Category Archives: Disasters
The sea communities of New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. Ocean County, N.J., was especially devasted. It was there that more than 250 public health department employees provided medical care, shelter and more to approximately 576,000 residents.
These numbers are tremendous in scope—but they're more than just numbers. It's not every day that we get the opportunity to see the results of successful public health policies firsthand. But when we do get the chance to step into a person's life and witness how they were personally affected by a public healh crisis, it can make the case for careful preparedness planning even stronger.
In this video Tom Cioppa, an Ocean County resident, relives the heavy rain and harsh winds brought by Hurricane Sandy. Images of upturned cars and demolished two-story houses illustrate the storm’s destruction and its life-changing effects.
While the effects of Hurricane Sandy were felt up and down the east coast, the sea communities of New York and New Jersey were the hardest hit. Ocean County, N.J. saw more than 250 public health department employees working day and night to help the county’s 576,000 residents—providing medical care, shelter, clean water and even a safe place for pets.
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 first video, Daniel Regenye, Coordinator for the Ocean County Health Department, describes how the state of emergency brought government agencies, non-profit organizations and for-profit organizations together to meet the needs of the community in new ways. Medical needs shelters opened their doors for 24-hour-a-day service for weeks following the storm, with staff members showing incredible dedication by prioritizing the community over their own needs.
Clear, effective communication before and during a major natural disaster plays a major role in saving lives. In this video, Leslie Terjesen, Public Information Officer for the Ocean County Health Department, describes how the department shared information regarding flood preparedness; food and water safety; and keeping medical devices and equipment safe was shared in creative ways given power outages across the county.
Read more of our coverage of Hurricane Sandy.
Communities and people are at their most vulnerable during a disaster. In a crisis, the public looks to government officials to take command, provide answers and restore normalcy. Media—and increasingly social media—play a vital role in influencing public expectations in response and recovery efforts. But, are these expectations realistic? How can public health preparedness leaders and other partners shape public expectations prior to a disaster and encourage personal responsibility? How can they instill confidence in response and recovery efforts while assuring the public that activities being undertaken are in the public’s best interest?
Richard Besser, MD, is ABC News’ Chief Health and Medical Editor and previously served as acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where he led the agency’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak. He also served as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at CDC. He recently moderated the session “Great Expectations: Maintaining Public Trust and Instilling Confidence Before, During, and After a Disaster,” at the Public Health Preparedness Summit 2013 in Atlanta, Ga.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Besser about how public officials should balance the needs to be both fast and correct during a disaster.
NewPublicHealth: What is most important for public health to know about communicating effectively before, during and after an emergency?
Richard Besser: It’s really important to realize that the needs in each of those different phases are very different. It’s extremely hard to get people’s attention before an event. Once there’s a signal that an event is coming, like you’ll often get with a weather event, people are interested. Using that time as a teachable moment—not just for those in the path of the event, but for everyone—is critical. The Israelis are a model for doing that. They have a lot of prepackaged messages and PSAs that they know people will be interested in when an event comes. They’ll use it as a time to teach.
During the event, you’ve got several different communication objectives. There’s what you want to achieve for people who are facing the disaster. The messages for them are messages that help them get through—safely accessing food, water and heat. In surrounding areas there are those who want to contribute and do something to help people. But then it’s also the time for those people to be prepared. The statistics on U.S. preparedness are pretty dreadful. Fewer than 10 percent of Americans have an emergency kit. That’s because people don’t believe an emergency is something that can happen to them. The statistics would say that that’s not at all true. Every state has had a natural disaster in the past 25 years. So they’re more common than people realize, but it’s easy for people to say this is something that is happening elsewhere.
Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the East Coast last fall, with sea communities in New York and New Jersey such as Ocean County bearing a disproportionate share of the damage. In Ocean County alone, 40,000 buildings were damaged by the storm’s monstrous gusts and floodwaters and the county suffered nearly half the damage recorded throughout New Jersey, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
>>A new video produced by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about the public health response to Hurricane Sandy features health department officials including Dan Regenye, coordinator of the Ocean County Public Health Department, and New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd. Watch the video:
For more than a week after the storm ended, more than 250 employees of the public health department worked day and night to help the county’s 576,000 residents. The county provided medical needs sheltering for more than 1,000 residents, three times the number expected. And many shelters that housed displaced residents were also able to shelter their pets–a critical need for many people who might not have evacuated otherwise.
This week at the annual Public Health Preparedness Summit hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the Ocean County Health Department will present a poster on response to and recovery from disaster. Follow NewPublicHealth coverage of the conference and other preparedness news.
