Category Archives: Emergency preparedness and response

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 27 2013
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RWJF’s John Lumpkin on Sustained Response to Public Health Emergencies: NewPublicHealth Q&A

At this month’s Public Health Preparedness Summit, John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, senior vice president and the director of the Health Care Group at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, presented about the National Health Security Preparedness Index. The Index, when completed, will be a single annual measure of health security and preparedness at the national and state levels. The Index will help inform decisions about how to prioritize investments and continual quality improvement of public health preparedness, and will also identify and highlight strengths and novel approaches. With input from many stakeholders, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is coordinating development of the Index.

Prior to joining the Foundation in 2003, Dr. Lumpkin served as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health for 12 years. In an interview at the Summit, Dr. Lumpkin described how the Index will help improve the quality of public health preparedness. He also shared his insights from his first-hand experience in coordinating a sustained response to public health emergencies that extends well beyond the initial response.

NPH: In the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, how can public health agencies balance their focus on immediate needs such as shelter, food and emergency services, with longer-term challenges such as mental health, housing solutions and resilience?

Dr. John Lumpkin: While the immediate impact of homes being destroyed, people being forced to relocate and lives being lost, is devastating—there is also an ongoing public health impact of a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, which is tremendous.

>>Watch a video on the ongoing public health response to Hurricane Sandy.

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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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Mar 22 2013
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Public Health Preparedness: Stories from the Front Line

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.

Mar 19 2013
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Getting Heard in a Disaster: Q&A with Richard Besser

Richard Besser, MD Richard Besser, MD

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.

>>Read more NewPublicHealth coverage from the Public Health Preparedness Summit.

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.

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Mar 13 2013
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Integrated Response to Aurora Mass Shooting

On July 20, 2012, during a midnight showing at a local movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a gunman opened fire, killing and injuring unsuspecting moviegoers. Ultimately the massacre killed 12 and injured 57 — presenting an enormous challenge for local emergency dispatch, fire departments, police, hospitals, public health, and more, and requiring all to work together on an integrated response in the midst and the wake of a chaotic, unprecedented active shooter situation. Partners came together to share their lessons learned at the 2013 Public Health Preparedness Summit.

>>Read continued NewPublicHealth coverage from the Summit.

When the first 9-1-1 calls came in following the shooting, the University of Colorado Hospital, a level II trauma center, already had full emergency department — 49 out of 50 beds were filled.

“We’d been notified we were going to get three to five gun shot victims,” said Patrick Conroy, manager of support services and safety officer for the University of Colorado Hospital. “But we had this queasy feeling something was not quite right. We started notifying emergency services to get ready.”

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Mar 11 2013
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“Unprecedented Destruction”: Ocean County Public Health Continues to Respond to Hurricane Sandy

Ocean County Health Department Dan Regenye and core public health staff Leslie Terjesen and Mukesh Roy, Ocean County Health Department

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?

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Feb 26 2013
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Rebuilding Public Health in Haiti

Destruction from Haiti Earthquake Destruction from Haiti Earthquake. Photo courtesy of CDC Foundation – CDC Haiti building project ©David Snyder/CDC Foundation.

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.

CDC Haiti building project Public health workers in Haiti. Photo courtesy of CDC Foundation – CDC Haiti building project ©David Snyder/CDC Foundation.

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.

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Jan 10 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Patricia Yang

Patricia Yang, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Patricia Yang, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Three months have passed since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. And while the number of people displaced by the storm has gone down from tens of thousands to the hundreds in different communities, some people are still without power or a permanent place to live. Others face the daunting task of rebuilding businesses and homes while protecting against mold and dust, which can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems. For many, the stress has rekindled mental health issues that might have been at bay, or created new ones or just made tough times even worse.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Patricia Yang, DrPH, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

NewPublicHealth: Hurricane Sandy hit just over two months ago. How’s the city doing now?

Dr. Yang: There are people in parts of the city for whom the storm is a distant memory, and their daily lives are virtually unaffected apart from what they might hear on the news or read in the papers. But in the areas that were most directly affected by the hurricane, life for many is far from normal and may never return to what it was pre-storm. Those areas in particular are parts of the Rockaways and Coney Island and Staten Island. So there are still thousands of people who don’t have basic utilities and for whom grid power and heat have not returned. And we’re heading into the coldest winter months.

NPH: What’s the role of the public health department both now to help people deal with the aftermath, and looking ahead to prepare for the next disaster?

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