By Paul M. Sherer
As the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1, Direct Relief is organizing caches of emergency medical supplies along the US Gulf and Atlantic coasts and in the Caribbean and Central America. Caches contain the most needed medical items in the aftermath of a disaster, including trauma supplies, antibiotics, and medications for diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic illnesses.
When a major disaster strikes, loss of access to life-saving medicines and medical care can lead to more deaths and serious illnesses than physical injuries.
Direct Relief is donating hurricane supplies to local health organizations serving communities most vulnerable to severe storms. Modules range in size from 112 pounds for individual clinics in the United States to larger modules of 1,680 pounds for international destinations.
This year, Direct Relief is once again running the Emergency Pods at health facilities in every Southeast and Gulf Coast state from Virginia to Texas, as well as Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Saipan.
Internationally, Direct Relief prepositions the modules throughout Central America and the Caribbean, including Anguilla, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti , Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent. and the Grenadines, and Bangladesh. Fiji and Vanuatu received modules in late 2021, ahead of the Southern Hemisphere hurricane season.
In late August 2021, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 hurricane, killing at least 107 people and causing over $75 billion in damage, making it the fourth costliest storm to have. never hit the United States. In New Orleans, power outages and staffing shortages kept many doctors’ offices and health centers closed for several weeks.
Hurricane Ida “brought back so many memories of Hurricane Katrina for our community,” said Nancy Tardy, director of patient engagement at Baptist Community Health Services in New Orleans. The health center contacted Direct Relief when the storm hit, “and within about 48 hours we had insulin and other basic drugs and supplies on the way. In addition, we received a set of solar-powered refrigerators to ensure the safety of our vaccines as the power supply was intermittent for several days.
Direct Relief provides year-round support to Baptist Community Health Services and Community Health Centers and Free Clinics in the United States. “Many of our patients wouldn’t take their medications if it weren’t for the free supplies and medications we provide. You really make a difference.
IMPROVING THE RESILIENCE OF HEALTH SYSTEMS
From hurricanes in the Caribbean to wildfires in California, recent years of disasters have shown just how dependent health care systems are on electricity. Puerto Rico was severely disrupted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which knocked out power to much of the island for several months. Temperature-sensitive medicines spoiled, electronic health records were inaccessible, essential medical equipment was inoperable and vital health services ceased. Towns dependent on electric pumps have lost access to water.
In the Caribbean and California, Direct Relief helps health clinics secure solar power and battery backup to continue treating patients even during prolonged power outages.
Resilient infrastructure was stress tested in April when a major power plant fire in Puerto Rico plunged much of the island into darkness for days. The non-profit organization Por Los Nuestros, with a grant from Direct Relief, had installed solar panels and battery storage systems in communities that are not served by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). These non-PRASA communities depend on electric pumps to provide drinking water. During the April outage, 24 of the 25 aqueducts continued to function properly. Eight community health centers equipped with solar and battery power systems also reported operating at full capacity.
Direct Relief is equipping health centers, clinics and community facilities in Puerto Rico with over 1 megawatt of solar generating capacity and 1.7 megawatts of battery storage. Direct Relief has equipped 93 health center sites across the island with 170 FDA-compliant pharmaceutical and laboratory refrigerators and freezers with enough capacity to store approximately 6 million vaccine vials.
Direct Relief is currently doing similar resilient electrical work in California to keep community health centers operating despite ongoing, widespread power outages related to the wildfires.
PUERTO RICO REGIONAL RESPONSE CENTER
Direct Relief is increasingly using Puerto Rico as a regional hub for crisis response. Relief supplies are stored on the island and emergency response personnel are ready to respond to any emergency in the area. When a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti last August, the Direct Relief team in Puerto Rico immediately dispatched seven pallets of PPE and emergency medical backpacks to equip Haitian health workers, accompanied by a staff member based in Puerto Rico.
REAL-TIME DATA FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
When responding to natural disasters, displacements and epidemics, time is always running out. Early detection and response leads to better outcomes in almost all cases.
Direct Relief has expanded its focus to bring real-time emergency data analysis through precision alert platforms such as Dataminr and Factal, real-time population dynamics data from the platform -Form Meta to understand evacuation and displacement, and sensor data on fire, smoke, heat, hurricane winds, and storm surges from Esri’s Living Atlas. By linking real-time data on catastrophic events and how communities are responding to these events with baseline models of social vulnerability, risk and loss, Direct Relief can act quickly to deliver the right assistance in the right place. at the right time.
As a relief organization, it is not enough for Direct Relief to understand these types of data in real time. Working with public sector and non-profit organizations in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Direct Relief builds local capacity by organizing data preparation workshops, trainings and support agreements as part of the CrisisReady partnership with Harvard University School of Public Health to ensure responders have the emergency information they need.
“Data analytics is just as essential to emergency response as material and financial forms of aid, but it requires strong data collaborations to be effective,” said Andrew Schroeder, Vice President of Direct Relief research and analysis.
“The more we and our partners can use the best data sources available, including new sources from social media, imagery and other sensors, for rapid and effective emergency response, the more effective our efforts will be for local communities in crisis,” said Schroeder.