The World Food Program defines food insecurity to exist “when people do not have adequate physical, social or economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Food insecurity is often the result of multiple factors such as war, poverty, or poor use of farming land. However, as agriculture and food production rely heavily on climate conditions and water availability, insufficient agricultural production due to natural disaster could take years to restore. When natural disasters such as earthquakes, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, or tsunamis occur, not only do communities suffer from the loss of harvest but also from the impacts of contaminated bodies of water, destruction of irrigation systems, and increased susceptibility to disease.
In Malawi, 1.63 million people are unable to access food in order to meet their basic needs due to poor harvests and weather-related shocks. Recent heavy rainfall in Colombia has caused severe flooding leaving thousands without stable food resources. Food insecurity is a worldwide crisis as an estimated 925 million people worldwide are undernourished as reported in 2010 by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Although this number represents about 16% of the population of developing countries, highly developed countries such as the US are still affected as an estimated 14.9% of households in the US are food insecure as of 2011 due to various implications both natural disaster and non-natural disaster related.
Droughts occur during an extended period of time ranging from months to years where a region experiences abnormally little to no rainfall. Droughts are currently the single most common cause of food shortages around the world. The extent of the effects of a drought depend upon multiple factors within a community such as the structure and capacity of existing water systems, local governance of water use, economic development, and at-risk populations living within the affected area. Public health implications of drought include compromised quantity and quality of drinking water, effects of air quality, increased risk for wildfires and dust storms, and increased incidence of illness and disease due to malnutrition and/or dehydration. Below are links addressing how to deal with droughts before, during, and after their occurrence along with an overall guide to preparing and responding to droughts at the community level.
Although drought is the natural disaster responsible for the most food shortages, flooding is the most common natural disaster and it’s implications are equally devastating and long lasting. The impacts of flooding range from agricultural production, water contamination, loss of crops and livestock, and environmental damage to and from agricultural chemicals. Below are links aimed to inform the public of ways to prepare themselves for flooding and how to deal with the disaster during and after the event.
Countries most affected by food insecurity are those affected by long-lasting or recurring crises, both natural and human-induced, and limited capacity to respond. In order to lessen the detriments of food insecurity, programs need to be put in place that address these problems over a long term span versus immediate and emergency-based care. Many countries show that building longer-term assistance initiatives on the framework of existing local institutions offers the best hope of long-term sustainability and real improvement of food security such as the one implemented by the World Food Programme.
Real-time communication with the public is necessary for effective public health emergency response. Online interactions can help public health practitioners and emergency management agencies connect with communities before, during and after disasters. Social media can help convey the full cycle of emergency situations: preparedness, alerts, warnings, response, recovery and community resilience.
The “Now Trending Challenge” was a 2012 contest issued by the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). The contest was to create a web-based application using open source twitter data to find specific keywords related to diseases and natural disasters. To fulfill the contest requirements, the applications must generate a daily list of the top five trending illnesses in a selected geographic area of interest. The information collected can be sent to local and state health departments and public health practitioners, and can be used as an indicator of emerging illnesses in a population. There are two web-based applications which have been submitted to the “Now Trending Challenge.” MappyHealth and Crowdbreaks.
The winner of the contest, MappyHealth, was submitted by the American Nursing Informatics Association. MappyHealth uses twitter data which could potentially be used to predict an emerging outbreak of disease. Using twitter’s application programming interface (API), MappyHealth has analyzed almost 5 million tweets, and tracks 234 terms associated with specific diseases such as Acute Respiratory Illness using keywords like: cough, fever, chills, sore throat, muscle ache. On the website, there are examples of disease trend spikes are associated with the terms MappyHealth tracks. Overall, MappyHealth hopes to create awareness of certain diseases through their efforts of their web-based application.
The "Now Trending Challenge" also influenced Crowdbreaks, a web application developed by the Research Group at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (CIDD) at Penn State University. Crowdbreaks is a crowdsourced disease surveillance system which uses keywords and trending topics from Twitter to provide geographically specific disease information through user feedback. User feedback allows the software behind Crowdbreaks to continue to refine its ability to detect disease relevant tweets. This user feedback component of Crowdbreaks is not seen in MappyHealth. According to the CIDD Research Group “At the same time, millions of people use social media to share how they feel, both good and bad. In a very real sense, it's like having millions of sensors to help us understand the health situation on the ground."
The “Now Trending Challenge” was not the only contest the ASPR created in 2012. ASPR’s Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge was an opportunity for software application developers to design new Facebook applications. The application would establish social connections in an emergency event, and increase community resilience. There were three winners of this competition: Lifeline (1st place), JAMAJIC 360 (2nd place), and AreYouOk? (3rd place).
