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United States

Planning and Preparation Crucial to Hurricane Response

  • May 20, 2016
  • Emergency Programs, North America, US Disasters

Even as we contend with more flooding, tornadoes and other severe storms in the Midwest and South, another hurricane season has arrived.  AmeriCares is ready in advance long before a hurricane strikes – so that crucial medicines and relief supplies are in the hands of response partners and survivors as quickly as possible.

“We prepare for high-impact seasonal disasters like hurricanes well before they occur,” said Garrett Ingoglia, Vice-President of Emergency Programs at AmeriCares. “Our disaster preparedness planning and coordination is a vital part of our emergency response capabilities, especially in hurricane-prone regions like the East Coast and the Gulf Coast of the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.”

Ingoglia explained that while emergency response activities make the headlines, preparedness at all levels is what saves lives.

“We are committed to leveraging our expertise and partnerships to support integrated, collaborative preparedness and risk reduction measures with the diverse communities and stakeholders we serve,” said Sarah Henly-Shepard, AmeriCares Director, Disaster Preparedness & Risk Reduction. “This holistic approach to disaster risk reduction across disaster response and recovery promotes more efficient, timely and appropriate measures to save lives, prevent and mitigate injuries, protect livelihoods and improve health for disaster survivors.”

Pre-Positioning Emergency Supplies

One of our key preparedness initiatives is the pre-positioning of Family Emergency Kits in our Stamford, CT warehouse for distribution during U.S disasters along with clean up kits to help families returning to their storm-damaged homes. This hurricane season we are prepared to provide kits to families in need. Based on our experience and from information provided by our partner network, we know that displaced families are often in desperate need of basic personal care items, particularly if they are staying in public shelter, a hotel, or with friends or family.

 “The best way to respond to a hurricane is to prepare thoroughly beforehand,” said Ingoglia. “Assessing and addressing specific community needs after a disaster is critical, but based on our experience we know what basic items are essential after a hurricane, and we have them on hand long before a storm hits.” 

We help save lives and provide relief supplies to those people most affected in the crucial hours after a hurricane or storm through our global prepositioning program. This program strengthens the response capacity of our partners in hurricane-prone areas to respond quickly and effectively to disaster. It enables partners to purchase a stock of emergency supplies to quickly aid displaced families and curb the spread of disease. 

To strengthen preparedness here at home, AmeriCares works with partner organizations to pre-position emergency supplies in advance. For example, in 2014 we supplied an ongoing partner, BCFS Human and Health Services, with five caches of durable medical equipment, each cache containing more than 60 unique items that can be quickly deployed to communities in advance of, or immediately after a hurricane, to meet the needs of displaced residents with medical conditions and mobility issues living in shelters in Texas and surrounding states. 

In September of 2015, we released our Disaster Preparedness Planning Guide for Free and Charitable ClinicsExternal Link – a resource for our hundreds of safety net partners around the country that often face major demands on their resources in times of crisis.

Stocking the Emergency Response Pharmacy

In our own warehouses, we build and refine our supply of emergency medicines and relief items so that they are ready for delivery in advance of a major emergency or immediately thereafter. Our 30 years of experience gives us a strong knowledge of items most needed during different phases of response and recovery. To build on that knowledge and to better understand specific emergency needs, we surveyed 300 current and potential response partners—including free clinics, community health centers, medical reserve corps, and public health organizations. The answers helped further enhance our emergency response inventory and plan initial shipments.

In addition to the items in our emergency pharmacy, we have arrangements with our pharmaceutical partners to deliver critical medicines—including tetanus vaccines and insulin—whenever a disaster strikes.

Building Local Response Capacity

AmeriCares has made a commitment to build local capacity in disaster-prone countries by supporting training that teaches communities how to react in emergency situations. In El Salvador, we partnered with Fundación Salvadoreña para la Salud y el Desarrollo Humano (FUSAL) to conduct community-level preparedness training and education. Empowering communities to put strategies in place to notify residents of an impending disaster, to quickly evacuate when needed, and provide basic first aid to injured or ill neighbors, can save lives in the critical hours before help arrives.

One of the key principles of our Emergency Programs is that we strive to not only help communities and health institutions recover, but leave them better prepared for future disasters. For example, we worked with community health centers affected by Hurricane Sandy to improve their level of preparedness for future disasters, and we work with the Community Health Center Association of New York State to develop an assessment methodology and tool to help health centers catalog and communicate damages and needs right after disaster strikes. This enables community health centers —the hubs of local health care, particularly for the most vulnerable—to get the resources they need and resume operations quickly if another major hurricane like Superstorm Sandy strikes.  We also continue a leadership role in US emergency management, with our Emergency Response Director Kate Dischino serving on the Board of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), the Executive Committee of the Board as well as Chair of the Disaster Health Committee.

Finally, we work closely with the 800+ free clinics, community health centers, and health departments in our U.S. Program to make sure that they have the medicines and medical supplies they need and that they understand procedures for requesting medical and other assistance from AmeriCares following a hurricane or other disaster.