September 13, 2017 - As a public health advocate, I am always eager to assist patients and providers in their preparedness and relief efforts. Recent weather events in the Atlantic allowed me to utilize the skills I have obtained while being at Healthcare Ready for the first time. Shortly after Hurricane Harvey brought record flooding to the southeastern part of Texas, we received word that Hurricane Irma was developing into a devastating storm in the Caribbean. For the first time, Healthcare Ready activated for two disasters simultaneously. With our dual activation for both Hurricane Harvey and Irma I was able to learn more about how public health and preparedness interconnect.
Initially, our activation for Hurricane Harvey involved us responding to requests for assistance from partners on the ground in Texas and Louisiana and providing information between sectors. My main duties included leading outreach to public health organizations and tracking all requests for assistance/ information. As we began activation for Hurricane Irma, my once small role in our response became much larger. The uniqueness of this activation required me to become more involved with patient assistance and outreach. Speaking directly to patients needing medications, shelter, or anything essential to their well-being allowed me to gain a more profound sense of how climate and weather burden public health needs. A large part of disaster preparedness and response ties into public health in more ways than I knew. Something as simple as refilling prescriptions before an impending natural disaster could save a life after the storm passes. The more preparations a community has in place for a natural disaster, the more resilient its citizens are. The less prepared populations become extremely overwhelmed with healthcare needs that can’t be met.
For me, it’s been an extremely valuable experience learning how activations work and the various components that go into responding to disasters. Coming into the activation with fresh eyes allowed me to gain a better appreciation for public health and how better practices in public health can save lives before, during, and after disasters. Learning more about the barriers that patients, providers, and first responders face during a disaster gave me a clearer outlook on how public health fits into emergency preparedness and community resiliency. Having the opportunity to work in disaster relief has helped expand my passion for public health as well as given me greater insight into healthcare’s essential place in community resilience. Record-breaking events like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma underscore the need to prioritize healthcare preparedness like never before.