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Preparing for the 2022 Hurricane Season with Lessons Learn from the Hurricane Ida Response

A Resource Guide for Leaders and Administrators at Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities

With many public health and medical professionals focused on COVID-19, you may be surprised to learn that healthcare professionals, responders, and communities also faced the third most active hurricane season on record in 2021, producing 21 named storms. The most deadly and destructive storm of the season was Hurricane Ida. Ida was a Category 4 storm that became the second-most damaging hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana on record. In addition, the remnants of Hurricane Ida caused historic damage in the northeast with widespread and catastrophic flooding as Ida passed through.

Hurricane Ida presented the Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) Sector with a variety of challenges ranging from oxygen re-supply to communication disruptions. This fact sheet provides resources that facilities can use to start preparing for the 2022 hurricane season.

Oxygen Re-Supply Concerns

Some of the challenges Hurricane Ida presented were made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include oxygen re-supply, which was a major concern for facilities in Louisiana particularly for facilities that had high COVID-19 census numbers and were challenged with delivery post storm. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had the capability to source oxygen cylinders if facilities had needed assistance.

During the pandemic, hospitals have needed oxygen more than ever. The pandemic has also caused a shortage of drivers with the number of deliveries required regularly exceeding driver capacity. Suppliers are also making more deliveries with smaller quantities to allocate product. To help alleviate these challenges, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) relaxed regulations to increase daily driving hours and some suppliers are balancing excess driver time and safety with the enforcement discretion in place.

ASPR TRACIE has crafted resources to help facilities manage oxygen shortages during disasters including:

  • Considerations for Oxygen Therapy in Disasters which provides information on the types of oxygen therapy and the types of oxygen supplies generally available after a disaster. It also includes information on the typical sizes and length of use of various oxygen storage methods.
  • The ASPR TRACIE Technical Assistance Request on triggers that hospitals can use to initiate contingency and/or crisis standards of care (CSC) for an oxygen scarce situation.

To be noted the oxygen cylinder market continues to be constrained, in part due to steel and aluminum shortages. In late October, the United States and the European Union took joint steps to re-establish historical transatlantic trade in steel and aluminum.

Utility Outages

A major impact of Hurricane Ida was the widespread power outages that lasted more than a week after the storm. Multiple medical facilities located south and west of the New Orleans area faced blackouts in their areas. The cascading effects of power outages impacted water supply and caused concerns about vaccine storage.

The water supply impacts left boil water advisories in place that affected individual households, medical facilities, blood collection centers, and dialysis centers. The ASPR TRACIE’s Going with the Flow: Coping with Water Supply Issues discusses a water shortage incident and provides lessons learned and planning considerations for healthcare facilities.

Due to COVID-19, cold storage for vaccine storage is more important than ever, and power outages can disrupt this critical storage. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created a webpage on the Impact of Power Outages on Vaccine Storage which provides detailed guidance on what to do during a power outage and steps to take once power has been restored.

The ASPR TRACIE program also offers a Topic collection on Utility Failures that includes include lessons learned from recent disasters, case studies, and toolkits designed to help healthcare planners prepare to respond to, continue functioning during, and recover from post-disaster utility failures.

Staffing Shortages

Hurricane Ida exasperated the staff shortages that healthcare facilities were already facing due to COVID-19. Staffing surges occur after a hurricane for a variety reasons, a surge in patients is often paired with a hospital staff that is managing the aftermath of the storm themselves. Infrastructure issues such as damaged roads and down communications systems can also affect staff’s ability to come to work. ASPR TRACIE’s Healthcare Provider Shortages: Resources and Strategies for Meeting Demand was developed with healthcare workforce subject matter experts and it identifies resources and strategies that decision-makers can use to optimize healthcare workforce assets, assess ongoing staffing needs, and identify resources to meet these needs.

ASPR TRACIE also has a collection of Technical Assistance Responses that address staff shortages from different angles including preparing for and responding to staff absenteeism and cross-training for clinical staff.

Emergency Communication Disruptions

Hurricane Ida knocked out several emergency services systems in Louisiana, these interruptions in service had significant impacts on the local hospitals and health systems, disrupting their ability to communicate with both emergency responders and the public, resulting in significant challenges to patient care and hurricane response.

The ASPR Division on Critical Infrastructure Protection produced a webinar in January of 2021 titled Maintaining Resilient Communications in Healthcare. This webinar provides best practices on how to prepare for and mitigate risks from disruptions in communication capabilities. The webinar was made in response to the 2020 Nashville Christmas bombing that knocked out a AT&T network hub which resulted in days-long communication service outages.

Additionally, ASPR TRACIE has a Communications Systems Topic Collection which includes resources focused on creating and maintaining resilient emergency communications systems for healthcare facilities.

Stay Prepared by Subscribing to HPH Sector Bulletins

The time is now to start preparing for the 2022 hurricane season. The 2022 season will present many of the same challenges we’ve seen the last two hurricane seasons. The Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection produces multiple communication bulletins to provide HPH stakeholders with information, resources, and tools to optimize their abilities to respond, recover, and prepare for hurricanes and other threats and incidents impacting the nation’s health critical infrastructure. Stay prepared and subscribe to the HPH Sector bulletins today!