During and directly following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, multiple jurisdictions were disproportionately left with little means and resources to prepare for and recover from the disaster, ultimately being placed in a space of concern for individual disaster relief. In the wake of the first major hurricane of 2019, many of the affected communities were still in of need assistance to ensure disaster-related environmental and occupational health practices are applied to recovery efforts.
We asked some of the Hurricane Response Hub TA Centers to reflect on what happened during Hurricane Dorian and what’s happening now to help communities recover from the worst series of hurricanes ever recorded.
HURRICANE DORIAN IMPACTS
As Florida faced down the potential of catastrophic winds, torrential rain, and life-threatening storm surge from the first major hurricane of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season- Dorian- emergency response professionals throughout the state collaborated to streamline and facilitate communications between federal, state, and local officials. With years of lessons learned from past hurricane seasons, the state recognized the importance of an early, coordinated storm response, one that emphasized a bottom-up approach, understanding the important role of county-level emergency management and encouraging communities and individuals to heed the recommendations from their local emergency officials.
Ahead of Hurricane Dorian’s estimated landfall on the east coast of Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, ensuring that state and local governments had ample time, resources and flexibility to appropriately prepare. Governor DeSantis opened routine Emergency Operation Center (EOC) briefings to the media, allowed chief agency heads and staff to answer questions, increased public access to information on nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and worked with colleagues to streamline the process of delivering federal disaster aid to counties to reimburse them for their storm-related preparation costs, all while underlining the central role local emergency operation officials had in communicating key messages with their communities.
The Florida Hurricane Response Hub (FL-HRH), in keeping with their vision of improving the capacity of public health information sharing statewide, worked diligently to share these hurricane-related emergency management updates with their robust network of interdisciplinary professional organizations and individuals. Along with state and local emergency management updates, the FL-HRH shared hurricane preparedness tips and resources, live updates on the storm’s path, local volunteer opportunities with Community Emergency Operation Center’s located in Broward and Miami-Dade County, and various tools to assist in determining a communities risk of hurricane-related impacts via their social media platforms and a marketing campaign.
One such tool the FL-HRH shared was a social vulnerability map from the global humanitarian assistance organization, Direct Relief. Direct Relief is currently responding to hurricane Dorian efforts in Florida and The Bahamas, focusing relief efforts on the health facilities that serve people who rely on the healthcare safety net for essential services. The goal of the GIS interactive map is to provide information on physical and social vulnerability characteristics of the populations affected by hurricane Dorian, primarily the Bahamas and the Southeastern United States seaboard. Users can collect information on the people living in and the health infrastructure around an area of interest, and available datasets include local social vulnerability demographics, as well as the location of pharmacies, urgent care centers, hospitals, public health departments, and Direct Relief’s Hurricane Prep Packs. If you are interested in learning more about the tool, please click here, and if you would like to view the FL-HRH’s Facebook page and related hurricane Dorian posts, please click here.
While coastal Georgia was under mandatory evacuation and a State of Emergency was declared in 21 Georgia counties in advance of Hurricane Dorian, the storm largely bypassed the state. Approximately 15,000 Georgia Power customers experienced power outages, primarily due to strong winds and downed lines. No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported, according to Dennis Jones, Chatham County’s emergency management director. (Source: https://gov.georgia.gov/executive-action/executive-orders)
Hurricane Dorian served Puerto Rico as one of the best opportunities for an island-wide drill. Citizens in Puerto Rico are still recovering from Hurricanes Maria and Irma that devastated the island in September 2017. The near miss of Dorian’s impact took a psychological toll on Puerto Rico’s communities, especially communities still rebuilding post Hurricane Maria. The experience highlighted gaps in preparedness for families and communities. The near miss of Dorian helped the PR Hurricane Response Hub and our partners better understand the importance of a solid emergency response plan and to identify training needs for the communities, first respondents and the public health workforce.
This experience demonstrated to Puerto Rico’s citizens that we must always be prepared in hurricane season because even the best predictions of a storm’s trajectory can change rapidly. The best data sources indicated that Dorian would hit Puerto Rico, but this did not happen. Instead, a week later we saw Dorian devastate the Bahamas and make its way north impacting the east coast of the US and Canada. Our families, communities and first responders need to regularly integrate routine disaster response training and preparedness into our schedules.
Efficient communications of reliable information and key evidence-based risk communication messages by government and humanitarian response organizations targeted for families, community leaders and the public has been identified as a high priority. There is a role for the Puerto Rico Public Health Trust (PRPHT) and Puerto Rico Hurricane Response Hub (PRHRHTAC) to provide timely information and evidence-based risk communication information on how to prepare, respond and recover from a hurricane.
The NASA and Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust’s (PRSTRT) collaboration is a portal to portal connection using ARC GIS Servers. NASA can share the GIS Web Services Group called the NASA Disaster Program. This is a series of large data sets, maps or other tools that the Puerto Rico Hurricane Response Hub can access directly. This includes but is not limited to flood maps, precipitation imagery, day/night imagery that indicates access to electricity, and a landslide probability tool for the world. These sources of information are updated every three hours, so the information approaches real time. The PRSTRT GIS Team and the PRHRHTAC are working together to identify web mapping applications to digest the NASA information and display it in useful ways for the public.
The PRHRH’s partner, Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) will also install a NASA Collaboration portal to receive this same NASA information in real time to better direct response efforts to areas at greater risk based upon predicted storm trajectory, wind speed, expected rainfall and projected storm surge. The PRSTRT GIS Staff will assist with creating ways to help make data more visible and user friendly for agencies like PREMA and the public. This information can also be provided to our PRHRHTAC partner jurisdictions and regional collaborators in the Caribbean. The Portal can be accessed here.
To download this presentation in full, you can access here.
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
The Hurricane Response Hub is committed to providing customized technical assistance to individuals, organizations, and agencies recovering from the effects of 2017 Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. To request technical assistance from one of the HRH technical assistance centers, submit the request below and a representative from an HRH technical assistance center will contact you within two business days.
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