Even as communities across the Caribbean and southern United States struggle to recover from the fierce storms of 2017 and 2018, hurricane season is fast approaching again.
Lessons learned from the extensive impacts of the last two hurricane seasons have informed Direct Relief’s preparedness efforts this year.
The organization has expanded on its traditional focus of delivering medicine and medical supplies, taking a larger role in helping communities and health facilities recover from past storms and withstand future ones.
Power is a Prerequisite for Health
Hurricane Maria left health facilities across Puerto Rico without reliable power for months. No electricity meant no refrigeration for temperature-sensitive vaccines or insulin, no electrical-powered medical equipment, and, in many cases, no running water. A lack of power meant a lack of health services.
In response, Direct Relief is equipping Puerto Rico’s health centers, clinics and community facilities with resilient power systems that combine solar power, battery storage and backup generators, allowing for continuous operation even when the power goes out for days, weeks or months. In total, these systems will provide more than 1 megawatt of solar production capacity and 1.7 megawatts of battery storage. Part of a $50 million grant from AbbVie is funding the program.
In Texas, Direct Relief recently approved $1.4 million in grants to help 11 free and charitable clinics address lingering effects from 2017’s Hurricane Harvey and to build resilience for future storms. The funds will help the health facilities repair water damage and purchase vaccine refrigerators and emergency backup generators. These grants add to more than $5 million in funding and $27 million in material support from Direct Relief to Texas health facilities since Harvey made landfall in August 2017.
During the 2018 hurricane season, Hurricane Florence deluged the Carolinas and, weeks later, Hurricane Michael leveled towns in the Florida panhandle. In the immediate aftermath of both storms, Direct Relief responded with shipments of medical aid to shelters housing evacuees, and subsequent deliveries of needed resources to health centers and free clinics caring for storm-impacted communities. In total, Direct Relief deployed more than $21 million (wholesale) in medications and supplies via 890 deliveries at the request of local health facilities in storm-affected areas.
Pre-positioning Medicine Before a Hurricane Hits
Recognizing that hurricanes and extreme weather events are only becoming more powerful due to climate change, Direct Relief is initiating its biggest effort yet to pre-position “Hurricane Prep Modules” at health facilities in hurricane-prone regions across 13 U.S. states and territories and 17 foreign locales.
Each module contains more than 200 medications and other health items requested most often by health providers during emergencies, including trauma and wound care supplies, antibiotics, and medicines for diabetes, hypertension and other chronic health conditions that if unmanaged become acute crises.
The portable modules are made to address the predictable risks during the immediate post-storm period when supply-lines are often compromised, and populations are displaced. Direct Relief initially designed the modules based on Hurricane Katrina after-action analyses that found medications and medical supplies, had they been available, would have averted health emergencies among evacuees.
In the U.S., Direct Relief is staging 75 hurricane prep modules at health facilities across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Virginia.
Internationally, Direct Relief is pre-positioning hurricane modules in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vanuatu.
The location of each hurricane prep module across the globe, along with the hurricane paths from the past 50 years, can be explored below on the interactive map.