Skip to Main Content
Mobile Menu


Campus Community Mourns Passing of Ronald J. O’Reilly

Portrait of Ronald O'ReillyThe School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Radiologic Sciences mourns Ronald J. O’Reilly, who recently passed away at the age of 85.

A memorial service for O’Reilly will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, in the McCleary Auditorium of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center located at 1055 N. Curtis Rd. Boise, ID. The service will be open to the public.

“Dr. O’Reilly, as he was fondly known to faculty, staff and students, was a strong supporter of our program and of lifelong learning,” stated Joie Burns, associate professor for the Department of Radiologic Sciences and director of the Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program. “We are so grateful that he chose to donate scholarships and his time to enhance our student’s education and act as a resource for our faculty for over 20 years. His warm smile and quick wit are truly missed.”

O’Reilly joined the Department of Radiologic Sciences in 1994, presenting clinical seminars on a radiologist’s view of imaging needs. He served as a resource and mentor for students in understanding the implications of the technologist’s participation in the patient diagnosis. He was instrumental in assisting the department to establish a digital imaging library and also taught a portion of the chest imaging course to the Respiratory Therapy students, utilizing this library.

“I remember Dr. O’Reilly’s warm smile and laughing eyes,” said Wende Ellis, Boise State Radiologic Sciences graduate (‘00). “He was always so friendly and fun to be around. He always had a kind word and I looked up to him so much! I have a deep respect for him and feel fortunate to have been able to learn from him. I will be forever grateful to have been a recipient of the Anna Mae O’Reilly Memorial Scholarship. Dr. O’Reilly will remain in my memories and in my heart.”

O’Reilly graduated from UCLA Medical School and completed his residency in radiology. He was a member of the American Board of Radiology for 55 years and a member of the American Board of Nuclear Medicine for 46 years. Between 1963 and 1981, he was a radiologist at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California. There, he became the Chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Radiology. He served as a visiting professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Later, he was an Honorary Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1981, O’Reilly and his family moved to Boise, where he took a position as a radiologist at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. There, he became the Chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine and the Medical Director of the Breast Care Center. He has presented many lectures, contributed to several books and authored multiple articles in professional journals.

O’Reilly retired from active practice in 1994 to devote his time to family and working with the students and faculty at Boise State University.

“Dr. O’Reilly was a kind, patient and knowledgeable teacher,” said Marion Smith, Boise State Radiologic Sciences graduate (‘09). “He had such a positive attitude and really helped me understand difficult concepts. I loved his classes and his sweet little dog that he brought with him. He left a positive impact in my life and career.”

O’Reilly’s impact on the Department of Radiologic Sciences is evident in many ways, not the least of which is through he and his wife Brin’s consistent philanthropic support of student scholarships. They valued these students and the work they would engage in so much that they made it a priority to personally provide financial assistance to help them see it through and in 1997 created their own named fund: The Anna Mae O’Reilly Memorial Scholarship.

“My fondest memory of Dr. O was what kind of man he was: generous, kind, gentle and patient with a great sense of humor,” said Ryan Martin, Boise State Radiologic Sciences graduate (‘08). “The appreciable amount of time he spent with each of us and the knowledge he imparted to all the students he came in contact with was truly amazing, a gift to us each. Thank you for the opportunity to remember my time with him fondly. He was truly a great man that will be missed by many.”

As if their own charity was not enough, the Department of Radiologic Sciences sought to further honor his legacy by renaming their internal scholarship fund in 2004. The Ron and Brin O’Reilly Scholarship Fund for Radiologic Sciences makes O’Reilly a permanent fixture in the future of Boise State University and students following in his footsteps.

Cynthia Curl Awarded NIH Grant to Study Herbicide Levels in Pregnant Women

Cynthia Curl, right, speaks with a pregnant Boise State alumna in the produce section.

Cynthia Curl, right, speaks with a pregnant Boise State alumna in the produce section.

Since the publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 seminal nonfiction book, “Silent Spring,” scientists have worked hard to understand the ramifications widespread pesticide use has on a host of organisms, including humans.

This fall, Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Environmental Health, will take an important next step in this body of research. Curl has been awarded a three-year, $457,537 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to measure herbicide levels in pregnant women – specifically, glyphosate, an active ingredient found in many herbicides, including Roundup.