In advance of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dan Regenye.
NewPublicHealth: How is your community doing?
Dan Regenye: I think it’s going to take a long time for total recovery to happen, and the reality is that it’s never going to be what it was. Some things will be better, some things will be worse. Our residents are dealing with their own personal issues and circumstances on a case-by-case basis. I think it’s the navigation part that’s so difficult for so many people between all the different agencies—local, state and federal—and private organizations. They need to look at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) maps and have to interact with insurers, contractors and others. It’s challenging.
NPH: What is the health department’s role in the recovery?
Three years after a devastating earthquake took the lives of 200,000 Haitians, displaced millions more and disrupted the public health infrastructure of the country, two new public health buildings opened yesterday in the country’s capital city of Port-Au-Prince with funding by the CDC Foundation and several partners including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the GE Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. The CDC Foundation was established by Congress to forge partnerships between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and corporations, foundations and individuals to support CDC's work in the U.S. and abroad.
“‘Building back better’ isn't just a slogan, it's a reality in public health. These buildings represent an important step forward to save lives in Haiti,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, at the opening in Port-Au-Prince. "These new buildings have an importance far beyond their physical presence—they will serve as a basis and catalyst for programs that will save literally tens of thousands of lives,” Frieden said.
One building replaces the Haiti Health Ministry, which was destroyed in the earthquake. The second building will house some of the ministry’s surveillance, epidemiology and laboratory staff as well as Haiti-based CDC staff, who are now working side-by-side in the country.
Representatives of the partners critical to the funding of the new buildings were on hand in Port-Au-Prince for the buildings’ ribbon cutting ceremony, including Susan Mende, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “The earthquake in Haiti wrought great destruction and suffering to some of the most vulnerable in society as well as to the health and public health infrastructure so critical to the nation’s health,” said Mende. “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation made a $500,000 grant to help build a public health laboratory research center to be used by Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Population. The Foundation recognizes that a stronger public health system is the network that protects communities, saves lives and directly improves people’s health and well being.”
To learn about the significance of the new buildings and the continuing efforts to improve public health in Haiti, NewPublicHealth spoke with Charles Stokes, president of the CDC Foundation, and Justin Tappero, MD, MPH, Director for the Health Systems Reconstruction Office in the Center for Global Health at CDC. Both were on hand for the ceremonies this week.
Preparing for disasters like Hurricane Sandy is critical, even more so because of the massive devastation this storm has brought to Staten Island, New York, where hundreds are still without power, and thousands must rebuild their homes and businesses. Thanks to some critical partnerships that have developed among non-profits and businesses in Staten Island in the last few years, some vital relationships that help to facilitate rapid response were already in place when the super storm hit.
NewPublicHealth spoke with David Sorkin, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, who is a also a founding board member and past president of the Staten Island Not-For-Profit Association and former chairman of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation Business Council.
NewPublicHealth: How did prior relationships help you serve the community when the hurricane hit?
David Sorkin: The Staten Island Not-For-Profit Association is a collective of about 150 not-for-profits on Staten Island who have been networking, training, and learning together over the past four or five years. We already had relationships and interconnections, which allowed us all to react very, very quickly to issues and concerns as well as emergencies because we have emergencies almost every day, though different from a super storm.
A “normal” emergency not related to a storm is when we have a family or an individual who’s in crisis and needs a variety of support such as economic, legal, financial, counseling or a combination of all of them. So, we work together on a regular basis. The other avenue we work through is the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, which is a coalition of businesses on Staten Island. Because we’re a part of that, I was able to access quality services from businesses and corporations on Staten Island with good relationships already built in. So, I don’t have to worry about vetting these companies and organizations during an emergency and I know that they can come to our assistance very, very quickly.
The Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) has released the 2012 edition of its Ready or Not? report. The annual report details and analyzes state and federal public health preparedness. This year’s entry focuses on emergency preparedness, looking at 10 indicators that help reveal the strengths and vulnerabilities in each state’s emergency preparedness status. TFAH’s hope is that policymakers, taxpayers and other groups can utilize the data to shore up their programs and policies—and help ensure they are ready to support public health in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency.
Among the key findings:
- 29 states cut funding for public health from FY 2010-11 to FY 2011-12
- 35 states and Washington, D.C. do not currently have climate change adaptation plans, which include planning for the health threats posed by extreme weather events
- 21 states have not been accredited by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP)
- 13 state public health laboratories report they do not have sufficient capacity to work five, 12-hour days for six to eight weeks in response to an infectious disease outbreak, such as novel influenza A H1N1
This emphasis on analyzing emergency preparedness is especially meaningful now, with many in the Northeast still working to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. NewPublicHealth had been closely following public health’s role in responding to and recovering from Hurricane Sandy, and will continue to take an in-depth look at how this disaster continues to affect public health.
