The Power of Us

Evacuteer checking someone in during 2017 full-scale city assisted evacuation exercise.

“I am a Katrina survivor.” These were the first words out of Joan Ellen’s mouth when I spoke with her. And she was one of the lucky ones. She made it out of New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. But not everyone was so fortunate. One of Joan Ellen’s neighbors did not evacuate because she could not bring her old dog with her to a shelter and would not leave him behind. Her neighbor died in the flooding. Joan Ellen recalls, “If I had known I would have taken her with me.”

Evacuations are more common than you might think. Every year people across the United States are asked to evacuate their homes due to fires, floods, and hurricanes. However, there are many reasons people may not be able to evacuate– including issues that New Orleans’ residents face, like lack of transportation, financial need, homelessness, and medical or mobility issues.

No one left behindJoan Ellen returned to her home in New Orleans 48 days after Hurricane Katrina. She likes to tell people, “I only had a foot of water – but it was a foot over my roof.” The thing she remembers most vividly about going home was not the destruction, but the smell. When Joan Ellen heard a radio announcement that they were recruiting volunteers to help in a mandatory evacuation she signed up. She has been training other Evacuteers since she joined the organization in 2009. She loves the casual definition of family that keeps people together in the event of an evacuation. “Family is anybody we say is family, and we will keep everybody together. In New Orleans we are only two degrees of separation.”

According to FEMA’s Preparedness in America report, people in highly populated areas were more likely to rely on public transportation to evacuate in the event of a disaster. In the event of a mandatory evacuation, approximately 40,000 people living in New Orleans will need assistance to evacuate because they don’t have a safe or alternative option.

After learning from Hurricane Katrina, the City of New Orleans will now call a mandatory evacuation nearly three days in advance of a dangerous or severe storm making landfall on the Louisiana coast. Everyone must leave during a mandatory evacuation until officials declare the city safe for re-entry.

Mobilizing the Evacuteers

The City also started City Assisted Evacuation (CAE) to help people who are unable to evacuate on their own. Through this program, the city provides free transportation for residents, along with their pets, to a safe shelter. CAE counts on volunteers from Evacuteer.org, a local non-profit organization that recruits, trains, and manages 500 evacuation volunteers called “Evacuteers” in New Orleans. As the Executive Director of this organization I tell people, “We are a year-round public health preparedness agency that promotes outreach to members of the community that aren’t always easy to reach, nor trusting of government, about their options and the evacuation process. The goal is to make sure that everyone using CAE is treated with dignity throughout the entire process.”

Lit evacuspot in Arthur Center
Evacuspot outside of Arthur Monday Multipurpose Center

Evacuteers receive a text message if the City of New Orleans calls for a mandatory evacuation. Teams are assigned to seventeen pickup points, called Evacuspots, placed in neighborhoods around the city. The Evacuteers help register people and provide information about the evacuation process. When residents go to an Evacuspot, Evacuteers will give every person a ticket, a wristband, and a luggage tag to help track their information and ensure that families stay together. After the paperwork is filled out, evacuees are transported to the downtown Union Passenger Terminal bus station where they will board a bus, and for a smaller percentage, a plane, to a state or regional shelter. When the city is re-opened after the storm passes, the process will bring residents back home to New Orleans.

An artistic approach to save lives

Each Evacuspot is marked by a statue of a stick figure with his arm in the air, and looks as though he is hailing a safe ride out of the city. Erected by international public artist, Douglas Kornfeld, the statues are a public art initiative led, and fundraised, by Evacuteer.org. Installed at each of the pick-up points in 2013, the stainless steel statues measure 14-feet tall, and stand as a reminder to residents year-round that there is a process to ensure everyone has the opportunity to safely evacuate.

Do you know what to do?

