Category Archives: Hurricane Sandy

Jun 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 24

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HUD Releases Progress Report on Rebuilding After Hurricane Sandy
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Sandy Program Management Office has issued its first report tracking progress on the Sandy Rebuilding Strategy. “While this report shows we are following through on [our rebuilding commitment] we also recognize that many families and business are still on the road to recovery and delays in connecting them to the services and support they need are often too long,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Although more work needs to be done, HUD and the federal government will continue coordinating with local officials until the region has recovered and we meet all the goals of the Sandy Rebuilding Strategy.”

The report tracks progress on several goals set by HUD, including:

  • Promoting resilient rebuilding
  • Restoring and strengthening homes and providing families with safe, affordable housing options
  • Supporting small businesses and revitalizing local economies
  • Addressing insurance challenges and affordability
  • Building state and local capacity to plan for and implement long-term recovery and rebuilding
  • Improving data sharing between federal, state and local officials

Read more on Hurricane Sandy.

New Report Finds Tobacco Companies Have Made Cigarettes Even More Addictive and Deadly
Design changes and chemical additives introduced by tobacco companies in recent decades have made cigarettes more addictive, more attractive to kids and even more deadly, according to a new report, Designed for Addiction, released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The report finds that tobacco companies have:

  • Made cigarettes more addictive by controlling and increasing nicotine levels and enhancing the impact of nicotine.
  • Made cigarettes more attractive to kids by adding flavorings such as licorice and chocolate that mask the harshness of the smoke, menthol that makes the smoke feel smoother and other chemicals that expand the lungs’ airways and make it easier to inhale.
  • Added ingredients that make cigarettes even more deadly, according to a Surgeon General's report on tobacco and health, released in January which found that smokers today have a much higher risk of lung cancer than smokers in 1964, when the first Surgeon General's report disclosed the harms caused by smoking.

Read more on tobacco.

CDC to Launch Fourth ‘Tips From Former Smokers’ Series
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be launching its next “Tips from Former Smokers” series on July 7. The ads will run nationwide for nine weeks on television, radio and billboards, as well as online, in theaters, in magazines and in newspapers. According to the CDC, the Tips national tobacco education campaign has helped hundreds of thousands of smokers quit since it began in 2012.

“These new ads are powerful. They highlight illnesses and suffering caused by smoking that people don’t commonly associate with cigarette use,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Smokers have told us these ads help them quit by showing what it’s like to live every day with disability and disfigurement from smoking.”

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, according to the CDC, and kills about 480,000 Americans each year. More than 16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease. For every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, about 30 more people suffer at least one serious illness from smoking.

The most recent “Tips” campaign resulted in more than 100,000 additional calls made to 800-QUIT-NOW. On average, weekly quitline calls were up 80 percent while the ads were on the air, compared to the week before they began running. Read more on tobacco.

Jun 2 2014
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Map This: National Weather Service Unfurls New Storm Surge Maps As Hurricane Season Begins

file Sample storm surge map being introduced for the 2014 hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

Hurricane season began yesterday and runs through the end of November. New this year for the season are storm surge maps from the National Weather Service (NWS) to underscore the danger that a surge poses during a severe storm. Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted tide levels, according to the NWS. “Most people see wind as the key threat in a tropical storm or hurricane, but surge can be far more deadly,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the NWS.

The new, color-coded maps will be updated every six hours during storms that pose a surge risk along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. The maps highlight:

  • Geographical areas where inundation from storm surge could occur
  • How high above ground the water could reach in those areas
  • Inundation levels that have a 10 percent chance of being exceeded

Maps will be available 45 minutes to an hour after each new advisory, to give cartographers time to plot their points.

The new maps are experimental for two years. The NWS will be collecting and reviewing public comments, and then afterward decide whether the maps will become a permanent product. Even if they don’t, say public health experts, the model maps are important right now in order to educate the public about the threat posed by a surge—even at fairly low heights.

For example, six inches of water can knock over an adult and two feet of water is all that’s needed to carry an SUV, according to the data from the NWS.

