Category Archives: Preparedness

Jun 3 2014
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Disaster Alerts at the Speed of Sound

Millions of people have now seen their phone shake and heard it wail with news of an impending tornado or other disaster. Two years ago the wireless industry rolled out a free service known as wireless emergency alerts, and wireless carriers representing more than 98 percent of subscribers agreed to participate.

People with older phones, however, may not be able to access the alerts. Brian Josef, general counsel for the CTIA—The Wireless Association in Washington, D.C., recommends checking for the capability when buying a new phone and. For your current phone you can check with your carrier’s customer service office to see whether you automatically get the alerts.

People who can’t receive the texts, or who want a double layer of information, can sign up with local emergency management offices and get alerts via phone, text, email  and in some cases Twitter—although sessions at the recent Preparedness Summit in Atlanta indicated that while Twitter is growing, it is still not used by many local and state health departments. Check the bottom of your health department home page to find the Twitter handle, if there is one.

Josef also points out that you may find that a neighbor got an alert and you didn’t—but that’s because the alerts are geo-targeted. If you and your neighbor were a few miles away from each other when an alert went out, only the one in harm’s way would get pinged.

And if you’re in the market for preparedness apps, the American Red Cross and the National Hurricane Center have free apps that provide alerts and help you track storms.

But the apps won’t do you much good if your phone loses its charge. Preparedness experts recommend keeping a charged extra battery and portable charger on hand, and some emergency radios also include phone/device chargers.

Other tips to conserve your smartphone battery, according to Mary Clark, Chief Marketing Officer of the mobile technology company Syniverse, include:

  • Reduce the brightness of your screen
  • Close unnecessary apps
  • Use text messages to communicate with friends and family
  • Send an initial text to those most important detailing your plans
  • Turn off unneeded options such as Wi-fi and Bluetooth
May 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 23

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HUD Awards $40 Million in Housing Counseling Grants
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded more than $40 million in grants to hundreds of national, regional and local organizations to help families and individuals with their housing needs and to prevent future foreclosures.

“HUD-approved counseling agencies use this funding to support a wide range of services from assisting lower income persons to locate an affordable apartment to helping first-time homebuyers avoid unsustainable mortgages,” said Secretary of Housing Shaun Donovan.

More than $38 million will directly support the housing counseling services provided by 29 national and regional organizations, seven multi-state organizations, 22 state housing finance agencies and 232 local housing counseling agencies. In addition, HUD is awarding $2 million to three national organizations to train housing counselors with the instruction and certification necessary to effectively assist families with their housing needs.

In 2012, HUD released two reports on the impact of HUD-approved housing counseling for families who purchase their first homes and those struggling to prevent foreclosure. In both studies, HUD found housing counseling significantly improved the likelihood homeowners remained in their homes.

Read more on housing

Chest Pain Incidence Drops for Whites, But not for Blacks
The percentage of people reporting angina (chest pain) dropped in the last two decades among Americans 65 and older and white people 40 and older — but not among black Americans, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood.

Researchers analyzed national health survey data starting in 1988 to find how many patients reported that a health care professional had told them they have the condition and how many people report angina symptoms.

They found:

  • The rates for whites 40 and older reporting a history of angina dropped by about one-third, from the 2001-04 survey to the 2009-12 survey.
  • The rates for whites 40 and older reporting angina symptoms declined by half from the 1988-94 survey to 2009-12 survey.
  • For blacks, the rates were essentially unchanged.
  • The rates for American women 65 and older reporting a history of angina dropped nearly in half from the 2001-04 survey to the 2009-12 survey.
  • The rates for women 65 and older reporting angina symptoms declined by almost 60 percent from the 1988-94 survey to 2009-12 survey; the rates for men in this age group declined by more than 40 percent during this same time period

Read more on heart health

United States, Canada and Mexico Set Guidelines to Strengthen Information Sharing in Health Emergencies
The United States, Canada and Mexico have adopted a set of principles and guidelines on how the three countries’ governments will share advance public information and communications during health emergencies impacting the countries.

