Category Archives: Disasters
CDC’s Ali Khan: “By Every Measure Our Nation Is Dramatically Better Prepared for Public Health Threats”
Today is the eighth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history. Close to 2,000 people died during the worst of the storm and in the flooding that followed.
Since then, local, state, national and private disaster preparedness efforts have been increasingly improved. States reeling from the impact of last year’s Super Storm Sandy on the East Coast, for example, were able to rely on some of those improvements. They included more and better trained disaster management assistance teams from other states, as well as both commercial and government social media tools that helped professionals communicate among themselves and with the public to share safety and recovery instructions.
“By every measure our nation is dramatically better prepared for public health threats than they were,” said Ali Khan, MD, MPH, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a Congressional briefing last week on the topic. It was hosted by the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In a conversation with NewPublicHealth this week, Khan ticked off some recent advances in disaster preparedness:
Congressionally appropriated funds for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow all states to improve their public health and health care preparedness and response capabilities.
- Response activities now coordinated through state-of-the-art emergency operations center at CDC and centers at almost all state public health departments.
- Health departments use the National Incident Management System, allowing for structured collaboration across responding agencies.
- More than 150 laboratories in the United States now belong to CDC’s Laboratory Response Network and can test for biological agents with the addition of regional chemical laboratories.
- The National Disaster Medical System now includes 49 Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, ten Disaster Mortuary Response Teams and five National Veterinary Response Teams, as well as other specialized units to provide medical-response surge during disasters and emergencies through on-scene medical care, patient transport and definitive care in participating hospitals.
- The Strategic National Stockpile was authorized and expanded, ensuring the availability of key medical supplies. All states have plans to receive, distribute and dispense these assets. Development of new medical countermeasures under the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) includes new drugs and diagnostics. BARDA has delivered nine new medical countermeasures to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in the last six years.
Three Cases of Dengue Fever Reported in Florida
The Florida Department of Health is reporting three confirmed cases of Dengue Fever in Central Florida. Dengue Fever is an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes. While common in Africa, it’s very rare in the United States. The health department has reported that the three patients have not traveled internationally recently, and that they likely contracted the disease from mosquitoes in their home state. The last case of Dengue Fever in Central Florida was in 2011. Symptoms of Dengue Fever, which is treated with supportive care and can in some cases lead to death, include high fever, headache, rash and joint pain.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a severe outbreak of Dengue Fever in Southeast Asia that has been especially harsh this year because of an early rainy season, higher than average temperatures and the fact that the virus has mutated in some cases into a more severe version of the disease. Travelers to the region who become infected risk carrying the virus to their home countries, where the virus can spread if an infected person is bitten by a mosquito that then bites other humans.
Guidelines issued by the Florida Department of Health for mosquito control are effective for other diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, including West Nile Virus and some forms of encephalitis, which both have been seen this summer in the United States. The guidelines include:
- Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected.
- Discard old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans, broken appliances and other items that aren't being used.
- Empty and clean birdbaths and pet's water bowls that are kept outside at least once or twice a week.
- Protect boats and vehicles from rain with tarps that don’t accumulate water.
Read more on infectious disease.
Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force Releases Report, Recommendations
The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force yesterday released its Rebuilding Strategy designed to be a model on how communities can prepare for and respond to extreme weather events. It also includes recommendations on how to continue to help area rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. “This Rebuilding Strategy will protect families, small businesses and communities across the region, and the taxpayers’ investment in them, from the risks posed by sea level rise and more extreme weather events – risks that are made worse by the reality of a changing climate,” according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who chairs the task force. The goals include aligning federal funding with local rebuilding visions; cutting red tape and getting assistance to families, businesses and communities efficiently and effectively; and coordinating the efforts of the federal, state and local governments, with a region-wide approach to rebuilding. Read more on Hurricane Sandy.
Survey: Hispanic Teens More Likely Than White, Black Teens to Abuse Drugs
Hispanic teens are more likely than their white and black counterparts to abuse both legal and illegal drugs, according to a new report, The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study 2012: Hispanic Teens and Hispanic Parents. A survey found that about 54 percent of Hispanic teens had used an illicit drug; 43 percent of white teens and 45 of black teens reported using an illicit drug in the same survey. At the heart of the issue could be that Hispanic teens on average view the drugs as less harmful, said Sean Clarkin, director of strategy and programs at The Partnership at Drugfree.org. "They see drug use among their peers and in their community, and the messages they are not getting from their parents—these all may be contributing to this feeling that drug use is normal," he said. The key to improving on these troubling rates is improved guidance an education on the dangers of drug abuse. Read more on substance abuse.