In 2016, glyphosate was controversially designated as a Probable Human Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC); in August a jury awarded nearly $300 million to a school groundskeeper who said Roundup caused his cancer.

In addition, there also is emerging literature suggesting that in utero exposure to glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides may have reproductive effects and may adversely impact developing fetuses. Curl’s research will attempt to quantify how much glyphosate pregnant women are exposed to and how that exposure is occurring.

It’s important to note that “glyphosate is not a new chemical – it was developed by a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company in 1950, though its efficacy as an herbicide was not recognized until 1970. However, the way it’s now used is new,” Curl said.

Curl explained that the introduction of crops engineered to be “glyphosate-resistant” over the past two decades has entirely changed the agricultural landscape. Certain crops, including corn, soy, sugar beets, canola and cotton, are now genetically modified to be glyphosate resistant. This means that a farmer can spray an entire field of glyphosate-resistant crops with Roundup or other glyphosate-based herbicide and get rid of the weeds without harming the crop itself. Farmers also are now using glyphosate as a desiccant to dry certain crops before harvest.

“I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that these two expanded uses of glyphosate have caused its total application volume to skyrocket,” Curl said. “Glyphosate use has increased by more than 15-fold since the introduction of glyphosate-resistant technology in 1996.”

Curl’s three-year research project begins this fall with the development of an exposure assessment strategy, as existing studies of human exposure to glyphosate are limited and the chemical is metabolized fairly quickly.

“We don’t really have a good handle on how many individual urine samples we need to collect to do a reasonable job of estimating a person’s average glyphosate exposure,” she said. “A single urine sample only tells you about very recent exposure, so we will need to collect a series of samples over time to fully characterize longer-term levels.”

Curl will begin recruiting pregnant women in year two of the study. Half of the participants will be recruited from areas near agricultural fields treated with glyphosate, the other half from more urban areas.

“We’ll use the exposure assessment strategy developed during the first study year to figure out whether there is a difference in exposure between those two groups based on residential proximity to glyphosate-treated agricultural fields,” Curl explained. “Then we’ll provide all of the women in both groups with a fully organic diet for seven days to see how much glyphosate exposure comes from diet.”

Glyphosate, like other synthetic pesticides, is not allowed in organic food production. Organic food also prohibits use of GMO technology.

The body of data collected from these two groups of pregnant women will allow Curl and other researchers to better understand the important role of diet, as well as proximity to agriculture, with regards to total glyphosate exposure.

Lutana Haan Quoted in American Association for Respiratory Care Article

Lutana HaanLutana Haan, assistant dean for the College of Health Sciences, chair and associate professor for the Department of Respiratory Care was recently quoted in the article “Career Pathways Move Respiratory Therapists (RTs) Forward Through Degree Advancement” published by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC). The AARC is a non-profit professional association for respiratory care and allied health professionals interested in cardiopulmonary care.

The article outlines the importance of the AARC Career Pathways Committee which works to fill the gap of knowledge in understanding how RTs can expand their career after receiving an undergraduate degree with the appropriate degree completion programs. They additionally strive to keep students competitive and focused on furthering their education. In doing so, the article further defines the gap most RTs experience is understanding which completion programs can further their career.

Through this exploration, quotes from Haan and Ellen Becker, AARC Career Pathways Chair, help identify the gap of knowledge students lack by identifying the purpose of certain programs. “There are multiple paths to being able to sit for the NBRC, RRT credentialing exam,” said Haan. “I believe students have very little understanding of the difference between the various types of associate degrees.”

The article then outlines degree paths for students, “What’s the difference between A.S. and A.A.S.,” asked Becker. “The associate of science (A.S.) degree program prepares students for transfer to a four-year institution, while an associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degree program is a career program preparing students for employment.”

“Students need to be aware, as well as programs, what this means to graduates seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree,” says Haan. “Forming strong partnerships with baccalaureate programs is critical to set up graduates for a smoother path,” said Becker. The remainder of the article explains ways educators of undergraduate RTs can help shape a career path for their students and fill the gap of knowledge within their classrooms.

To learn more, read the full article here: 
“Career Pathways Move Respiratory Therapists (RTs) Forward Through Degree Advancement”

Community and Environmental Health Student Speaks as Special Guest at College of Health Sciences Meeting

Alexandro Amador PortraitOn Wednesday, August 15 all faculty and staff within the College of Health Sciences who gathered in the Student Union Building (SUB) for their fall college meeting were treated to a featured special guest and student speaker, Alexandro Amador.