The NWS’ Feltgen said Hurricane Sandy is an important example to share when explaining storm surge because of the damage that storm’s surge did to inland communities. For instance, the surge knocked out power to many financial firms on Wall Street, which were then powered by generators as repairs went on for months after the storm. And many residents of high rise apartment buildings in Manhattan and other parts of New York City were stranded or limited to stairs until the electricity was fixed and elevators could run.  

Other storm surge facts:

  • More than half of the nation's economic productivity is located within coastal zones
  • 72 percent of ports, 27 percent of major roads and 9 percent of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 ft. elevation.
  • A storm surge of 23 feet has the ability to inundate 67 percent of interstates, 57 percent of arterials, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area.

>>Bonus Link: The National Weather Service has a fact site on storm surge, including photos of the havoc wreaked by surge episodes.

Nov 5 2013
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APHA 2013: Preparedness Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

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Just over a year ago, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States. Estimated damage came to $65 billion, at least 181 people in the United States died and power outages left tens of millions of people without electricity for weeks.

In the aftermath of this devastating event, the public health community continued efforts to make Americans aware that public health needs to play a much larger role in emergency response and recovery.

And in an American Public Health Association (APHA)-sponsored session on Wednesday, panelists discussed how they can draw on disaster response incidents to analyze policy implications for preparedness and response efforts to protect the health of workers, communities and the environment—with particular emphasis on promoting health equity.

"Addressing health disparities and environmental justice concerns are a key component of Sandy impacted communities," said the moderator of the panel, Jim Hughes of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Kim Knowlton of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Columbia Mailman School of Public Health stressed that public health needs to advance environmental health policies post-Sandy, especially in regards to helping vulnerable populations.

"Climate change is a matter of health. It's such a deep matter of public health," she said. "We have to make a bridge between public health and emergency response preparedness communities," adding that "This is also an opportunity for FEMA to put climate change into their process for hazard mitigation planning and risk assessment.”

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Oct 29 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 29

On First Anniversary, States Still Helping Residents Displaced and Impacted by Hurricane Sandy
Flags will fly at half mast in New York State and other regions of the Northeast today as residents mark the one year anniversary of the day that Hurricane Sandy made landfall. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut—which saw dozens killed and hundreds injured—continue to help residents rebuild and recover from injuries, loss of homes and loss of businesses. Read more about Hurricane Sandy.

AAP: Parental ‘Media Use Plans’ Needed to Limit Kids’ Time in Front of TVs, Other Screens
Parents should create a “media use plan” that limits kids’ screen time to no more than two hours per day, as well as keeps television and Internet access out of their bedrooms, according to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communications and Media. Marjorie Hogan, MD, one of the statement's lead authors, said the issue isn’t television and other media access overall, but the fact that excessive media use been linked to obesity, sleep problems, school problems and aggression; the average child spends about eight hours each day in front of various screens. The key is for parents to find a balance between the positives and negatives of media. "We're not media-bashers," said Hogan. "We love media…For teens, connectivity, being connected to your peers, having a chance to create your persona, can be a really positive thing.” Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Smokers Most Likely to Think About Quitting on Mondays
An analysis of online searches related to smoking cessation shows that smokers are most likely to think about quitting smoking on Mondays, which could give anti-tobacco efforts a new way to make anti-smoking campaigns more effective by enacting weekly cues to remind smokers to keep trying on Mondays, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers found the number of Monday searches was 25 percent higher than the combined average of the rest of the days of the week; the findings were the same for searches conducted in English, French, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. "Popular belief has been that the decision to quit smoking is unpredictable or even chaotic," said study lead author John Ayers, of San Diego State University."By taking a bird's-eye view of Google searches, however, we find anything but chaos. Instead, Google search data reveals interest in quitting is part of a larger collective pattern of behavior dependent on the day of the week." Read more on tobacco.

Aug 23 2013
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CDC’s Ali Khan: “By Every Measure Our Nation Is Dramatically Better Prepared for Public Health Threats”

New Orleans, flooded after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Ross Mayfield. New Orleans, flooded after Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy Ross Mayfield.

Today is the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. Close to 2,000 people died during the worst of the storm and in the flooding that followed.

Since then, local, state, national and private disaster preparedness efforts have been increasingly improved. States reeling from the impact of last year’s Super Storm Sandy on the East Coast, for example, were able to rely on some of those improvements. They included more and better trained disaster management assistance teams from other states, as well as both commercial and government social media tools that helped professionals communicate among themselves and with the public to share safety and recovery instructions.

