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Kate Dischino oversees Americares preparedness, response and recovery programs in the U.S. and around the world.
When record breaking snow paralyzed the Buffalo area, a new rapid data collection tool put into place after Hurricane Sandy has helped the primary care sector in New York gain accurate, timely and actionable information crucial for emergency response activities. Local emergency response professionals were able to quickly assess the situational and operational status of health centers, continue monitoring the disaster aftermath and rapidly identify new needs as rising temperatures and snow melt posed serious threats of flooding.
Information in disasters is critically important, yet hard to come by. Information drives the decision making process, which can make the difference between lives saved or lost; between the right aid getting to the right people at the right time or resources not being used effectively.
During Hurricane Sandy, key gaps in information left many guessing about the damages to community clinics and impact on patient care. Community clinics provide critical health services to low-income, under-insured and uninsured individuals, many of whom need aid during a disaster. Response organizations need quick access to this information to coordinate community action. What health facilities are still operating? What health facilities could continue operating if resources are provided? What resources? How many? What facilities could receive new patients if a facility is closed?
Targeting this gap, AmeriCares and Community Health Care Association of New York State (CHCANYS) partnered to create a solution that rapidly collects information and situational awareness reports from community health centers throughout the state — all 65 health centers, operating over 600 sites and serving over 1.6 million individuals. This information enables real-time situational reporting and decision making which can impact the delivery of health services in the face of an emergency.
In response to the recent snowfall that left nearly 7 feet in some areas of upstate New York, CHCANYS used the tool to immediately reach out to health centers in their network. A situational report was created on the severe weather event, revealing that one health center had to close for several days due to the driving ban and was working with the local DOH and emergency managers. Other health centers had adjusted operations but none reported any damage to their facilities. Support was offered. As threats of flooding evolved with temperatures rising and snow melting, health centers could quickly report their status and needs.
Earlier this year, CHCANYS conducted an exercise to test the tool, simulating a scenario the Ebola Virus Disease. The exercise confirmed the systems capability to provide situational awareness reporting in real-time, and provided an opportunity for health centers to assess their readiness to respond to an Ebola threat.
Acting on lessons learned from previous disasters, and making Investments in disaster preparedness have real impacts. We at AmeriCares have seen the value of careful preparation demonstrated again and again. Just ask patients from snow-covered Buffalo Health Centers. They will tell you what it means.