Amador, a sophomore in the School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Community and Environmental Health and a member of the Boise State Honors College, spoke about his personal journey and experiences leading up to and during his first year of college at Boise State. Amador’s speech served as motivation and inspiration for faculty and staff to continue to bring meaningful education practices into the lives of students.

Amador’s speech highlighted the struggles his parents faced as immigrants from Mexico who made it to the United States when they were both just 17 years old. His parents first began working as fruit and vegetable pickers and after many years of hard work and dedication, Amador’s parents are now two successful business owners in Washington. After illustrating his family’s past Amador began to talk a bit more about his own academic history.

In high school, Amador described his motivation as non-existent. He explained that he did not try as hard as he should have and it was clearly displayed in his GPA. “During my final year in high school, I researched many schools, and I remember that Boise State stood out with their outstanding health sciences programs for undergraduates,” said Amador. After researching the many different programs within the College of Health Sciences, Amador found the motivation needed to complete an application and get accepted to Boise State University.

Following his acceptance to the university, Amador realized the importance of the opportunity he had been given by his parents’ hard work and he began to develop a deeper appreciation for his education. Amador talked about working as a server in his parents restaurant during the summer before attending Boise State.“While serving seems like a normal job for many, for me I got to see face to face the people that were funding my education,” said Amador. “Which was a very humbling experience that I bring with me here to Boise State University.”

Once classes started for Amador he began to thrive due to his new found appreciation for his education. “When I got to Boise State, I hit the ground running.” said Amador. “If I was not sleeping, eating or showering, I was studying. And it finally paid off a little bit further down the road. I remember when I first went to talk with my advisor, I walked in and told her, ‘I’m going to get all A’s this semester.’ Now, this advisor had been around the block a few times and she had seen a bunch of people come from my background who didn’t work as hard in high school so she gave me that, ‘you go do it, we will be here for you’ and it made me feel all the better when I actually did come back at the end of the semester with a 4.0 GPA.”

Amador continued to speak to his great success within his first year as he described the types of inspiration he found through other students and staff. “I was so successful in my first year mainly because of the resources and help that I received,” said Amador. “I feel that one of the things that makes Boise State so great is the quality of resources and quality of staff that is offered. Staff, you may think that with the new semester starting, you will be going through the motions again and again, that the information you talk about will only be remembered that week. But, I am here to inform you, that the material you share in your classes stays with students for a very long time and I believe that in itself is very impactful. The opportunities and knowledge we as students learn in your classes stays with us for the rest of our lives. I now know that when I graduate I will be successful and when I find my dream profession I will be successful and that is all thanks to you, the staff.”

The afternoon ended with smiles and laughter as Amador concluded his speech with an overview of the process he went through to prepare his speech. “I would like to share a little run down of my training up to this point. Before today, I had never publicly spoken before. My training was a mess! I had the help of my friend, and the measures that we took were drastic. To replicate this environment, we stacked two tables on top of one another, and then we didn’t have a mic, so we used a cup of ramen noodles. Now, if you think that was bad, we had a distraction gauntlet too. So my friend started throwing shoes at me, slamming doors, turning the lights on and off, it was intense. So I want you all to know that I am very honored  to have the opportunity to come and speak to you all today, thank you.”

Jane Grassley Celebrates Publication In Nursing for Women’s Health

Portrait Photo of Jane GrassleyJane Grassley, professor and Joanna “Jody” DeMeyer Endowed Chair for the School of Nursing, celebrates the publication of a collaborative manuscript, “Evaluation of a Designated Family Bonding Time to Decrease Interruptions and Increase Exclusive Breastfeeding,” in the June 2018 peer reviewed journal, Nursing for Women’s Health.

In addition to Grassley, researchers included Rick Tivis, research associate professor and assistant director of the Idaho Center for Health Research at Idaho State University; Julie Finney, unit-based educator; Susan Chapman, lactation consultant; and Susan Bennett, lactation consultant, all at St. Luke’s Health System. The evidence-based project was an excellent display of the partnerships between Boise State’s College of Health Sciences, St. Luke’s Health System and the Idaho Center for Health Research at Idaho State University.