The Declaration of Intent calls on the three countries to:

  • Share public communications plans, statements and other communications products related to health emergencies with each other prior to their public release;
  • Apprise other appropriate authorities, depending on the type of health emergency, within their respective governments when the declaration is invoked;
  • Conduct an annual short communications exercise to improve joint coordination; and
  • Hold recurrent meetings to review and propose amendments to the Declaration of Intent.

Read more on preparedness

May 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 1

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RWJF Issue Brief Explores Links Between Education and Health
Why is education such a major factor in shaping health? The links are tied closely to income and to the opportunities that people have to lead healthy lives, according to a new issue brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Factors such as social networks, early childhood experiences and the type of neighborhood you live in all play a role in connecting education levels to health outcomes. The issue brief and video explore these connections and highlight their impacts through the perspectives of residents of a disadvantaged urban community in Richmond, Va. This is the second brief in a four-part series by the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health’s Education and Health Initiative. Read more on education.

Parents with Kids in Car Often Engage in Distracted Driving
Parents with kids in tow are just as likely to engage in distracted driving practices as are drivers in the general population, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan and published in Academic Pediatrics. The study, conducted in two hospital emergency rooms, found that 90 percent of parent drivers said they engaged in at least one of ten distractions examined in the study while their child was a passenger and the vehicle was moving. Distractions included talking on a cell phone, texting, giving a child food and picking up a toy that fell. Each year more than 130,000 children younger than 13 are treated in U.S. emergency departments after motor-vehicle collision-related injuries. The researchers also found that parents with higher education and who were non-Hispanic whites were more likely to report cellular phone and directions-related distractions such as use of navigation systems.

"If this finding is a result of greater access to technology among more highly educated and non-Hispanic white parents, we can expect the problem of technology-based distractions to expand because national rates of cell phone ownership in the U.S. have climbed above 90 percent," said Michelle L. Macy, MD, MS, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. "Efforts to improve child passenger safety have often focused on increased and proper use of restraining seats. But this study shows that reducing distractions and discouraging unsafe behaviors could prevent crashes.” Read more on injury prevention.

SAMHSA Launches First Spanish-language Web Pages for National Prevention Week
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently launched a series of new Web pages in Spanish to engage the Hispanic/Latino community in SAMHSA’s third annual National Prevention Week. The observance focuses on increasing public awareness of and action around substance abuse and mental health issues. New resources include instructions for participating in SAMHSA’s “Yo elijo” (“I Choose”) Project, Web badges and a 15-second promotional video in Spanish about the observance. Read more on substance abuse.

OSHA Urges Post-Storm Vigilance for Clean Up Workers and the Public
As much of the country begins the cleanup following massive storms since the weekend, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is urging workers and the public to be aware of the hazards they can encounter and take necessary steps to stay safe. Storm and tornado cleanup work can involve hazards related to restoring electricity, communications, water and sewer services. Other hazards relate to demolition activities; cleaning up debris; tree trimming; structural, roadway and bridge repair; hazardous waste operations; and emergency response activities. Information on safe cleanup is available on OSHA’s website. Read more on preparedness.

Apr 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 28

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Tornadoes Kill At Least 17 in South Central U.S. Over the Weekend
Multiple tornadoes, damaging winds and hail storms over the weekend resulted in 17 deaths in Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to reporting by the Weather Channel. More severe weather is expected in the South and Midwest through Wednesday. According to reporting by Reuters, the hardest hit area was Faulkner County in Arkansas, where 10 people died and cars and homes were destroyed. The Red Cross has opened several shelters in the area. Read about preparedness.

Study: Almost Half of Homeless Men Previously Suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury
Almost half of all homeless men who took part in a study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto had suffered at least one traumatic brain injury (TBI) in their lives and 87 percent of those injuries occurred before the men lost their homes, according to the study authors. Some men suffered more than one TBI and the researchers found that assaults accounted for 60 percent of the injuries; sports and recreation accounted for 44 percent; and car accidents and falls accounted for 42 percent.