  1. Have a plan. Know where your family will meet, both within and outside of your neighborhood, before a disaster.
  2. Fill ‘er up. Make sure you have a half a tank of gas at all times in case of an unexpected evacuation. If an evacuation seems likely, make sure your tank is full.
  3. Keep your options open. Have alternative routes and other means of transportation out of your area. Choose several destinations in different directions you can go to evacuate.
  4. Leave early. Plan to take one car per family to reduce congestion and delay.
  5. Stay alert. Do NOT drive into flooded areas. Roads and bridges may be washed out and be careful of downed power lines.

Learn more

Read our other National Preparedness Month blogs:

Thermal structure of Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria touched down in Puerto Rico. This visualization by Joshua Stevens at NASA shows what the thermal structure of the storm looked like, based on data collected by the Terra satellite.

Colder clouds, which are generally higher in the atmosphere, are shown with white. Somewhat warmer, lower clouds appear purple. The image reveals a very well-defined eye surrounded by high clouds on all sides—an indication that the storm was very intense.

Ugh.

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Hurricane preparation and response resource list

Hurricane preparation and response resource list | www.APHLblog.org

Updated September 15, 2017

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, public health laboratories in affected regions will be busy testing for potential environmental contamination, monitoring for increased water- and mosquito-borne diseases, or repairing damage to their own facilities. APHL has activated its Incident Command System (ICS) to support member laboratories with their response. The ICS team is participating in CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) State/Local and Partner Conference Calls, and will assist member labs with their response, facilitate communications between CDC and member labs, and share lab needs/stories with policy makers and the public.

Below are helpful resources for those communities hit by the recent storms. Many of these resources are useful for any severe weather event, not just Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Preparing for and weathering the storm

Hurricanes, Preparation and Response, EPA
Hurricane Preparedness Checklist, FDA
Preparing for a Hurricane or Tropical Storm, CDC
Flooding Toolkit, National Public Health Information Coalition
Disaster Assistance.gov, US government platform for locating disaster-related resources
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Toll-free FEMA hotline for survivors of Hurricane Harvey: 1-800-621-FEMA

Keeping your family and community healthy after the storm

Food Safety:
Food Safety Tips for Areas Affected by Hurricane Irma, USDA press release
Protect Food and Water Before, During and After a Storm, FDA

Infectious Diseases:
Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC
Vector-borne Diseases, CDC​​​​​​​
Waterborne Disease Prevention, CDC

Drinking Water:
Drinking Water Safety and Testing Information for Texas, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (accredited labs for microbial testing of drinking water, advice for customers of public water systems, disinfecting your well, etc.)
Drinking Water Testing and Information for Houston, TX, City of Houston
Private Wells: What to Do after the Flood, EPA
Private Wells: Water-related Diseases and Contaminants, CDC
Health Department Laboratory, Drinking Water Testing and Information, City of Houston

Other:
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Clinical Guidance, CDC
Mold: Cleanup and Remediation, CDC
Mold: Flood Cleanup, EPA
Waste Management, EPA

Rebuilding and repair

Cleanup after a Hurricane, CDC
Status of Systems in Areas Affected by Harvey, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – drinking water, waste water and sewage, residential wells, flood waters, water infrastructure

The post Hurricane preparation and response resource list appeared first on APHL Lab Blog.

Comparing the strength of Hurricane Irma against previous hurricanes

For perspective, The New York Times compares the strength of Hurricane Irma to hurricanes from the past 50 years that reached Category 3. They transition through three views in the scroller, which would probably be too advanced on their own, but I think the short notes and focus on Irma gets the charts over the hump.

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Thirty years of hurricanes

After their graphic for thirty years of floods, Axios follows up with thirty years of Atlantic hurricanes. Each area represents the wind speed and time of a hurricane, and color represents the category.

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Cost of Hurricane Harvey

Kevin Quealy for The Upshot charted the estimated cost of Hurricane Harvey, along with the cost of storms past, going back to 1980. I like the animated bands for the Harvey estimates — kind of like a neon light.

If you’re interested in the data, you can grab it from NOAA.