The project served as a quality improvement plan to implement a daily family bonding time in the mother/baby care unit at St. Luke’s in Meridian and to evaluate the unit’s effect with interruptions, mothers’ perceptions of interruptions, and exclusive breastfeeding rates. Exclusive breastfeeding was measured as the number of feedings where the only method of feeding was through breast feeding during a newborn’s entire hospitalization. The project had a sample of 60 postpartum women and was conducted over three separate phases. Family bonding time is described as between mother and baby.

During phases one and three, data was collected before family bonding time was initiated and when regular interruptions occurred. The data focused on the kind of interruptions (number, duration, and by whom), women’s perceptions of those interruptions, and exclusive breastfeeding rates. During phase two, however, the family bonding time was set up between 2 and 4 p.m. where women were encouraged to rest with their newborns in their rooms and all interruptions were limited to those that were urgent, medically necessary, or requested by the women.

As a result, the group of researchers found that there was a significant amount of time associated with interruptions before family bonding time. They also found that exclusive breastfeeding rates increased significantly once family bonding time had begun. Thus, they concluded that new mothers experience many interruptions during their hospital stays. Documenting sources of interruptions before launching family bonding time helps identify hospital staff who need to be informed of how they can reduce these interruptions during a designated family bonding time. Addressing concerns of these nurses before implementation can facilitate project sustainability within the unit.

Read the full publication: Evaluation of a Designated Family Bonding Time to Decrease Interruptions and Increase Exclusive Breastfeeding.

Master of Science in Kinesiology Alumna Wins 2017-2018 Boise State University Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award

Ali Ohashi, a Master of Science in Kinesiology alumna, recently won the 2017-2018 Boise State University Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award for the Humanities, Social Sciences, Education and Business. Her thesis project was titled, “Transitioning Out of Sport: Perspectives of Student-Athlete Support or Development Services.”

Ohashi’s thesis project, “Transitioning Out of Sport” explores the implications of student-athletes transitioning out of the environment of support and development services they receive from athletic departments from the perspective of directors and/or associate directors who provide these services of NCAA Division I universities. Ohashi chose this direction of research due to the lack of sufficient research examining the social support system within college athletics, as it is an important resource for student-athletes transitioning out of sport, especially for their successes later in life. Ohashi found no studies exploring the transition student-athletes experience from the perspective of support and development services coordinators housed in athletic departments that provide programming for these athletes.

Ohashi conducted her research by interviewing eight directors and/or associate directors to examine their perceptions about the factors that lead to a successful or unsuccessful transition out of sport. Participants described how their current services and programs helped student-athletes overcome the obstacles of this transitional period. As a result, Ohashi found that directors who observed their student-athletes during their transition out of sport, experienced a successful transition as their services and programs assisted them in coping with the demands of athletic treatment. She also discovered the issues within the process of athletic transitioning arise when there is a lack of career development, a sudden loss of the sport environment, and prior mental and physical health risks. Ohashi conducted that evidence-based services and programs need to be implemented to meet the needs of both current and former student-athletes.

“What I really appreciate about her research is that she focused on learning about the people (support staff in athletics), who are in optimal positions to make an impact on the lives of student-athletes through programming and services” said Shelley Lucas, associate professor for the School of Allied Health Sciences, Department of Kinesiology. “Previous research already shows that some student-athletes struggle with the transition from athletics and Ali’s research contributes to more effectively preparing student-athletes to deal with that transition.”

In addition to this award, Ohashi’s thesis project has been submitted as the Boise State University nominee to the Western Association of Graduate Schools distinguished thesis award competition. This award specifically recognizes distinguished scholarly achievement at the master’s level. “The selection committee was very impressed with the originality and creativity of her research,” said Scott Lowe, associate dean of the Graduate College. “Congratulations. It speaks well of your hard work and the Boise State University Kinesiology Department.”

Read: “Transitioning out of sport: Perspectives of student-athlete support or development services.”

Faculty and Staff Invited to Register for the Fall 2018 10-Week Fitness Challenge

Students in the School of Allied Health Sciences Department of Kinesiology invite faculty and staff to participate in a 10-week Fitness Challenge.

The Fitness Challenge is an opportunity to improve participants health and fitness for the upcoming year, give the student trainers an outstanding experiential learning opportunity, and achieve exercise and physical activity goals. Participants will be required to complete a health history questionnaire before participating. The number of student trainers is limited, so it will be first come, first serve.

