Category Archives: Emergency preparedness and response
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.