The fact that so many homeless men suffered a TBI before losing their home suggests such injuries could be a risk factor for becoming homeless, said lead researcher Jane Topolovec-Vranic, PHD, a clinical researcher in the hospital’s Neuroscience Research Program. Topolevec-Vranic said the study underscores the need to monitor young people who suffer TBIs such as concussions for health and behavioral changes. In men under age 40, falls from drug/alcohol blackouts were the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, while assault was the most common in men over 40 years old. The study was published in the journal CMAJ Open. Read more on injury prevention.

People on Statins More likely to Eat Foods that Can Lead to Obesity Related Illnesses
A new study led by researchers from UCLA suggests that people who took statins in 2009–10 were consuming more calories and fat than those who used statins 10 years earlier. There was no similar increase in caloric and fat intake among non-statin users during that decade according to the study in JAMA Internal Medicine. "We believe that this is the first major study to show that people on statins eat more calories and fat than people on those medications did a decade earlier," said the study's primary investigator, Takehiro Sugiyama, a visiting scholar at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Statins are used by about one-sixth of adults. We may need to reemphasize the importance of dietary modification for those who are taking these medications...”

The study authors used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare fat and caloric intake among statin users and non-users in 1999–2000 and 2009–10. They found that caloric intake among statin users had risen by 9.6 percent over that decade and that fat consumption had jumped by 14.4 percent. In contrast, caloric and fat intake by non-statin users did not change significantly during the 10-year period. Read more on obesity.

Apr 21 2014
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Boston Marathon: Disabled Runners Inspired to Join Today’s Marathon

Photo credit: Larry Sillen | Mery Daniels crosses the finish line at the Hope and Possibility race. Photo credit: Larry Sillen | Mery Daniels crosses the finish line at the Hope and Possibility race.

In the wake of disasters communities often share stories of resiliency, not just to show how far they have come, but to model for others the critical need for an infrastructure of planning and preparedness when disaster hits. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last year, Achilles International, a non-profit group that pairs able-bodied runners with disabled people, already had a chapter in place in the Boston area.

The group reached out using social media, as well as bright yellow banners and shirts during twice-weekly training sessions along the Charles River, to help attract attention and encourage Bostonian volunteers and potential athletes to join up. One survivor did. Thirty-one-year old Mery Daniel, a single mother of a five-year-old, who is close to completing her medical boards to become a general practitioner physician, lost one leg and suffered damage to the other during the blast. She joined up with Achilles and ran its 5K Hope and Possibility race—her first race ever—using a hand cycle last June.

The community rallying around the Boston Marathon over the last year has resulted in several new competitors joining up to compete in the Boston Marathon. A team of thirty differently abled Achilles runners, each with at least one guide for the race, will be wearing yellow Achilles shirts in today’s marathon. Their disabilities—ranging from Dwarfism and scoliosis to visual impairment—have not held them back.

“The stories about the survivors’ recoveries brought attention to the fact that people with disabilities have opportunities to do things they enjoy and learn new skills,” said Eleanor Cox, director of chapter development for Achilles. “So when the chapter put extra effort this past year into outreach through social media, word of mouth and the bright yellow banners on the Charles—matched up with people wanting to volunteer and people with disabilities wondering what was possible—it turned a previously quieter Achilles chapter into a strong one. Boston Strong.”

>>Bonus Link: Read more from Boston Marathon Survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis on Recovery, Care, and Collaboration on the RWJF Culture of Health blog.

 

 

Apr 9 2014
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FDA’s Role in Disaster Preparedness: Q&A with Brooke Courtney

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was a partner agency for last week’s Preparedness Summit in Atlanta. NewPublicHealth spoke with Brooke Courtney, Senior Regulatory Counsel in the FDA Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats, about how the agency plans for disasters it hopes never occur. Previously, Courtney was the Preparedness Director at the Baltimore City Health Department and in that role oversaw all of the public health preparedness and response activities for Baltimore City.

NewPublicHealth: What did you speak about at the Summit last week?

Brooke Courtney: FDA views the summit as an unparalleled opportunity each year to engage with stakeholders at the state, local and federal levels—to share with them updates from the federal side and also for us to get feedback from them about challenges and successes. We engage with stakeholders on a regular basis, but this is really the meeting where the largest number of people involved in preparedness come together, and it’s a great opportunity to see people face-to-face.

