU College of Global Public Health and founding director of the Program on Population Impact, Recovery and Resilience (PiR2), Dr. Abramson knows his way around a disaster. But it is his cool, methodical demeanor that literally makes him "the calm before the storm."
Honing these skills and nurturing his passion for disaster preparedness and response, took root early in his career when he was both a paramedic and a writer for such magazines as Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Outside. What fascinates him most is how the health of a body-at the individual or population level--can dramatically improve or decline along with the severity of the damage inflicted by disaster - and then recover.
"When there is a disaster, you can easily see the fault lines in a society in terms of what's working, what isn't, and where the stumbling blocks are," said Dr. Abramson, who is the lead investigator on the soon-to-be released Sandy Child and Family Health Study, a major representative population study of 1 million New Jersey residents living in Superstorm Sandy's path. Based on findings released from this study -- which was conducted by Rutgers University and NYU, in collaboration with Columbia University and Colorado State University -- over 100,000 New Jersey residents experienced significant structural damage to their primary homes from the ferocious storm, leaving over a quarter to suffer from moderate or severe mental health distress years after the storm itself.
Abramson also dove into disaster research in Louisiana immediately after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Abramson is conducting an ambitious ten-year retrospective in his Gulf Coast Child and Family Health Study--which examines the long-term recovery of a random sample of over 1,000 people in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Following the Deepwater Horizon Spill, David spearheaded several studies, including an NIH-funded study, WATCH (Women and Their Children's Health) in collaboration with Louisiana State University, and the foundation-funded Gulf Coast Population Impact project in order to determine the impact of the spill on children living along the Gulf Coast. From this research covering the Florida panhandle to Louisiana's western border, Dr. Abramson was spurred to found a youth empowerment project, SHOREline (fostering Skills, Hope, Opportunity, and Resilience through Engagement) for high school students in the Gulf Coast and in New York City.
Describing a disaster is "a little like the blind man trying to describe the elephant," said Dr. Abramson. "We discover different pieces of a disaster over time. Once we can fully determine what the disaster looks like, we can develop a long-term recovery plan."
Out of his research, Dr. Abramson has built a number of unique courses designed just for public health scholars, including Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response - A Global Perspective, and Disasters, Complex Systems, and the Social Ecology of Health. Students will analyze ecological and infrastructural systems as well as the role of social and behavioral determinants of health in disaster impact and immediate response.
Dr. Abramson selected the name of his new program at NYU - PiR2 - carefully. The acronym reflects the equation that describes the area of a circle, and for him that metaphor of describing all that is contained in a circle is similar to a community's engagement in preparing, responding, and recovering from disasters. "A community requires all of the elements and members of a society to recover. It requires the full area of a circle," he said. His students benefit from his keen perspective as he stays calmly focused on the eye of the storm, its impact, and how we can all learn to better survive it.