Preparing for Hurricane Irma and the New Normal

Preparing for Hurricane Irma and the New Normal

September 10, 2017

Like many of our partners right now, we are in an uncomfortable in between – between recovery efforts in Texas for Harvey and response efforts in Florida for Hurricane Irma. With Irma crawling from the Keys towards Naples and the west coast of Florida as I type this, our emergency operations center is in divide and conquer mode, with half of the staff focused on following up with patients from Harvey and half closely tracking Irma’s progress and reaching out to partners in the storm’s path. At this stage, though, we recognize we are largely in wait and see mode with Irma. We’ve pushed out the preparedness messages we could, reminding patients to get emergency 30-day refills of medications, to pack their medicine with them in air tight bags when evacuating, and to take pictures of insurance cards and medicine labels.   Rx Open is turned on and we are primed to help patients and responders in the coming days. We spent the better part of the morning helping patients complete last minute preparations and now, we are waiting for the second wave of response to begin.


We’ve talked about this moment for some time, this ‘new normal’ of responding to multiple events at once. We knew it would be challenging in many respects, from determining resource allocation to mitigating against staff and responder burnout. But one area that was hard to predict just how challenging it would be is this pivot from one response to another. All eyes are on Florida and the path of Irma, and rightfully so. The storm is record-breaking and terrifying, with millions in its path and millions of patients’ care already impacted. Healthcare in Florida will be changed as a result, and not for a lack of preparedness, but because the extremity of some events – like Irma – are nearly impossible to prepare for. These types of extreme events are part of the ‘new normal’ we’ve been dreading. Not just multiple events at once, but more extreme as well.


But we still need eyes on Harvey. And on the wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest. And on Hurricane Jose. We know there is still an incredible amount of work to be done in Texas, but that there will be an incredible amount of work to be done for Florida. So while we join the rest of the nation today in watching the coverage of Irma, while talking to our partners in the field and preparing for the response to come,  reconciling this ‘new normal’ will be in the back of our mind. We look forward to participating in the after action conversations to Harvey and Irma, but recognize there is a bigger conversation to be had.


Sarah Baker, MPP

Sarah Baker is the Programs Manager at Healthcare Ready. In this capacity, she provides a wide range of policy research, writing, and analytical support to the organization's preparedness initiatives. Prior to joining Healthcare Ready, Sarah served as a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security and a variety of private sector organizations, during which time she supported the design, conduct, and evaluation of scores of preparedness exercises. Sarah recently received her Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy and holds a B.A. degree from the University of Notre Dame.