Category Archives: Preparedness
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.
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.
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.
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?
FDA Releases Safety Checklist for ‘Hurricane Preparedness Week’
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made available a Hurricane Safety Checklist for Hurricane Preparedness Week, which runs from May 26 to June 1. The list includes tips and steps to ensure water, food and medical supplies are safe not only during hurricanes, but also during flooding and lengthy power outages that may follow. Emergency medication and supplies are especially critical for those with serious health concerns or at particular risk, such as people with chronic conditions or the elderly. The checklist is also available in Spanish. Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June to November and in the Eastern Pacific from May 15 to November 30, according to Ready.gov. Read more on preparedness.
Study: Mother’s Obesity Surgery Decreases Child’s Risk of Obesity
A woman’s obesity surgery can reduce the risk of having an overweight or obese child later in life, according to a new study. Researchers from Laval University in Quebec, Canada looked at 20 mothers who had children before and after gastrointestinal bypass or a biliopancreatic bypass weight-loss surgeries, finding an actual genetic effect on the later offspring. They are at decreased risk of not only obesity, but also diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While the study is small, the researchers say this is the first step toward better identifying and even blocking “obese” genes. Read more on obesity.
Task Force: Screen All Pregnant Women for Gestational Diabetes after 24 Weeks
A new draft recommendation statement from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says that all pregnant women should be screened for gestational diabetes after 24 weeks. The screening should be performed even for those women who haven’t shown symptoms. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of various labor and birth complications; the babies are also at increased risk of increased birth weight, birth injuries, glucose intolerance and childhood obesity. "It's always better to prevent a disease than to be diagnosed with one," said task force member Wanda Nicholson, MD, in a release. "Women should have a conversation with their doctor before getting pregnant or in the early stages of pregnancy about steps they can take—such as improving their diet, being physically active or other strategies—to reduce their risk of developing gestational diabetes." Read more on maternal and infant health.
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.
Devastation in Oklahoma, More Storms Possible
Following tornadoes in Oklahoma yesterday that killed and injured scores of people and leveled whole communities, the National Weather Service is warning that that severe weather could move eastward as far as the Gulf Coast and Northeast on Tuesday and Wednesday. “These are dangerous storms and we urge people to monitor the situation closely and be alert for severe weather warnings in their community,” said Trevor Riggen, vice president of Disaster Operations and Logistics for the Red Cross. The Red Cross has created a free tornado app, available in English or Spanish, whose features include a high-pitched siren tornado warning alert that signals when an alert from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) tornado warning has been issued. The app, found in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for Android by searching for American Red Cross, also includes an all-clear alert that lets users know when a tornado warning has expired or has been cancelled. The app also includes one-touch “I’m safe” messaging to alert family and friends through social media outlets. Read more on preparedness.
Cost, Other Factors May Keep African-Americans from Calling 911 when they have Stroke Symptoms
African-Americans often know the signs of stroke, but concerns about medical cost, ambulance response time and lack of familiarity with the need for prompt hospital care impacted whether they called 9-1-1 immediately, according to a new study of 77 African American community members in Flint, Michigan by researchers at the University of Michigan. The study was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. To encourage 9-1-1 calls even if a stroke victim is concerned about cost, the study authors recommended highlighting the reduction in post-stroke disability if treatment is given quickly. Read more on access to health care.
Report: High SPF Sunscreens Not Any More Effective
Just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend, the Environmental Working Group has released its 7th annual Sunscreen Guide, which rates the safety and efficacy of more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products and makeups that advertise sun protection. EWG researchers found that only 25 percent of products on the market in 2013 offer strong and broad protection and pose few safety concerns. “The vast majority of sunscreens available to the consumer aren’t as good as most people think they are, but there are a handful of products that rise above the rest,” said Sonya Lunder, senior research analyst at EWG and lead author of the report. Lunder says that’s important because “despite an increasing awareness of the sun’s risks, rates of melanoma have tripled over the past 35 years, with an annual increase of 1.9 percent per year since 2000.” EWG says it thinks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should push companies to stop selling high-SPF sunscreens (above 50+), which account for 1 in 7 products on the market. The FDA has said that it cannot vouch for any sunscreen above 30. According to Lunder, as a result of misleading and confusing marketing claims, consumers frequently misuse sunscreens and spend more time in the sun than they should, putting them at greater risk. Read more on cancer.
One in Five Kids At Risk for Suicide Live in Homes with Guns
Nearly one in five children and teens found to be at risk for suicide report that there are guns in their homes and fifteen percent of those with guns in their home said they know how to access both the guns and the bullets, according to a study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
The study researchers recommend that emergency department doctors screen all children and teens for suicide risk. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 years in the United States, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly half of young people who die by suicide use a gun. Read more on injury prevention.
Teen Girls Who Exercise Are Less Likely to be Violent
A study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health finds that high school girls who play sports or run have a lower risk of being in fights or in a gang. Researchers at the school reviewed results of a 2008 survey completed by 1,312 students at four inner-city high schools in New York to determine if there was an association between regular exercise and violence-related behaviors.
The survey results found that girls who had exercised more than 10 days in the last month had decreased odds of being in a gang, those who did more than 20 sit-ups in the past four weeks had decreased odds of carrying a weapon or being in a gang and those who reported running more than 20 minutes the last time they ran had lower odds of carrying a weapon. Girls who participated in team sports in the past year had decreased odds of carrying a weapon, being in a fight, or being in a gang.
Among boys, none of the exercise measures were linked to decrease in violence-related behaviors. But the researchers say that a connection may not have been found because a smaller percentage of boys than girls completed the survey and that more research is needed to see if exercise interventions can reduce youth violence. Read more on violence.
USDA Announces New Rules to Fund Broadband Service in Underserved Rural Communities
The USDA has announced new rules that simplify the proposals to request funds for internet broadband access in rural areas. USDA broadband funds have provided internet access for nearly 65,000 rural households, businesses, and community organizations such as libraries, schools and first responders. Read more on preparedness.
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.
A Buzzfeed article posted in the days after the explosions at the Boston Marathon last week reported on hashtags and Google docs that emerged in the hours after the explosions, and pointed out the need for expanded “disaster and crisis coordination online, beyond hashtags.” The article notes a new San Francisco initiative in collaboration with the design firm IDEO—a social networking website and app to connect people who want to help with those who need it, which will let individuals preregister homes where people in need can find emergency shelter, supplies and useful skills such as First Aid certification. According to the post, “instead of scanning hashtags [in order to offer assistance], people will be able to simply log in to a preexisting community.”
There was a soft launch of the system in January and the organizations are now collecting user feedback.
Jenine Harris, PhD, an assistant professor at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, reported on expanded use of social media by local health departments during the recent Keeneland Conference on public health services and systems research held in Lexington, Ky. Dr. Harris says of the San Francisco project that “the more active a social media channel, the more people follow it, so if these channels could be tweeting or retweeting regularly they would probably draw larger audiences.” Harris suggests that health departments could retweet information from their channels and increase visibility.
>>Read the Buzzfeed article.