Participants commit to 10-weeks of students from KINES 432 Conditioning Principles providing personal training. The purpose of this semester-long project is to help participants improve their health and wellness by providing a knowledgeable trainer and external accountability. Participants will be provided times to train in the Kinesiology Annex weight room (locker rooms are available).

Student personal trainers will develop and guide clients through an exercise routine designed to help them meet their health and fitness goals for a minimum of two times per week for 10 weeks. Clients initial questionnaire will be compared for before/after data for height, weight, body mass index (BMI), and resting heart rate and blood pressure, as well as appropriate performance measures (e.g. speed, power, strength). Those clients making the most significant improvement across all measures will be awarded prizes (as will their personal trainers).  

Congratulations to all of last year’s clients and kudos to their student trainers. In addition, donations from the Fitness Challenge clients increased the Kinesiology Department Scholarship fund by more than $9,000 last year!

Please follow this link to OrgSync to enter the challenge and choose your time slot.

The Fitness Challenge began on Tuesday, Sep. 4 but there are still spots to register.

For more information, email or


Jane Grassley Receives Double Honor From the Idaho Breastfeeding Coalition

Portrait Photo of Jane GrassleyJane Grassley, professor and Jody DeMeyer Chair for the School of Nursing, has received the prestigious double honor of becoming the first recipient of the award “Dr. Jane Grassley Breastfeeding Award of Excellence,” an award inspired by her work and presented at the Idaho Breastfeeding Coalition (IBC) 2018 summit in June.

To highlight the importance and success of educating Idaho families on breastfeeding, the IBC created the annual Grassley Breastfeeding Award to recognize individuals who fulfill the mission and vision of the IBC. The recipients will have demonstrated leadership, dedication, and compassion for breastfeeding families within the state.

Grassley inspired and received the award due to her numerous publications, honors, and awards on topics ranging from a grandmother’s role in supporting breastfeeding to supporting adolescents in childbirth. Her dissertation on “Understanding Maternal Breastfeeding Confidence,” is a subject that has been prevalent throughout her career. “Nurturing breastfeeding confidence has been a common theme in much of her research, a theme that shines in her love and passion for the new family and has made her the mentor she is today,” said the IBC.

Grassley, who joined the School of Nursing in 2010, additionally holds a joint appointment with Women’s Services at St. Luke’s Regional Health System where she collaborates with the hospitals’ lactation consultants to develop research and evidence-based practice projects that support breastfeeding. Additionally, she’s been an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for 20 years.

“Grassley’s lifelong contributions and commitment to breaking down barriers to breastfeeding through her research and leadership, has touched the lives of many and shaped the career path of numerous professionals,” stated the IBC. Her current research focuses on areas related to promoting and supporting breastfeeding through the uses of mobile technologies in facilitating community support for mother’s breastfeeding a late preterm or early term infant. A focus on this specific age group (those who are born up to 3 weeks early), is crucial as these infants must receive more immediate care and attention during the process of breastfeeding.

Grassley and other IBC membersThe IBC works to facilitate a community and statewide landscape that protects, supports, and promotes breastfeeding as the biological norm for a healthier Idaho. They strive to improve hospital maternity care practices and develop systems to guarantee skilled support for lactation between hospitals and health care settings in the community. Furthermore, the IBC hosts annual summits to evaluate the current state of breastfeeding, inspire and motivate a catalyst for change, explore best practice, acquire new skills, provide networking opportunities, and share resources and tools.

Learn more about the Idaho Breastfeeding Coalition.

Institute for the Study of Behavioral Health and Addiction

The Institute for the Study of Behavioral Health and Addiction hosted the first annual prevention training institute at Boise State University on August 17. The training was funded by a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Block Grant funded by the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. The prevention training was attended by professional counselors, social workers, nurses and prevention specialists from across the state.
The substance abuse prevention workshops focused on using local substance use statistics to inform prevention program planning, understanding the impact of substance use on the adolescent brain, and ethics for counselors and other professionals working in the prevention field.