We feel really fortunate to have been able to take part in the summit for the past few years. For this year’s summit FDA served on the Planning Committee and also participated in the medical countermeasure policy town hall with federal colleagues from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the national security staff, all of whom we work with closely.

Another thing that we like to do at the summit each year is to give a more in-depth update through a session with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) legal counsel on the authorities that we have that we use related to the emergency use of medical countermeasures during emergencies. This year’s session was especially exciting for us because it was an opportunity for us to discuss with stakeholders some new authorities that were established in 2013 to enhance preparedness and response flexibility.

For example, we can now clearly issue emergency use authorizations in advance of emergencies, which is really a critical medical countermeasure tool for preparedness purposes. Through these flexibilities, for example, we’ve issued three emergency use authorizations in the past year for three different in-vitro diagnostic tests to address the emerging threats of H7 and 9 influenza and MERS-CoV.

NPH: What are the key responsibilities the FDA has in helping to prepare the United States for possible disasters?

Courtney: As an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, at its core, is a public health agency. FDA’s mission is to protect and promote public health in a number of critical ways. We’re responsible for regulating more than $1 trillion in consumer goods annually, ranging from medical products such as drugs and vaccines to tobacco and food products.

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Apr 8 2014
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Preparedness Summit Partners: The American Red Cross

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At this year’s Preparedness Summit, which met last week in Atlanta, the American Red Cross was a first-time partner for the annual event which brings together more than 1,000 preparedness experts from around the country.

“It was important for us to partner with the American Red Cross because they have a major role and responsibility in disasters,” said Jack Herrmann, the Summit chair and Chief of Public Health Preparedness at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the lead partner for the Summit. “We felt that it was important that the public health and health care communities understand the Red Cross’ role and authority during a disaster and look for ways to foster and build partnerships [among] local health departments, state health departments and American Red Cross chapters across the country.”

Just prior to the Summit, NewPublicHealth conducted an interview by email with Russ Paulsen, Executive Director, Community Preparedness and Resilience Services of the American Red Cross.

NewPublicHealth: What are the key issues that communities should focus on now to get themselves better prepared for a disaster should it occur?

Russ Paulsen: Everyone has a role to play in getting communities better prepared for disasters.

As a first step, individuals, organizations and communities should understand the problem: What hazards are in their area? How likely are any of these hazards to become actual disasters? What have people already put in place to deal with them? Local Red Cross chapters can help with this assessment.

Once people understand the problem, the next step is to make a plan. Plan what to do in case you are separated from your family or household members during an emergency, and plan what to do if you must evacuate your home. Coordinate your household plan with your household members’ schools, daycare facilities, workplaces and with your community’s emergency plans.

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Apr 4 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Thomas Bornemann, The Carter Center

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Behavioral health was a frequent topic at this year’s Preparedness Summit in Atlanta for both presenters and attendees, who focus on helping people cope with stress during a disaster as well as on mental health conditions which can be exacerbated by the stress of an emergency. Thomas Bornemann, EdD, has been the director of mental health programs at the Carter Center in Atlanta since 2002. The Carter Center is the philanthropic foundation of former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, and focuses primarily on peace and health initiatives globally and in the United States.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Bornemann about the Center’s mental health programs and challenges that lie ahead. We spoke with Bornemann several days before the shooting this week at Fort Hood.

NewPublicHealth: What are the key mental health projects underway at the Carter Center?

Thomas Bornemann: We’re involved in a number of issues at the local level, national level and globally. One of our major global programs is a program in Liberia, West Africa, where we’ve been working on scaling up services in this post-conflict, low-income country. We are in our fourth year of five, and we’re providing three services: We’re training mental health workers because their mental health system was decimated after the war; we have helped them develop a national mental health policy plan and a national mental health law that will go to the legislature for approval this year we hope; and we’ve been working on the issues of stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses and helping to develop support for family caregivers who provide the lion’s share of the care.

