Hurricane Preparedness and Public Health

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS

As someone who originates from the Houston area, I know full well the power of the hurricane to destroy and displace. As I watched with horror the national coverage of Hurricane Harvey last year, and now as Hurricane Florence threatens the Carolinas*, I’m both struck with concern for my friends and family in the area, and hope that the public health system is prepared to match the challenge. Only time will tell if the public health system was prepared for the initial onslaught and the long road to recovery. As the brave first responders’ roles thankfully become smaller, it is the greater public health response that will be most important; environmental hazard containment, infectious disease control, long-term continuity of care, and many other tasks will take center stage. It is in this context that the important work published in the Journal of Public Health Management & Practice may prove helpful, as the Carolinas and others prepare for the next major weather events, or seek to mitigate their impacts.

The Journal of Public Health Management & Practice has published too many articles relevant to disaster preparedness to catalog in this space, but I would like to draw your attention to a few that are especially relevant to the news of the day. The first is “Public Health System Response to Extreme Weather Events” by Hunter and colleagues. In this article, the authors examine extreme weather events and compare cases to identify patterns in event and response characteristics. Their results provide opportunities for preparedness improvements that involve organizational learning. The second article of interest is “Decision Processes and Determinants of Hospital Evacuation and Shelter-in-Place During Hurricane Sandy” by McGinty and associates. In this important article, decision-making processes are described related to acute care hospital evacuation and shelter-in-place decisions during the Hurricane Sandy disaster. Surprisingly, the authors found that decision makers relied on instincts to make evacuation and shelter-in-place decisions as opposed to employing guides or decision-making tools.

Third, I would recommend “Addressing the Health and Wellness Needs of Vulnerable Rockaway Residents in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy: Findings From a Health Coaching and Community Health Worker Program.” In this article by Russell et al., the design and impacts of a program employing community health workers to address the long-term disaster recovery social health needs are described. As portrayed by the authors, “the program represents a model for engaging vulnerable populations and addressing social and economic barriers to health and wellness during the long-term disaster recovery phase.” Finally, I would encourage readers to peruse the recent supplement covering the Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Centers (PERLC): Lessons and Models. The PERLC program was created to increase public health workforce preparedness and response training, and the issue includes reflections on the importance and challenges of implementing such a program.

For more articles on hurricane preparedness and public health, visit our new featured collection at the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice.

*Published 9/1/2017. Updated 9/11/2018

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]

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