Comparison of health outcomes among affiliated and lay disaster volunteers enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Registry

Debchoudhury, Indira; Welch, Alice E.; Fairclough, Monique A.; Cone, James E.; Brackbill, Robert M.; Stellman, Steven D.; Farfel, Mark R.

Background. Volunteers (non-professional rescue/recovery workers) are universally present at manmade and natural disasters and share experiences and exposures with victims. Little is known of their disaster-related health outcomes. Methods. We studied 4974 adult volunteers who completed the World Trade Center Health Registry 2006–07 survey to examine associations between volunteer type (affiliated vs. lay) and probable posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); new or worsening respiratory symptoms; post-9/11 first diagnosis of anxiety disorder, depression, and/or PTSD; and asthma or reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS). Affiliated volunteers reported membership in a recognized organization. Lay volunteers reported no organizational affiliation and occupations unrelated to rescue/recovery work. Adjusted odds ratios (ORadj) were calculated using multinomial regression. Results. Lay volunteers were more likely than affiliated volunteers to have been present in lower Manhattan, experience the dust cloud, horrific events and injury on 9/11 and subsequently to report unmet healthcare needs. They had greater odds of early post-9/11 mental health diagnosis (ORadj 1.6; 95% CI: 1.4–2.0) and asthma/RADS (1.8; 1.2–2.7), chronic PTSD (2.2; 1.7–2.8), late-onset PTSD (1.9; 1.5–2.5), and new or worsening lower respiratory symptoms (2.0; 1.8–2.4). Conclusions. Lay volunteers' poorer health outcomes reflect earlier, more intense exposure to and lack of protection from physical and psychological hazards. There is a need to limit volunteers' exposures during and after disasters, as well as to provide timely screening and health care post-disaster.


  • thumnail for Debchoudhury_2011_Volunteers_PrevMed.pdf Debchoudhury_2011_Volunteers_PrevMed.pdf application/pdf 135 KB Download File

Also Published In

Preventive Medicine

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
August 7, 2014


From Steven Stellman: Disaster relief efforts tend to attract two types of assistance: from professional organizations such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army and from well-meaning but untrained civilians ("lay" or "unaffiliated" volunteers). People in the latter group are at high risk of becoming victims themselves, as this study amply demonstrates.