APHA 2013: Preparedness Lessons From Hurricane Sandy

Nov 5, 2013, 3:36 PM


Just over a year ago, Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the United States. Estimated damage came to $65 billion, at least 181 people in the United States died and power outages left tens of millions of people without electricity for weeks.

In the aftermath of this devastating event, the public health community continued efforts to make Americans aware that public health needs to play a much larger role in emergency response and recovery.

And in an American Public Health Association (APHA)-sponsored session on Wednesday, panelists discussed how they can draw on disaster response incidents to analyze policy implications for preparedness and response efforts to protect the health of workers, communities and the environment—with particular emphasis on promoting health equity.

"Addressing health disparities and environmental justice concerns are a key component of Sandy impacted communities," said the moderator of the panel, Jim Hughes of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Kim Knowlton of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Columbia Mailman School of Public Health stressed that public health needs to advance environmental health policies post-Sandy, especially in regards to helping vulnerable populations.

"Climate change is a matter of health. It's such a deep matter of public health," she said. "We have to make a bridge between public health and emergency response preparedness communities," adding that "This is also an opportunity for FEMA to put climate change into their process for hazard mitigation planning and risk assessment.”

Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, spoke on the panel about the need to strengthen resilience in public housing.

"Nearly 80,000 tenants at 400 NYCHA buildings across the city were affected by Sandy," she said. "They were living in miserable conditions for weeks without basic services after the storm."

This, she pointed out, causes extra public health impacts, from stress of the residents, to possible injuries from damaged housing, to mold conditions, respiratory issues and more.

But there was good news, Shepard said.

"After the storm, 62 percent of residents have taken extra steps to prepare for a storm. Now, most households have enough food and water to shelter in place for three days."

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Follow the coverage here.

>>Bonus content: Watch a video about the public health response to Hurricane Sandy featuring Mary O'Dowd, health commissioner of New Jersey, and other public health officials.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.