Lifeline was created by two Brown University graduates (Evan Donahue and Erik Stayton), JAMAJIC was created by the group JAMAJIC 360 from Las Vegas (David Vinson, Erick Rodriguez, Gregg Orr, and Garth Winckler). And AreYouOk? Was created by team of eleven University of Illinois students. The objective of the Lifeline contest was to create a Facebook application individuals could use to identify friends who agreed to check on them and provide resources (like food and shelter) in the event of an emergency.
The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities Services, in conjunction with Temple University CPREP and the University of Pennsylvania hosted a mental health response exercise on January 8, 2013. Sarah Powell (Temple CPREP), Patty Stewart-Taylor (DBHIDS Acute Services), and Phil DeMara (DBHIDS Emergency Preparedness) were the lead organizers and controllers for this event. This exercise, the third designed and coordinated by DBHIDS and Temple CPREP, simulated a reception center for families, staff, and students that might be opened in the wake of this type of incident. Response Teams were given the opportunity to practice Psychological First Aid skills and to work within the Incident Command System.
Several organizations participated in the exercise, including but not limited to: provider agencies, regional county partners, school districts, Philadelphia Police and Police chaplains, victim/witness programs, county crisis response, and CISM teams. There were over 100 attendees, including evaluators, observers, and exercise controllers. Steve Crimando, a national and international trainer and speaker commented that “Philadelphia has one of the best teams (in mental health response) in the country, and is ahead of the curve in its preparation for active shooter and similar events.”
An after action report summarizing the exercise, feedback from participants and observers is being developed and will be completed soon. Upcoming Local and Regional Trainings Mental Health Response Teams work in a Family DBHIDS Emergency Preparedness Program Active Shooter Mental Health Response Functional Exercise.
Mar 13-14, 2013. Emotional and Spiritual Care in Disasters. ICISF. Montgomery County Fire Academy. 2 Days, 9-4pm. 48 seats.
April 9, 2013. Psychological First Aid. Steve Crimando. Temple University Center City. 9am-4pm. 35 seats.
For information related to these trainings, please contact:
Phillip DeMara, MSEd.
Director of Emergency Preparedness
City of Philadelphia
Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbilities Services
The scientific community generally agrees that earthquakes cannot be predicted with a high degree of accuracy, yet six seismologists and one government official have been found guilty of manslaughter in the 2009 L'Aquila, Italy earthquake. The earthquake claimed 309 lives and caused extensive damage to the city. Citizens and legal prosecutors were angered by the way that the situation was handled. Franco Barberi, Enzo Boschi, Giulio Selvaggi, Gian Michele Calvi, Mauro Dolce, and Bernardo De Bernardinis were sentenced to six years in prison, monetary fines to be paid out to the families of victims, and they are prohibited from serving the public.
With small seismic activity occurring weeks before the earthquake, the seven members of the National Commission for the Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks Commission conducted a meeting to evaluate the situation. Six days before the earthquake occurred, a press release was issued where the commission stated that “while a major earthquake was not impossible, it was not likely.” Many citizens felt that this statement reassured them not to take precautions and causing them to be unprepared. The scientific community feels that the ruling of this case will now discourage seismologists and other public figures from sharing their predictions for fear of punishment if their prediction or advice is wrong.
This controversial case points to the need for clearer messages that warn the public of risks and the potential consequences. Even though seismologists cannot give an exact date, time, and location of when an earthquake can occur, alerting citizens of possible risks can mitigate the damages and emotional distress that people will experience. People should be aware of the limitations of predicting an earthquake, and be cautious of the messages they hear. They are also encouraged to be prepared for a disaster that could strike at any time.
ReliefWeb.int is a great resource that aggregates data / news from organizations on the ground during international emergencies. Their overview of Hurricane Sandy includes information about the impact of the storm in the Caribbean.
Resilience and Recovery
NPR Science Friday interviewed Randy Horton of The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Andrew C. Revkin, who writes the Dot Earth blog at NYTimes, about recovery efforts, climate change, and some thoughts on how rebuild.
Cultural Awareness is the ability to communicate, understand, and relate to individuals across different cultures. Cultural awareness is important when attempting to reach out to and help diverse populations. It is also an important principle to remember when conceptualizing and implementing interventions. SAMHSA addresses the importance of this topic in a podcast that can be viewed by clicking here.