“By every measure our nation is dramatically better prepared for public health threats than they were,” said Ali Khan, MD, MPH, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a Congressional briefing last week on the topic. It was hosted by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In a conversation with NewPublicHealth this week, Khan ticked off some recent advances in disaster preparedness:

Congressionally appropriated funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow all states to improve their public health and health care preparedness and response capabilities.

  • Response activities now coordinated through state-of-the-art emergency operations center at CDC and centers at almost all state public health departments.
  • Health departments use the National Incident Management System, allowing for structured collaboration across responding agencies.
  • More than 150 laboratories in the United States now belong to CDC’s Laboratory Response Network and can test for biological agents with the addition of regional chemical laboratories.
  • The National Disaster Medical System now includes 49 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, ten Disaster Mortuary Response Teams and five National Veterinary Response Teams, as well as other specialized units to provide medical-response surge during disasters and emergencies through on-scene medical care, patient transport and definitive care in participating hospitals.
  • The Strategic National Stockpile was authorized and expanded, ensuring the availability of key medical supplies. All states have plans to receive, distribute and dispense these assets. Development of new medical countermeasures under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) includes new drugs and diagnostics. BARDA has delivered nine new medical countermeasures to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in the last six years.

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Jul 9 2013
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Recovering from Disaster: NewPublicHealth Q&A with NJ Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd

file Mary O'Dowd, NJ State Health Commissioner

NewPublicHealth has been conducting a series of interviews with health directors impacted by weather disasters this year. Last month marked the official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic. We recently spoke with Mary O’Dowd, health commissioner of New Jersey, which is continuing its recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy last fall.

>>Read our interview with Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline on the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma this summer.

NewPublicHealth: How far along are you in the recovery process?

Mary O’Dowd: One of the things that we’ve learned is that recovery takes years not months when you’re dealing with a disaster of the proportion that Superstorm Sandy was for New Jersey. I would say that we’ve made significant progress. Some communities have very little signs of Sandy left, others are still working to rebuild a significant amount of their property and they’re still in the process of demolition of damaged buildings and properties. Great strides have been made, much progress has already occurred, but there still is a lot of work yet to be done.

NPH: What are some of the public health endeavors you’re still engaged in for the response?

Watch a video about the public health response to Hurricane Sandy featuringing Mary O'Dowd and other public health officials

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Jul 1 2013
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Building a More Resilient New York City

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In several recent and upcoming posts, NewPublicHealth is connecting with communities that have faced severe weather disasters in the last year. New York City, for example, is continuing to regroup and rebuild after Hurricane Sandy struck the region eight months ago. The city, and its health department, recently announced several initiatives aimed at “building back better” while supporting residents still facing housing as well as mental health problems since the storm last October. Some examples are detailed below.

  • The New York City Building Resiliency Task Force, an expert panel convened after Hurricane Sandy to help strengthen buildings and building standards, recently issued a report with recommendations for buildings and homes of all sizes in the city. The report recommends establishing backup power in the event that primary networks fail; protecting water supplies and stabilizing interior temperatures if residents need to shelter in place. ”Making our city’s buildings more resilient to coastal flooding and other climate hazards is a challenge that requires collaboration among government, designers, engineers, and building owners, among others,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda M. Burden. “The Task Force's work exemplifies the kind of innovation and cooperation necessary to prepare our city for a changing climate.”  To create the report, the Task Force convened over 200 volunteer experts in architecture, engineering, construction, building codes and real estate.