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.
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?
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.
Less than a month ago cities in Oklahoma were struck by some of the most powerful tornadoes in the state’s history, killing more than 40 people, injuring scores more and destroying thousands of homes and other structures.
As part of an ongoing series on how public health responds to disaster, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
NewPublicHealth: What roles has your health department had following the tornadoes?
Gary Cox: We do many things. For example, a lot of people are out cleaning up and come into contact with nails and other sharp objects and they get cuts and puncture wounds. We partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield and we have three mobile vans staffed those vans with nurses who go out into the affected areas and give tetanus shots and minor first aid. Mental health services can also be provided out of the vans. In fact, we put out a call for assistance and many trained professionals signed up within just a couple of days to volunteer their services to work with individuals and with families, particularly over the stress issues related to these tornados and floods. We have a very broad and deep layer of partnerships, and of course we rely on those. And what we try to do is to take a holistic type so that people in need can get a whole range of services from one location.
One important mission has been to deploy food safety inspectors out into all those areas affected to look at each one of those restaurants and to help them assess their food spoilage and food safety and work with them to get back to business if they can and as soon as they can.
Prepared for a Disaster and Building Back Better: Terry Cline on Public Health’s Response to Oklahoma Tornados
Tornadoes that struck Oklahoma just a few weeks ago have left more than 40 people dead, scores injured and billions in losses, including whole neighborhoods wiped out. The devastating weather of the past year—including superstorm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on the Northeast, especially New Jersey and New York City—has called even greater attention to the critical need for public health departments to be ready to respond at all times. Health departments in the communities and states where disasters happen have to be nimble enough to respond to the expected and the unexpected—as you’ll see from three interviews NewPublicHealth recently conducted with the health commissioners of New Jersey and Oklahoma, as well as with the health director of Oklahoma City, the most recent area to be rocked by severe weather.
And because disasters don’t honor state lines and devastated areas may not have the capacity on their own to handle the myriad of disaster health issues, the manpower and equipment of even far-flung health departments can be critical—making preparedness a year-round, 24/7 responsibility for everyone in public health.
Read the first installment in the series, a conversation with Terry Cline, PhD, the Commissioner of Health in Oklahoma.
NPH: With the recent tornadoes, what were you able to prepare for and what was unexpected?
Terry Cline: Unfortunately, in Oklahoma we have a lot of experience in dealing with disasters and we have what I consider to be a well-oiled machine in place. So overall, I think the response to this tragic situation went very well. The multiple tornados were a bit of a surprise though. It’s not unusual to have several tornados in the same area, but it’s unusual to have two significant tornados and then have one of those go through an urban area. I think a critical impact that was not anticipated was the flooding during the most recent tornado. The bottom line is that you need to have a strong infrastructure in place because Mother Nature has a way of always having the upper hand.
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.
American Institute of Architects, Others Launch Ideas Competition to Rebuild Sustainable Communities
The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Make It Right, St. Bernard Project and Architecture for Humanity have launched a new “Designing Recovery” ideas competition to help rebuild sustainable, resilient communities in areas hit by natural disasters. The announcement came at the annual Commitment to Action at CGI America. "The cities of New Orleans, New York and Joplin are all stark reminders of the emerging threat of severe-weather disasters brought on by a changing climate,” said Eric Cesal, Director of Reconstruction and Resiliency at Architecture for Humanity. “Every city can learn from the successes and failures of these three cities and their response to disaster. Designers and architects have a responsibility to do more — and to do better. We hope this competition will draw out the best and brightest new ideas for a world of new risks." Read more on disasters.
On World Blood Donor Day, HHS Highlights Need for More Resources
Today is World Blood Donor Day. The United States is one of only 62 countries that collect 100 percent of their blood from voluntary, unpaid donors; the World Health Organization has this goal for all countries by the year 2020. About 8 million people donate blood in the United States each year. While this number is substantial, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says even more donations are needed to help surgical patients, cancer patients, victims of natural disasters and people who suffer battlefield injuries.
According to HHS:
- Forty or more units of blood may be needed for a single trauma victim
- Eight units of platelets may be required daily by leukemia patients undergoing treatment
- A single pint of blood can sustain a premature infant’s life for two weeks
Read more on global health.
Supreme Court Rules Naturally Occurring Human Genes Cannot be Patented
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that naturally occurring human genes cannot be patented, although synthetically produced genetic material can be. The ruling struck down Myriad Genetics Inc.’s patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Robert Darnell, MD, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center, said the ruling "sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information" and that “it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world." Read more on research.
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.