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Harvey rainfall map

In case you didn’t hear, Houston is getting some rain due to Hurricane Harvey. The Washington Post provides a map that shows the cumulative rainfall since Friday morning through Sunday morning.

Also worth coming back to: the flooding piece from last year by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.

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National Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 7-13, 2017): It Only Takes One!

Hurricane Awareness Week

As the saying goes, “all politics are local.” The same goes for hurricanes. A busy hurricane season is not just defined by the total number of hurricanes in a season, but rather if any hurricane hits your local community.  It only takes one.  This mantra provides the impetus every May for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners to participate in the National Hurricane Preparedness Week.  The goal of National Hurricane Preparedness Week is to motivate communities, businesses, and individuals to know their risks, take steps to prepare, and encourage their loved ones, neighbors, and social network to do the same.

This year, one preparedness action will be profiled each day of the week with useful tips and additional resources available for anyone to access. The seven actions are:Hurricane Awareness Tour

Beyond preparedness messaging, there is a lot going on during National Hurricane Preparedness Week. The Hurricane Awareness Tour brings the hurricane hunter aircraft to six East Coast locations over six days. At each location, school students, community leaders, and the public are invited to get an up close and personal experience with the science of hurricane exploration and the scientists who intentionally fly into the eye of a hurricane.

In addition, there will be “Scientists in the Classroom” webinars, public service announcements, and lots of social media buzz. Follow the social media conversations using the hashtags #hurricanestrong, #hurricaneprep and #ItOnlyTakesOne.

Preparedness isn’t just about checking off a “To Do” list, but is a 365-day a year mindset. And May is the perfect time to put the focus on hurricane and tropical storm preparedness. Whether you or family members live along, or are planning to visit, the coast where storm surge from tropical systems can be life-threatening, or are well inland in areas where these systems can bring flooding rains, taking steps now to be better prepared gives you the advantage when the threat becomes a reality.

Looking Back: 5 Big Lessons from 2016

Looking through the rearview mirror while driving in the planes

Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response
Dr. Stephen Redd, Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response

CDC is always there – before, during, and after emergencies – and 2016 was no exception. Through it all, we’ve brought you the best and latest science-based information on being prepared and staying safe. Here’s a look back at 5 big lessons from a very eventful year. Follow the links to discover the full stories!

1. Expect the unexpected

Emergencies can devastate a single area, as we saw with Hurricane Matthew, or span the globe, like Zika virus. This year has shown us, once again, that we can’t predict the next disaster.

Zika virus was one of the top public health stories of 2016, and will continue to make headlines in 2017. CDC has worked hard since the start of the outbreak to make sure that people know how Zika is spread and how to protect themselves and their neighbors from the virus, including how to control mosquitos inside and outside the home.

This year, our Strategic National Stockpile was called on to locate and purchase the products to assemble ~25,000 Zika Prevention Kits for pregnant women in the U.S. territories. CDC also issued 180 Zika virus import permits so scientists could conduct research to develop better diagnostic tests, vaccine, and medicines. In any developing crisis, our mission is always to “conduct critical science to inform and communicate health information that protects our nation” against public health threats.

2. A health threat anywhere is a threat everywhereAbout 2/3 of the world remains unprepared to handle a public health emergency.

Diseases like SARS and Ebola – and now Zika – compel us to focus on stopping outbreaks early and close to the source. As part of the Global Health Security Agenda, teams of international experts travel to countries, including the U.S., to report on how well their public health systems are working to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks. This assessment process is called the Joint External Evaluation.

In 2016, we worked at home and around the world to use the law to prepare for global health emergencies, train leaders from 25 countries in public health emergency management, and protect the health of those affected by humanitarian crises.

3. Kids and communities matter

Fred in bathtub

There’s a saying in emergency management that goes something like, “emergencies begin and end locally.” Truer words were never spoken. The minutes, hours, and days immediately following a disaster are the most critical for saving lives, and local communities are our first responders. Every community needs to be resilient and prepared to handle the unexpected.