Counting the Dead — Royce Hutson Researches New Methodology for Crisis Surveys

An alley covered in graffiti in Lebanon

An alley covered in graffiti in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Royce Hutson

Famine, war, disease—headlines from the crisis areas of the world may sound familiar, but the study of the people affected by these events may not always be so easily recognized. Often, international relief efforts are tied to reactions to the death toll, which begs an important, if morbid, question: how do you count casualties?

Studio portrait of Royce Hutson

Royce Hutson, Associate Professor at Boise State University, School of Social Work

Royce Hutson, an associate professor with Boise State’s School of Social Work, is working to provide a better answer to that question.

In April, Hutson returned from a trip to Beirut, Lebanon, where he worked with colleagues on a proposal to examine the methodologies for counting mortalities and health outcomes in crisis environments. His work in Beirut is aimed at reducing the number of hours of human labor it takes to complete crisis surveys, and increasing survey accuracy.

These numbers are important, Hutson said, because crisis survey data has a direct relationship on the international community’s response. If a death count goes underreported, there may not be enough aid generated to help those suffering, but an inaccurately high count might divert resources from other crisis areas or hurt the credibility of the organizations involved in relief efforts.

“You can easily over or underestimate mortality if your sample is skewed in any fashion,” said Hutson.

The Challenges of Data Collection in Crisis Surveys

Crisis surveys typically center around in-person interviews with those affected by the crisis—but arranging in-person meetings can be a challenge in terms of how to interview a person who has survived a crisis, and in selecting exactly who to meet with.

The first concern, handling respondents with care and respect, does come with a certain protocol. Hutson said it’s important to leave personal questions about sensitive topics, like sexual assault, until the end. This helps build trust with the respondent, as do assurances that participation is voluntary and answers are not forced.

“You have to train your interviewers to be empathic, essentially,” said Hutson. “You build a rapport with the respondent, and remind them constantly that they don’t have to answer if they don’t want to.”

Sign that says "Boise World Refugee Day"

A sign at Boise World Refugee Day – Boise is home to many refugees, many of whom fled disasters and cannot return home. Photo: Maxine Durand

Hutson said it’s always stated in crisis survey results that the number of people affected is almost certainly an undercount, since many people either don’t participate or choose not to give certain information because it’s too personal or traumatic to talk about.

As for selecting people for interviews, this seemingly simple task carries a lot of debate over just how it should be done. Typically, Hutson said, many researchers would use a version of the “spin the pen” method, wherein they would travel to a geographic center point—say, the middle of a large city—and literally spin a pen. The researchers would then count out the houses along the line the pen points to, and select which houses to visit from this pool randomly.

Hutson said the pen method became common practice in the 1970s, under the Expanded Programme on Immunization, or EPI—but by the 80s, problems with this means of sampling had already become apparent. Not being truly random, the pen method tends to favor houses closer to the center of the selected area, and can also skew results when considering density—a crowded apartment block and a large ranch with one domicile would both appear as only one building, but the people living in each could vary significantly in number and along demographic lines.

“Even given these fundamental flaws, the approach has been used, with some modifications, knowing that these issues exist,” said Hutson.

These challenges make it difficult enough for crisis researchers, but even if the interviews are accurately selected and conducted with care, it’s still difficult to produce accurate results if there is no baseline data to compare to—typically, areas where there is little to no information on a population from before a crisis occurred.

Researchers look for natural death rate—the rate at which people in the crisis area typically die in a given time period—and compare it to the death rate after the crisis. The difference, called the “excess death,” is a primary metric in determining just how severe any particular crisis is

Developed countries like the United States have the benefit of data from public records, like birth and death certificates, and stable infrastructure such as the phone lines used to conduct traditional surveys. In many crisis areas, however, the records needed to accurately measure casualties may no longer be accessible, or may not have been collected at all. Without a solid body of data to compare to, it’s next to impossible to see how far off a survey’s results are from the actual underlying characteristics of the selected population.

Map that is using pins to demonstrate where families in Boise immigrated from

A map with pins to show where families in Boise immigrated from – many of these families were displaced persons. Photo: Maxine Durand

“Traditionally in the United States, if you were doing a political poll, for example, you would have information on demographics,” said Hutson. “To know if survey results are disproportionate, you would need to know that information.”

This puts crisis responders—who are often tasked with performing crisis surveys instead of trained, professional researchers—in a difficult position, where the resources they need from the international community are dependent upon data collection that could be inaccurate or incomplete.

