Category Archives: Disasters

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.

file 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 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 28

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.

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

file 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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May 23 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 23

USDA and HUD Offer Housing Help for People Affected by the Tornadoes in Oklahoma
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have announced efforts to help find housing for Oklahoma residents displaced by the recent tornadoes. The USDA is offering help through its Rural Development portfolio, which has programs designed to help improve life in rural communities. HUD is offering help through foreclosure assistance, temporary housing, and federally guaranteed loans for repair. Click here for more information on HUD assistance following a disaster. Read more on disasters.

New CDC Campaign Encourages Smokers to Talk with their Doctor about Quitting
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has launched a new campaign to urge smokers to speak with their doctors about strategies for quitting. CDC research finds that getting help from a physician can double the odds of quitting smoking. To help promote the campaign, CDC is partnering with five physician groups: the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The campaign also encourages clinicians to ask patients if they smoke and offer assistance in helping them to quit. Almost 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit, according to the National Health Interview Survey. Through the physician group partnerships, doctors will be offered training on cessation interventions. Read more on tobacco.

DOT 2013 ‘Click It or Ticket’ Campaign Focuses on Night Time Driving
The annual Click It or Ticket Campaign to increase seat belt use from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) takes place around Memorial Day weekend and this year will focus attention especially on night time driving—although police officers will be on the lookout for unbuckled drivers during the day and night this weekend. While DOT data shows that daytime seat belt use is up to 86 percent, night time use of seat belts continues to be lower. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the risk of being involved in a serious crash is greater at night than during the day. In 2011, 62 percent of motorists who died in a crash that occurred at night did not have their seat belts on, buckled compared to 43 percent of those who died in a crash during the day. Read more on safety.

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.

Apr 23 2013
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Post-Disaster Public Channel Could Speed, Expand Recovery Efforts: Recommended Reading

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.

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 25 2013
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Experiencing a Public Health Emergency: Stories from the Front Line

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.

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