Category Archives: Emergency preparedness and response

Aug 29 2013
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Recommended Reading: FEMA on Preparing Your Family for an Emergency

“I’ll pack the dead batteries.”

“I’ll only put what I don’t need into a duffle bag.”

“I’ll try to get the generator going without any gas.”

Not exactly smart moves in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency…but maybe not far from reality for many families. Six out of 10 Americans don't have a disaster plan and only 19 percent said they were very prepared for a disaster. A new PSA campaign from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Ad Council hopes to change that.

The campaign is designed to educate and empower families with children in the household to take steps to get everyone prepared for emergencies. That means giving everyone a role and ensuring everyone knows the plan. Unfortunately, because the subject matter is difficult and weighty, some parents hesitate to even bring it up.

By showing exactly how not to approach the discussion of preparedness—the above quotes are from family members sitting around a table—the new campaign encourages parents to have honest conversations with their kids about disaster preparedness, which can inspire a sense of confidence, control and calm when an actual emergency strikes.

“Humor is important because people get their guard down when they’re engaged in message,” said Priscilla Natkins, Ad Council’s executive vice president and director of client services. “They’re laughing, they’re smiling—yet they’re listening to the content. They’re listening to what these people are saying.”

>>Read More: Go to CNN.com to read the full story and watch a video on the new PSA campaign.

>>Bonus Link: Learn more about how families can prepare for disasters at Ready.gov/kids.

Jul 22 2013
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Electronic Health Information Access for Patients Displaced by Disasters

As part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other wide-spread disaster, four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help relocated patients and their temporary health care providers access critical health information.

State health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia worked with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to create the new system. All of the state HIE programs participating in the initiative have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi. The initiative uses a tool called Direct, created through a collaboration that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published a guide to help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local HIE hub and regional health information organizations.

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

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

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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Jun 14 2013
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Can You Hear Me Now? New FEMA Alerts Direct to Cell Phones

Millions of cell phone customers might have heard their phones let out a high pitched alarm and spontaneously shake yesterday afternoon. The mobile siren is an indication that the severe weather is threatening the area—and roughly 62 million Americans were in the path of severe weather along the East Coast yesterday, as the region was wracked with severe thunder storms, tornados and flooding.

The mobile shake, rattle and siren is a free service from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and many nationwide cell phone carriers. You can find out if you’re covered by pressing 6-1-1 on your cell phone, which is your carrier’s customer service line. Earlier this week a NewPublichealth reporter, unaware of the service, suddenly felt his phone shake and was alerted to potential life-threatening flooding along his commuting route.

The service is actually two years old, but to get consumers to pay attention to the alerts, and the threats they’re warning about, FEMA recently partnered with the Ad Council on a new public service announcement.

The specific warnings come through as text messages with no more than 90 characters. Categories of alerts include extreme weather, AMBER alerts indicating a child has been abducted, and Presidential alerts during a national emergency.

One of the best features of the service is that it automatically tunes to weather where you are, not where you’re from. Go on vacation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina from Missouri, for example, and you will get alerts, if needed, about whether out on the barrier island. That’s important. Gary Cox, health director of Oklahoma City, which recently saw devastating tornadoes that killed and injured scores of people, said among those killed and injured were travelers to the area who hadn’t tuned into weather forecasts and didn’t know to take cover.

>>Bonus Link: Read an FAQ from FEMA on the wireless alerts.

Jun 7 2013
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It’s Getting Hotter: Preparedness Essential

A new study from Columbia University finds that deaths linked to a warming climate may rise by as much as 20 percent by the 2020s. The study was published in Nature Climate Change, by an interdisciplinary team at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health.

“This serves as a reminder that heat events are one of the greatest hazards faced by urban populations around the globe,” said coauthor Radley Horton, PhD, a climate scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research. In fact, although tornadoes are currently trending as the most common “weather word” right now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat kills more Americans each year than tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes combined.

Cities could be hit harder than other areas, according to the new research that found that daily records from Central Park in Manhattan show that average monthly temperatures already increased by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit from 1901 to 2000—substantially higher than the global and U.S. trends, according to the researchers, who say that cities tend to concentrate heat. Buildings and pavement soak it up during the day and give it off at night. Last year was the warmest year on record for New York City.

CDC Extreme Heat Infographic

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May 28 2013
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Risa Lavizzo-Mourey Weighs In: Building Healthy Communities After Disaster

Resilience is about how quickly a community bounces back to where they were before a public health emergency—and only a healthy community can do that effectively.

RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, weighed in on what it takes to create healthy, resilient communities—and shared examples of some communities that have done just that—through a post on the professional social networking site, LinkedIn. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is one of about 300 LinkedIn Influencers. Read an excerpt of the LinkedIn post below.

It is a testament to the American spirit that less than a day after a tornado brought a 20-mile-wide swath of death and destruction to Moore, OK, public officials and residents unequivocally pledged to rebuild the community. “We will rebuild and we will regain our strength,” Gov. Mary Fallin told a news conference after viewing the devastation.

Similar assertions were made after Hurricane Sandy wiped out entire neighborhoods on the New York and New Jersey coasts eight months ago, and I am sure they will be made again after future natural disasters. I applaud the can-do determination. But I also suggest that we take a minute and think, not just about rebuilding, but creating something better. Why not rebuild communities where health and wellness is a top priority?

Imagine rebuilding neighborhoods that make healthy living an easy and fun choice, that offer more places to safely walk or bike, more open spaces where families can exercise and play, and more restaurants that offer healthy choices and provide nutritional information on their menus.

This is not just some do-gooder’s pipe dream. New Orleans has shown us that it can be done.

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May 28 2013
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Responding to Disaster: Public Health Lawyers on the Ground

Aiding in the response and recovery effort in Oklahoma following last week’s tornadoes are several state disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs), requested by Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin. The New Mexico DMAT includes a member, Cliff Rees, who is experienced in law as it pertains to public health emergencies. Rees is the practice director of the Network for Public Health Law’s Western Region.

NewPublicHealth spoke with James G. Hodge, Jr., JD, LLM, Principal Investigator/Director of the Network for Public Health Law’s Western Region, about how knowledge of law during an emergency can help speed assistance to victims.

NewPublicHealth: What is Cliff Rees’ role on the ground?

James Hodge: As a member of the DMAT team, he is well trained in many areas of response and is working with his team to provide needed assistance on multiple fronts. However, Cliff is also capable of assessing legal concerns on the ground if they come up.

NPH: What are some of those concerns?

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May 24 2013
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Team Rubicon’s Veterans Respond to Oklahoma’s Tornado Devastation: Recommended Reading

Team Rubicon responds to previous severe weather in St. Louis (April 2013)

The tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., on May 20 left at least 24 people dead and nearly 400 injured. More than a mile wide in places, the tornado left billions of dollars in damage in its wake. The people of Moore and the surrounding area are now burying the friends and family members lost that day and the slow process of rebuilding has begun.

Among the first to respond to the natural disaster was Team Rubicon, a collection of hundreds of U.S. military veterans who have been provided disaster relief around the world since the organization was founded in 2010. The name for the Moore effort is “Operation: Starting Gun”—both for their quick response to the tornado’s devastation and for the Sooners of the Oklahoma Land Rush. They expect as many as 250 volunteers, of which 90 percent are veterans.

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Apr 25 2013
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Public Health Role as Businesses, Residents Return to Boston

Immediately after the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) updated their crisis management resources and moved the information to the top of their home pages.

Yesterday, NPR reported that business owners near the blast site are beginning to return and reopen their doors.

"They fled in a panic last week and returned both eager and anxious," said NPR reporter Tovia Smith. The piece describes how business owners returned to find food left half-eaten and rotting, because so many left in such a hurry, and blood splattered in some spots from those who were injured.

To help make sure businesses get the help they need to reopen safely, public health inspectors played a role in visiting every building on every block. "They also stood ready with trauma counselors, pro-bono attorneys and clean-up crews," said Smith.

But the public health response to any disaster goes beyond helping to restore normalcy in the immediate aftermath. An earlier interview with John Lumpkin, director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about the sustained response to Hurricane Sandy also applies here:

We saw with Katrina and are seeing again now with Sandy, [public health officials] are not only concerned with food, air, and water during and immediately after an emergency, but also with ensuring that services related to health care delivery and mental health are provided when and where they’re needed. It’s an interesting statistic, for instance, that the demand for mental health services was higher five years after Hurricane Katrina than it was immediately after the hurricane hit.

The Boston Public Health Commission announced this week, for example, that the organization has opened a new drop-in center to continue to provide emotional support to anyone affected by the Boston Marathon attack.

"While the physical injuries and destruction that resulted from the bombings might be the most visible signs of trauma, many people experience serious emotional distress based on what they saw, heard, and felt during and after the attack. Sometimes these symptoms do not surface immediately," according to the Commission release. "Understanding the deep impacts of this emotional distress, city officials opened the drop-in center as a safe place for people to come together and talk about their experiences over the past week."

>>Read more about building community resilience to recover from disaster.