Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
Author: Byron Mason, ASPR Recovery Field Coordinator Published Date: 3/26/2013 10:15:00 AM
Category: Response & Recovery;
Author: Byron Mason, ASPR Recovery Field Coordinator
When a massive disaster like Hurricane Sandy strikes, communities don’t just need help responding, they need help recovering and becoming more resilient in the face of future disasters.
What is a successful recovery and how is ASPR working to translate that vision into a reality? ASPR’s Recovery Coordination Office provides coordination and technical assistance to support locally led recovery efforts in the restoration of public health, health care, and social services networks to promote the resilience, health and well-being of individuals and communities affected by disaster.
Recovery is a massive undertaking that requires solid partnerships, excellent situational awareness and the ability to mitigate or solve a wide variety of challenges.
Post-disaster recovery begins during response, not when response ends. That’s why I deployed as a health and social services recovery field coordinator to New Jersey and my colleague Natalie Grant deployed to New York just days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, even before a joint field office was established for formal recovery efforts. We’ve been deployed since those early days, 114 days and counting, to help make successful recovery a reality in these hard hit states.
Hurricane Sandy is the first large-scale disaster following the release of the 2011 National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF). In response to Sandy, the Health and Social Services (HSS) Recovery Support Function (RSF) was activated and deployed to New Jersey and New York to assess disaster impacts with recovery implications, identify unmet needs, and support development of recovery support strategies.
The mission of the HSS RSF encompasses public, environmental, and behavioral health; food safety; social services; schools; and children in disasters. Subsequently, we actively engaged multiple departments in each state to identify many issues that needed federal recovery support, including access to services, behavioral health impacts – particularly in relation to internal displacement, housing, and employment concerns – and environmental health threats.
We also connected partners within state departments of health, human services, education, and children and families to federal and state emergency management partners active in recovery. We even facilitated discussions between the states and FEMA Public Assistance, Small Business Administration, and other federal partners that had resources needed for these communities to recover.
With my support, New Jersey established the state-led Environmental Health Task Force - which includes participation from HHS, EPA, OSHA and American Red Cross – to coordinate guidance, training and support to local health departments and New Jersey residents. Natalie is coordinating a similar effort in New York to address increasingly urgent concerns related to environmental hazards – such as mold, lead, asbestos – with long-term health implications, as residents rebuild in an environment with aging infrastructure.
Part of increasing resilience is making tough choices about what facilities to rebuild and how to best use resources to make sure that communities are able to withstand the next storm. For example, many of the impacted healthcare facilities in New Jersey and New York were located in a floodplain and in coastal areas. Factoring Advisory Base Flood Elevations into rebuilding decisions is necessary to reduce risk and increase resiliency. I worked with FEMA’s Mitigation Assessment Team to identify impacted hospitals for assessment., and New Jersey’s Department of Health is using the results of these assessments to inform development and implementation of its mitigation strategies.
Transition to Steady-State
As spring nears and the summer’s hurricane season fast approaches, we have begun developing transition plans to engage regional health, social services, and education officials in the states’ ongoing recovery efforts.
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