In the podcast, Dr. Russell Jones, a professor of psychology at Virginia Tech University, who specializes in trauma psychology as a Clinical Psychologist, discusses the importance of using cultural awareness as a tool for developing trust among populations effected by large scale disasters and other traumas. Dr. Jones points out that there is a great need for cultural awareness among ethnic minorities given “the frequency of traumatic exposures, greater risk for negative outcomes, and often lack of culturally sensitive disaster services”. Dr. Jones then goes on to give an example of when consideration of culture can affect efforts to help during disasters. While responding to Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Jones spoke to a man who would not talk to any of the first responders because they were white and he was black. The first responders did not understand fully why the gentleman was refusing help. A lack of education and sensitivity as to how certain cultures respond to others was the cause for confusion in this situation. However, by continuously increasing your understanding of various cultures, you will find ways to relate to them and develop their trust. Dr. Jones says continued efforts are needed to remove the fear, mindset, and stigma some people have regarding mental health assistance. He also states that it is very important to know how to relate to individual you will interact with prior to, during, and following the trauma.
After Dr. Jones is finished, Dr. April Naturale, a specialist in traumatic stress, discusses cultural awareness as it pertains specifically to children during disasters. Dr Naturale makes the point that children’s culture, religious beliefs, and spiritual beliefs affect their perception of events. Dr. Naturale notes that adults tend to underestimate the impact of disasters and trauma on children, which can differ from culture to culture. Children often look to caregivers to determine the impact of a traumatic event. Because different cultures view children and their feelings differently, it is important to be aware of those differences in order to tailor your approach to the individual who will have the most impact on the child. As well, it is also important to discuss with caregivers how children will react to the caregivers’ emotions. This is especially true for children under 5 who base their emotions on those of their caregiver.
For more information, listen to SAMSHA’s podcast or view the transcript. Also, you can check your own cultural awareness by taking this QUIZ.
A short time after Hurricane Isaac began dumping more than a foot of rain in the southern states, CNN published a list of recommendations for preparing for hurricanes. The first item on this list:
"Download an application to your smartphone that can notify people where you are, and if you need help or are safe."
Downloading an app sounds like a reasonable step for smartphone owners. As recently as 2007 this item wouldn't have been part of an emergency preparations list, but by now it’s not really much of a story that one of the best ways to keep informed and connected during a crisis is to have a well-equipped smart phone. The CNN recommended smartphone app is Hurricane from the American Red Cross (available for iOS and Android) which includes - among many useful things – the ability to review hurricane information of the last 161 years.
A map of all the hurricanes since 1851 created by John Nelson using publicly available NOAA data. To orient yourself -that is Antarctica at the center.
Further down CNN’s list we find this item:
“Continue listening to a NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) or the local news for the latest updates.”
To listen to these recurring broadcasts requires a special, weather radio (a battery or self powered model is highly recommended). NWR broadcasts cover approximately 95% of the US population however by the NOAA’s own estimation only 5 -10% of people own a weather radio. By comparison a Pew Research Center study from earlier this year reports that 46% of American adults own smartphones and it is widely acknowledged that cell phone ownership around the world is the growing norm.
The National Weather Service is well aware of the reach of cell phone networks of course. This past Monday morning around four o’clock I woke up to an unexpected, unset alarm. I found that my phone was showing a red "warning" triangle and a message from “NWS” about a flash flood watch in my area. This wasn’t the first time I'd received a message like this. The message from the National Weather Service was delivered using the infrastructure of commercial mobile carriers according to the requirements of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS). The messages operate slightly differently than standard text messages (SMS or MMS) so you can't respond to them with a gracious “thx!!! ;)”. Most phones purchased after 2010 have the ability to receive these messages regardless of their operating system. Consumers are able opt out of these alerts (EXCEPT for Presidential messages), but opting out is not recommended since these messages are known to save lives.
I'm sure you've heard the very catchy summer jam "Call Me Maybe", well the members of the 'Get Ready' Team at APHA sure have and they've done a video cover with their own lyrics of course, urging Americans to get ready and prepare themselves, their families and their communities for unplanned disasters and/or hazards.
Click on this link to watch the video, it also contains the lyrics so you can sing along.
I’m sure you have set your clocks back already, but did you check your stores for emergency supplies? Are you missing anything? Are there any expired food items?
The Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management encourages you to check your emergency stores, make sure they are fresh and also change the batteries of any battery-powered equipment you have such as flashlights, smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, radios, etc.
Also take this time out to go over any household emergency plan you may have with your family (don’t forget to include the pets). You can also hold an emergency drill in order to better prepare yourselves for a potential disaster or hazard.
If you don’t have an emergency plan, Go-kit or stockpile, NOW would be the time to make one. Remember, Safety First is Safety Always!
For information on how develop a Household Emergency Plan, or lists of the recommended emergency supplies for a Go Bag or a Shelter-in-Place Kit, visit the What to Have: In Your Head, In Your Home, In Your Hand, For Pets, and For Special Needs pages on www.phila.gov/ready.