Prepared communities look like the Georgia Department of Public Health, which conducted a statewide exercise to practice their response to a bioterrorist attack of plague, and New York City, which used lessons learned from West Nile virus to prepare for Zika.

Children are a particularly vulnerable part of our communities, and they have different needs than adults. Children need to be included and involved in planning and preparing for emergencies.

Fred the Preparedness Dog sets a great example by visiting schools across Kansas to teach kids to get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Parents should also take steps to prepare themselves and their child in case they get separated during or after an emergency.

4. Words save lives

7 Things to Consider When Communicating About Health

In an emergency, the right message at the right time from the right person can save lives. When a crisis hits, communicators need to quickly and clearly inform people about health and safety threats. Communication is especially critical when disaster strikes suddenly and people need to take action right away, as in a flood or hurricane, or when we may not yet have all the answers, as happened with Zika virus.

To make sure people know what to do to protect their health, our trained communicators learn how to put themselves in others’ shoes: Who are the people receiving the message, what do they need to know, and how do they get information? We apply the principles of Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication in every emergency response.

5. Preparedness starts with you

brain

Get a flu shotWash your handsMake a kit. Be careful in winter weather. Prepare for your holidays. Be aware of natural disasters or circulating illnesses that may affect you or those you care about.

There are many ways to prepare, and in 2016 we provided the latest science and information to empower every one of us to take action. Whether we talked about how to clean mold from a flooded home, how to wash your hands the right way, or how to use your brain in emergencies, our timely tips and advice put the power of preparedness in your hands. What you do with it is up to you. Our hope is that you’ll resolve to be better prepared in 2017.

Tips on Cleaning Mold After a Flood

Home with mold.

Mold inside home.Returning to your home after a flood is a big part of getting your life back to normal. But you may be facing a new challenge: mold. What can you do to get rid of it?  How do you get the mold out of your home and stay safe at the same time? CDC has investigated floods, mold, and cleanup, and offers practical tips for homeowners and others on how to safely and efficiently remove mold from the home.

In 2005, thousands of people along the Gulf Coast were faced with cleaning up mold from their homes after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One of our first concerns was to let homeowners and others know how they could clean up mold safely. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, we teamed up with other federal agencies to provide practical advice on mold cleanup. This guidance outlines what to do before and after going into a moldy building, how to decide if you can do the cleanup yourself or need to hire someone, and how you can do the cleanup safely.

Prepare to Clean Up

It isn’t necessary to identify the type of mold in your home, and CDC doesn’t recommend routine sampling for mold. If you are susceptible to mold, there may be a health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, it needs to be removed.

Before you start any cleanup work, call your insurance company and take pictures of the home and your belongings. Throw away, or at least move outside, anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours. Remember – drying your home and removing water-damaged items is the most important step to prevent mold damage.8 Tips to Clean Up Mold

Protect Yourself

We offer specific recommendations for different groups of people and different cleanup activities. This guidance educates people about the type of protection (think: gloves, goggles, masks) you need for different parts of your mold cleanup. It also identifies groups of people who should and should not be doing cleanup activities.

Be Careful  With Bleach

Many people use bleach to clean up mold. If you decide to use bleach, use it safely by wearing gloves, a mask, and goggles to protect yourself. Remember these four tips to stay safe:

  • NEVER mix bleach with ammonia or any other cleaning product.
  • ALWAYS open windows and doors when using bleach, to let fumes escape.
  • NEVER use bleach straight from the bottle to clean surfaces. Use no more than 1 cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water when you’re cleaning up mold. If you are using stronger, professional strength bleach use less than 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.
  • ALWAYS protect your mouth, nose, skin, and eyes against both mold and bleach with an N-95 mask, gloves, and goggles. You can buy an N-95 mask at home improvement and hardware stores.

You can take steps to keep yourself and others protected while cleaning up mold after a flood. Make sure to follow CDC’s recommendations so you can return home safely.

ResourcesHome with mold.