“To expect that a humanitarian organization in a crisis area is going to have access to this high-level survey modeling software, I think is a bit too big of an ask for a lot of these organizations,” said Hutson.

A Better Methodology for Crisis Surveys

After the Haitian coup in 2004, Hutson was part of a study in Port au Prince, investigating human rights violations. Hutson and his research assistant looked at several different approaches when trying to estimate how many people had been affected, and they found the EPI’s spin-the-pen approach to be inadequate.

Instead, they used GPS to randomly select starting points within population centers—Hutson said this approach seemed novel at the time, but this utilization of GPS didn’t account for population density. A single-family house, an apartment building, or a ranch would all appear as similar data points, even though the number of people living at each type of address would be vary greatly.

Since then, Hutson and his colleagues have compensated for this disparity by creating a geocoded map of their GPS coordinates, and counted the number of households in each building—interviews were then randomly selected from each household, instead of each building.

Hutson said the research has benefited from advances in computing, since it’s now much easier to use a computer algorithm to list all of the buildings in a population center, and then weigh them against households for random sampling. It’s also simpler to identify the buildings thanks to improvements in digital mapping technology.

“Now, mapping is so good that we can identify all buildings within a given area,” said Hutson. “Before, we’ve literally had someone with a map asking, ‘Is that a building?’”

View of Hamra street in Lebanon

Hamra Street in Beirut, Lebanon. Photo: Royce Hutson

Hutson’s current work in Beirut is an experiment designed to compare the geocoding approach versus other traditional sampling methods. The Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon provide a perfect test environment, since there is already extensive monitoring and because the camps approximate the immediate aftermath of a crisis, minus the inherent security risks of being in a crisis area.

“The camps in Lebanon are extraordinarily safe, relatively speaking,” said Hutson. “Most of the health outcomes are fairly well-known, so we can compare what we get… with what the health ministry is giving.”

Hutson said he wants to carry out similar testing in multiple crisis situations around the world in order to see which approach is more accurate, but also which is more efficient in terms of time and cost. Ideally, by using off-the-shelf freeware and Google maps, similar research could be conducted by on-the-ground non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to get numbers they need to plan for prioritization and resource allocation.

“The sampling is just so much easier,” said Hutson. “In the case of some mass crisis and if there was a lot of internally displaced persons, then it could be helpful.”

Crisis Surveys and Indirect Impact

In 2017, there were over 17 million internally displaced persons—people who are forced to leave their homes because of a crisis event, but remain in their home country. This was almost double the number of displaced persons who left their countries and became refugees.

Hutson said there is only a handful of researchers working in this field, and he can usually recognize most of their names when they publish. Currently, he is working with colleagues in Canada, Brazil, and Lebanon, who all routinely perform crisis surveys, and funding for their work usually comes from governments outside the countries affected by crisis. Often, governments either don’t have the funds to sponsor a crisis survey when disasters happen, and sometimes, Hutson said, they would rather not know the results, and can be reticent about supporting these kinds of programs.

The amount of aid sent to crisis centers has a direct impact on how effective relief efforts will be, and how much suffering is mitigated—the number of lives affected, and the number of deaths, and the number of displaced persons can only go up if the international community ignores a crisis, or doesn’t give it the attention it needs. This is obviously a huge impact for places like Syria since the civil war began, but it also affects other countries that take in refugees—countries like the United States, and specifically, places within the US such as Idaho, which have fairly prominent refugee resettlement programs.

Boise's Plaza on World Refugee Day hosting hundreds of people

Boise’s Grove Plaza on World Refugee Day – Boise is home to displaced persons from around the globe. Photo: Maxine Durand

This makes it all the more important to be able to produce accurate data when resources are available to conduct surveys. During his work in Port au Prince, for example, Hutson said there was an estimated excess death of 8,000 in the first two years after the coup—which is a lot of people, but a small number in proportion to the 1.5 to 2 million people living in the city at the time. Hutson said that if survey results are skewed towards areas more prone to violence, like in a densely-populated city, the survey would have a much higher estimate of mortality, or vice-versa in areas less prone to violence.

“It’s one thing to say 8,000 people died,” said Hutson. “But if I said only 500 people died, the response from international actors will be quite meager.”

Dr. Hutson can be reached during office hours at the School of Social Work. Questions or comments about this article can be referred to the school’s main office line, (208) 426-1568.