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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Helping communities better anticipate medical needs during disasters

emPower

Online map gives emergency planners an accurate picture of medically vulnerable population in their communities

When major storms hit an area, they can knock out power for days at a time. For over 2.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who rely upon electricity-dependent medical equipment, such as ventilators, cardiac devices and even wheelchairs, these power outages can be life-threatening.

The HHS emPOWER Map gives health and emergency planners, communities and other partners an important tool that they can use to better plan to protect health. The longer power outages last, the greater the risk that residents who rely upon electricity-dependent medical equipment and devices may be hospitalized or die. By using the HHS emPOWER Map, communities can work to reduce those risks.

Lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, our nation’s health sector awakened to the need to better prepare for the health needs of these vulnerable patients. After Hurricane Sandy, hospitals in areas affected by the hurricane were flooded with people – not only those needing acute care following the disaster, but also those who sought to access electricity at local hospitals to plug in life-maintaining electricity-dependent medical equipment. This surge can tie up local medical resources, limiting the local healthcare system’s ability to provide care and recover from an emergency.

What became clear during Hurricane Sandy is that health responses to emergencies could be improved by better preparing prior to, during and after the storm for at-risk populations with access and functional needs, including chronically ill and aging populations.

Partnering to emPOWER communities

After identifying this need, ASPR collaborated with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on a solution: the HHS emPOWER Initiative. Central to emPOWER is an interactive public map which ASPR launched in 2015.

The HHS emPOWER Map provides the total number of Medicare beneficiaries with a claim for certain electricity-dependent durable medical equipment – such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators, enteral feeding, and wheelchairs – at the national, state, territory, county and zip code levels.  The map also provides real-time severe weather tracking information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help communities track and plan for emergencies.

With the information in the HHS emPOWER Map, states and municipalities can better plan for communities’ access and functional needs before a storm hits. In the event of an emergency, public health authorities can request additional information, such as addresses, to save lives.

emPOWER in action

Nearly 40,000 individuals across the nation have been using the publicly available HHS emPOWER Map to inform their preparedness, response and recovery decision-making and activities to better ensure the best health outcomes for their communities following an emergency-regardless of size.

The HHS emPOWER Map has helped a variety of local officials ensure that the health needs of residents who depend on durable medical equipment can be met during disasters:

  • Public health officials and emergency managers have used the map to help inform electricity providers of areas that require prioritized power restoration due to high concentrations of electricity-dependent residents.
  • Hospitals, healthcare coalitions and emergency medical services are using the tool to better estimate how many people in their service areas may rapidly request assistance and or seek out emergency care in their emergency departments and adjust their plans to handle such surges.
  • Emergency managers at all levels have used the tool to help identify the best locations for shelters and to anticipate supplies and resources needed to support these individuals in the event they are displaced by an emergency; and,
  • Local officials have used the HHS emPOWER Map to better estimate evacuation needs and begin to consider transportation resources in the event of a prolonged power outage following a disaster.

Hurricane Matthew offered another opportunity to show how this data could help thousands of communities across four states. Using the emPOWER Map, federal, state and local public health and emergency management officials rapidly identified the populations in the storm’s path and adjusted plans and response operations to address shelter and evacuation assistance needs. They determined gaps and identified areas where urban search and rescue and or health and wellness outreach may be needed.

Value added

The power of the HHS emPOWER Map is that it enhances every community’s awareness of those who may be at-risk and offers everyone the opportunity to plan for those needs before an emergency or disaster strikes. Every community member can lend a hand and support public health, health care, emergency management so your community is ready when the next emergency happens.

Check out the HHS emPOWER Map to learn how it could help protect health in your community.

  • This page last reviewed: April 18, 2017