Here’s a look at some of the many ways NewPublicHealth has covered the intersection of public health and emergency preparedness:
Hurricane Sandy Recovery: New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Helms Response Roundtable
Just two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit, the State of New Jersey held a Response Roundtable at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune Township, N.J., to begin a review of the health department’s response to the storm. The site was an appropriate one: in the first few days of the Sandy, the medical center’s emergency room treated close to 2,000 patients with storm-related medical and mental health emergencies. A key roundtable participant was Nicole Lurie, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Leading the discussion was New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd.
Though temperatures early this week in New York City have climbed to nearly 60 degrees, by Wednesday the overnight low is expected to drop below freezing. That’s why the city’s health department has issued a hypothermia warning to people in homes still without heat. As of last week, according to the Mayor’s Office, 11,000 people in the region still had not had their power restored. Some families have power but still no heat because pipes damaged by the storm have not yet been fixed.
“The weather is getting colder,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, told New Yorkers. “Living in cold buildings is not good for your health. If your building heat is not going to be restored very soon, look for another warm place to live until it is. And check on your family, friends and neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, to see if they need help getting to a warm place. Hypothermia, or very low body temperature is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia can happen gradually and without the person realizing how serious it is.”
According to Farley, the symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, weakness, sleepiness, confusion, and lack of coordination. In infants, signs of hypothermia may include cold, bright red skin, or very low energy. A body temperature below 95°F (35°C) is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Heart Association Announce Joint Effort to Combat Childhood Obesity
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have announced a new collaboration aimed at reversing the childhood obesity epidemic by 2015. The joint advocacy initiative will focus on changing federal, state and local policies in ways that research shows are likely to have the greatest impact on the epidemic. RWJF will provide AHA with $8 million in initial funding to begin the effort. Read more on obesity.
NAS to Establish $350M, 30-year Program to Improve Health in the Gulf Coast Region
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will establish a $350 million, 30-year program to study and improve human health and environmental protection policy in the Gulf Coast region. The funds come from the $4 billion fine BP has agreed to pay over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The work will include oil spill prevention, education, research and training. NAS, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council will all work on the long-term program. Read more on disasters.
Study: Diabetes Cases Up Dramatically Since 1995
The number of people with diabetes in the United States jumped dramatically between 1995 and 2010, according to a new study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Total cases climbed by at least 50 percent in 42 states, with 18.8 diagnosed cases in 2010 and an estimated 7 million undiagnosed cases. The numbers were especially high in the South and Appalachian areas. Researchers noted that the increase in cases could be because improved treatments are allowing people to live longer. "These rates will continue to increase until effective interventions and policies are implemented to prevent both diabetes and obesity," said Ann Albright, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, in a statement. Read more on diabetes.
RWJF Pledges $5 Million to Support Hurricane Sandy Recovery Efforts in New Jersey
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., will provide $5 million to selected non-profit agencies to help New Jersey residents recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. That includes two grants, already distributed, of $250,000 each to the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. The additional funding will be given to help with recovery, rebuilding and social service support, including mental health services for individuals and families in the state. Foundation executives will be meeting with state and local government agencies, relief and social service organizations and civic leaders to determine allocation of the funds. Read more on disasters.
House, Senate Holding Hearings on Meningitis Outbreak
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is set to hold a hearing titled "The Fungal Meningitis Outbreak: Could It Have Been Prevented?" to investigate the outbreak that has caused 32 deaths and infected 438 other people. It is believed the source of the outbreak is tainted steroids from the New England Compounding Center, in Framingham, Mass. Many members of Congress have suggested the outbreak demonstrates the need for increased regulation of compounding pharmacies. The Senate is also holding hearings, with U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg scheduled to testify about the outbreak before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Read more on infectious disease.
Worldwide Diabetes Cases at Record High
The number of diabetes cases worldwide is at a record high, according to a new report released today on World Diabetes Day. The International Diabetes Federation estimates that approximately 371 million people have diabetes, with as many as 187 million of those still undiagnosed. Diabetes can lead to serious medical problems such as nerve damage, kidney damage and blindness; about 4.8 million people die due to complications from diabetes each year. The most common type of diabetes is Type 2, which can be managed through changes in diet, weight loss, regular exercise and medication. Read more on diabetes. While traditionally found most often in western countries, it is spreading in poorer areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. Read more on diabetes.