Public Health Emergency - Leading a Nation Prepared
When Hurricane Irene made landfall on the Outer Banks, NC on August 27, 2011, it brought widespread flooding and wind damage. Some area hospitals had to evacuate, while others had to help evacuees and non-evacuees. Despite these challenges, state responders and healthcare facilities were more resilient in the face of the disaster because of the planning, training, healthcare coalitions, volunteer programs, interoperable communications and other resources that the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) provided or supported in North Carolina.
Before the storm struck, the HPP supported disaster planning and training efforts that were later used to help keep people safe in the wake of Hurricane Irene. HPP helped North Carolina develop Regional Emergency Support Function 8 Response and Recovery Plans, which were used during and after the storm. HPP funding also supported planning, training and exercises for the North Carolina State Medical Assistance Teams. In addition, regional partners used Regional Partnerships and Coalition funding for planning, training, and exercises. All eight regions are actively involved with the development of trainings and exercises as well as the response to real world events. Each region is required to provide at a least one regional exercise and participate in one statewide exercise to include the North Carolina State Medical Response System. Once trained, they were able to serve as liaisons with the North Carolina State Medical Response System and regional stakeholders during the event.
Healthcare coalitions provide an important part of the foundation for improved communication in support of an effective response. HPP worked with North Carolina to improve healthcare coalitions by building on the existing infrastructure of the Trauma System. Each team involved in the response is made up of personnel from a variety of specialties and organizations. The successful interaction among the personnel and organizations which make up these teams improved preparedness for and response to the storm.
HPP funding also supported interoperable communications so that responders and healthcare professionals would have the up-to-date information they needed to make the best decisions. HPP funding supported the Viper Medical Network, which was used for communications throughout the response to Hurricane Irene. It also funded geographic information system (GIS) support, the State Medical Asset Resource Tracking Tool, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) data systems.
During a disaster, states depend heavily on support from public health volunteers, including those registered under the Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP). ESAR-VHP is a federal program created to support states and territories in establishing standardized volunteer registration programs for disasters and public health and medical emergencies. The program, administered on the state level, verifies health professionals' identification and credentials so that they can respond more quickly when disaster strikes. HPP funding for ESAR-VHP management helped ensure that qualified health professionals could quickly be brought in during the response.
Having the right equipment on hand during an emergency helps to save lives and protect health. Using HPP funding, State Medical Assistance Teams purchased pharmaceuticals, decontamination and triage equipment, so that those resources were ready to be deployed when they were needed most.
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