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Apr 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 30

USPSTF Recommends HIV Screening for All Americans 15-65
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that all Americans ages 15 to 65 be screened for HIV, according to new guidelines appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine. USPSTF’s previous 2005 guidelines recommended screening for only those people categorized as high-risk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already recommends this course of action. "We do hope the fact that the guidelines are all very similar will provide an impetus for people to offer screening because it is a very critical public-health problem,” said task force member Douglas Owens, MD, a medical professor at Stanford University. Experts noted that the change will likely mean that testing will be covered as a preventive service under the Affordable Care Act. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

HUD’s $1.83B Plan Will Help Rebuild New Jersey, Prepare for Future Disasters
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) $1.83 billion New Jersey disaster recovery plan will help residents continue to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and better prepare for future extreme weather events. “This infusion of federal funding will help New Jersey continue to recover from Superstorm Sandy and ensure that our state is rebuilt stronger and better prepared for future storms,” said Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “Families that are rebuilding their homes, small businesses that are getting back on their feet, and communities that are repairing damaged public infrastructure will all benefit from this federal grant program.” The plan is funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program. The infrastructure restoration efforts will including elevating some homes to guard against future flooding. Read more on Hurricane Sandy.

Early Obesity Dramatically Increases Men’s Risk of Poor Health, Death
Obesity in the early 20’s can dramatically increased a man’s chance of suffering from serious health problems or even dying by the age of 55, according to a new study in the journal BMJ Open. A study tracking Danish men found that approximately half of the participants who were obese at the age of 22 had developed diabetes, developed high blood pressure, had a heart attack, had a stroke, or experienced blood clots or died by age 55. Men of a normal weight at age 22 saw only a 20 percent risk of developing these problems by age 55. Each unit increase in body mass index raised the risk of heart attack by 5 percent; high blood pressure and clots by 10 percent; and diabetes by 20 percent. In the United States approximately 35.7 percent of adults and 17 percent of children are obese, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on obesity.

Survey: Many Americans Still Unaware of or Confused About the Affordable Care Act
Signup for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Health Insurance Marketplace begins in October, but a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that many Americans are still confused about the law, which will require virtually all Americans to sign up for health insurance coverage that will take effect January 1, 2014.

Key poll findings include:

  • More than 40 percent of Americans aren’t aware that the ACA is the law of the land.
  • Of those who aren’t aware that the ACA is now law, 12 percent think the law was repealed by Congress and 7 percent think the law was overturned by the Supreme Court.
  • About half of the respondents said they did not have enough information about the health reform law to understand how it will impact their family.

The poll findings also showed that people who are currently uninsured and those in low-income households were the most likely groups to say they did not understand how the ACA benefits them and their families. Read more on access to health care.

Mar 28 2013
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Coming Together in a Public Health Crisis: Stories from the Front Line

Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Atlantic coastal region—particularly New Jersey, where public health and other agencies from across the state came together to prepare for and respond to the extreme weather event. Ocean County alone saw more than 250 public health department employees working day and night to help the county’s 576,000 residents.

As part of its coverage on the public health response to Hurricane Sandy, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation created a series of videos featuring public health officials and those touched by the disaster.

>> Go here to read more about Hurricane Sandy and watched the RWJF video "Unwavering: Public Health's Dedication in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy."

In this video, Christopher Rinn, Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness for the New Jersey Department of Health, describes how the public health department led the response to Hurricane Sandy by collaborating across acute care hospitals, EMS agencies, local health departments, home healthcare agencies, private sector partners and other sectors of the community.

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Mar 27 2013
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RWJF’s John Lumpkin on Sustained Response to Public Health Emergencies: NewPublicHealth Q&A

At this month’s Public Health Preparedness Summit, John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and the director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, presented about the National Health Security Preparedness Index. The Index, when completed, will be a single annual measure of health security and preparedness at the national and state levels. The Index will help inform decisions about how to prioritize investments and continual quality improvement of public health preparedness, and will also identify and highlight strengths and novel approaches. With input from many stakeholders, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is coordinating development of the Index.

Prior to joining the Foundation in 2003, Dr. Lumpkin served as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health for 12 years. In an interview at the Summit, Dr. Lumpkin described how the Index will help improve the quality of public health preparedness. He also shared his insights from his first-hand experience in coordinating a sustained response to public health emergencies that extends well beyond the initial response.

NPH: In the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, how can public health agencies balance their focus on immediate needs such as shelter, food and emergency services, with longer-term challenges such as mental health, housing solutions and resilience?

Dr. John Lumpkin: While the immediate impact of homes being destroyed, people being forced to relocate and lives being lost, is devastating—there is also an ongoing public health impact of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, which is tremendous.

>>Watch a video on the ongoing public health response to Hurricane Sandy.

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