The DC Voice

Being Ready is Real When Disaster Strikes

When disaster strikes, simulation and training are over; it’s time for action.  No one anxiously waits for a disaster to occur but, we know all too well that, one day a disaster will arise. Being ready is real!  The National Health IT Collaborative held a congressional briefing, co-chaired by Congresswoman Stacey PlaskettDisaster Preparedness: Building an Innovative National Response Network in Underserved Communities”. The briefing focused on lessons learned during disasters. It examined disaster responses and the need for better awareness and preparedness.

Most people have the common emergency response items in their home. Typically, a fire extinguisher or first-aid kit to care for a minor cut or burn.  These are great tools for emergencies within your control.  What happens when you need medical attention, food, and shelter?  Who will supply the aid to the affected area then?  Who will be responsible for covering the cost of the aid?  It’s then that you must think about all of the key players involved in disaster relief. 

These are general questions that become very complex and critical when disaster strikes. Waiting to the last minute could be a very hard lesson.  Furthermore, in the event first responders are needed on the scene, the time can take longer than expected for rescue.  Most response times in underserved communities are delayed, which present constant barriers to addressing needs during a disaster.  The infrastructure in underserved areas tends to give in much faster during a disaster.

Underserved communities are often the hardest hit during a disaster. They are usually the last to be repaired.  While on travel to New Orleans, I rode the bus down to the lower 9th Ward.  During Hurricane Katrina, the lower 9th Ward suffered the most damage, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. Thirteen years later, it still looks like a hurricane passed through – just after you bypass the Brad Pit Housing Project.  Repairs during a disaster can take anywhere from 10 days to thirteen years. It can take that long when you consider the efforts of the response team and coordination with government officials to ensure that resources are released in a timely manner. 

On the bus, I learned that families had been separated to seek medical aide. A husband and wife were waiting on their roof for a helicopter to rescue them from the flood waters that had reached their attic. The husband ended up in Oklahoma while his wife went to Texas.  Many people were given the opportunity to return and rebuild their communities, but many declined.

As New Orleans continues to rebuild and people still consider returning to the city, many other states and territories must begin the rebuilding process. Texas from Hurricane Harvey, California wildfires, and Puerto Rico along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, must start building new infrastructure that will endure the next disaster.  “What infrastructure is disaster ready,” Dr. Lynda Chin of REDI stated during the briefing.  This time around the goal is “build as it should be” says Mr. Godbout, NHIT Care Campaign.  The community should return to something better. 

A critical part of infrastructure is the ability to communicate during a disaster.  First responders in Puerto Rico were presented with a major barrier for communication – a failed power grid.  Not everyone has access to a generator. This is when a backup communication plan is critical to help combat prolonged emergency care and better assess people who are potentially in danger.

Coordinating all of these efforts requires a strong and very smart team.  There are critical components in disaster preparedness. Always keep the community’s needs first. Being ready is real when disaster strikes. Often some lessons are learned the hard way and can cost a major economic impact and causalities. So, learning the best practices for prevention of a catastrophic situation is a must. 

Mindy Hill

Mindy Hill

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