In the United States we’ve been working for years on Mrs. Carter’s number one healthy policy priority, which has been the implementation of mental health parity legislation which passed in 2008. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been working on final regulations since then which spell out the terms and conditions of parity. We’ve been working on monitoring that through the years, and we were very proud that in November Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came here to announce the release of the regulations out of respect for Mrs. Carter’s long commitment to parity legislation. We’ll continue to monitor the parity efforts as they become implemented through the Affordable Care Act.

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Apr 3 2014
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2014 Preparedness Summit: Programs Train Young Adults to Counsel Peers After a Disaster

Disaster experts at this week’s Preparedness Summit underscored the importance of meeting the specific needs of children and young adults in a disaster, who often react not only to their own response to a crisis but also to how adults around them are responding and dealing with the situation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a program called Teen CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) which teaches readiness and response skills and includes practice and exercises. A California fourteen-year-old Teen CERT member, for example, has 17,000 Twitter followers for a weekly feed she updates with disaster preparedness tips.

Teen CERT Training takes 20-30 hours; more if teens are also certified in CPR, First Aid and the use of automatic defibrillators. Training includes:

  • Keeping the teen volunteer safe while helping others
  • Identifying and anticipate hazards
  • Reducing fire hazards in the home and workplace
  • Using fire extinguishers to put out small fires
  • Assisting emergency responders
  • Conducting light search and rescue
  • Setting up medical treatment areas
  • Applying basic first aid techniques and helping reduce survivor stress

Teen CERT members are also eligible for community credits which many high schools require for graduation.

And Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness spearheads a program called SHOREline, which has a pilot program at five high schools in the Gulf Coast. Students work on organizational and leadership skills; meet and practice preparedness drills with local and national experts; and attend youth preparedness summits, said David Abramson, PHD, MPH, the deputy director of the Center who spoke about the SHOREline program at the Preparedness Summit this morning.

Abramson told attendees about the work of one group of SHOREline members at a Gulf Coast high school who took the lead on a disaster recently when a student at the school was killed by in a shooting. Seeing that the school had not planned a memorial service, the students raised $500 and bought all the helium balloons they could find for a service they planned and carried out that Abramson said was very critical for community recovery.

Apr 2 2014
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Preparedness Summit: Effective Use of Social Media During a Disaster

“Two or three years ago we were urging you to ask your health directors for social media tools, and now we’re talking about how it’s making a difference,” said Tom Hipper, MSPH, MA, Public Health Planner at the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at Drexel University, who helped lead a session on social media and public health response at the Preparedness Summit on Tuesday. He was joined by Jim Garrow, MPH, Operations and Logistics Manager at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

While many in the audience of a couple of hundred attendees are still in the early days of using social media, the benefit of adding social media to communications channels for routine and emergency communication is clear said the presenters.

Examples included the use of Twitter by public health officials in Edmonton, Alberta last year after flooding covered the downtown area. So many users accessed the feed that it looked like spam and Twitter shut down the feed, forcing the health department to move to the police Twitter account and then to a private constable’s account when the second feed was also shut down. Despite the switches, a survey after the flooding showed that 98 percent of responders were satisfied with the health department’s responsiveness on social media.

There is also the Verification Handbook for digital content to help verify digital images on social media. One example of an altered report was a shark moving alongside a car in New Jersey just after Hurricane Sandy hit.

Hipper had strong advice for both novice and seasoned health department social media users:

  • During disasters, retweet important information from credible agencies, such as street closings from the Office of Emergency Management
  • Use Twitter message libraries when available. Drexel is creating one that includes messaging for all sorts of public health emergencies such, as an active shooting or a ricin attack. The value of the messages includes faster response in an emergency even if some tweaking is needed, and many of the preset messages are based on feedback to messaging used previously.
  • Engage your audience before an emergency so they will turn to your social media platforms if an emergency strikes. Hipper gave the examples of Chicago, which held an immunization Twitter chat last fall and had 180,000 followers, as well as the Boston Police Department, which already had 40,000 followers before the Marathon bombing last year and saw that number rise to 300,000 as the search for the bombers unfolded.

Hipper and Garrow also advised repeating information during a disaster because people join the conversation at different points; to announce when to expect next updates and what hashtags are being use; to point to other credible agencies for information; and to ask users to send questions which can help improve the information they provide.