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Hurricane Harvey left a path of destruction in its wake, resulting in over 100 deaths and damaging critical infrastructure. During a disaster, public health surveillance is necessary to track emerging illnesses and injuries, identify at-risk populations, and assess the effectiveness of response efforts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Red Cross collaborate on shelter surveillance to monitor the health of the sheltered population and help guide response efforts.
We analyzed data collected from 24 Red Cross shelters between August 25, 2017, and September 14, 2017. We described the aggregate morbidity data collected during Harvey compared with previous hurricanes (Gustav, Ike, and Sandy).
Over one-third (38%) of reasons for visit were for health care maintenance; 33% for acute illnesses, which includes respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pain; 19% for exacerbation of chronic disease; 7% for mental health; and 4% for injury. The Red Cross treated 41% of clients within the shelters; however, reporting of disposition was often missed. These results are comparable to previous hurricanes.
The capacity of Red Cross shelter staff to address the acute health needs of shelter residents is a critical resource for local public health agencies overwhelmed by the disaster. However, there remains room for improvement because reporting remained inconsistent.
Two Category 5 storms, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, hit the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) within 13 days of each other in September 2017. These storms caused catastrophic damage across the territory, including widespread loss of power, destruction of homes, and devastation of critical infrastructure. During large scale disasters such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria, public health surveillance is an important tool to track emerging illnesses and injuries, identify at-risk populations, and assess the effectiveness of response efforts. The USVI Department of Health (DoH) partnered with shelter staff volunteers to monitor the health of the sheltered population and help guide response efforts.
Shelter volunteers collect data on the American Red Cross Aggregate Morbidity Report form that tallies the number of client visits at a shelter’s health services every 24 hours. Morbidity data were collected at all 5 shelters on St. Thomas and St. Croix between September and October 2017. This article describes the health surveillance data collected in response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, 1130 health-related client visits were reported, accounting for 1655 reasons for the visits (each client may have more than 1 reason for a single visit). Only 1 shelter reported data daily. Over half of visits (51.2%) were for health care management; 17.7% for acute illnesses, which include respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal symptoms, and pain; 14.6% for exacerbation of chronic disease; 9.8% for mental health; and 6.7% for injury. Shelter volunteers treated many clients within the shelters; however, reporting of the disposition (eg, referred to physician, pharmacist) was often missed (78.1%).
Shelter surveillance is an efficient means of quickly identifying and characterizing health issues and concerns in sheltered populations following disasters, allowing for the development of evidence-based strategies to address identified needs. When incorporated into broader surveillance strategies using multiple data sources, shelter data can enable disaster epidemiologists to paint a more comprehensive picture of community health, thereby planning and responding to health issues both within and outside of shelters. The findings from this report illustrated that managing chronic conditions presented a more notable resource demand than acute injuries and illnesses. Although there remains room for improvement because reporting was inconsistent throughout the response, the capacity of shelter staff to address the health needs of shelter residents and the ability to monitor the health needs in the sheltered population were critical resources for the USVI DoH overwhelmed by the disaster. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:38-43)
Two category 5 storms hit the US Virgin Islands (USVI) within 13 days of each other in September 2017. This caused an almost complete loss of power and devastated critical infrastructure such as the hospitals and airports
The USVI Department of Health conducted 2 response Community Assessments for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPERs) in November 2017 and a recovery CASPER in February 2018. CASPER is a 2-stage cluster sampling method designed to provide household-based information about a community’s needs in a timely, inexpensive, and representative manner.
Almost 70% of homes were damaged or destroyed, 81.2% of homes still needed repair, and 10.4% of respondents felt their home was unsafe to live in approximately 5 months after the storms. Eighteen percent of individual respondents indicated that their mental health was “not good” for 14 or more days in the past month, a significant increase from 2016.
The CASPERs helped characterize the status and needs of residents after the devastating hurricanes and illustrate the evolving needs of the community and the progression of the recovery process. CASPER findings were shared with response and recovery partners to promote data-driven recovery efforts, improve the efficiency of the current response and recovery efforts, and strengthen emergency preparedness in USVI. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:53-62)
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