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As 2024’s Heat-Fueled Hurricane Season Looms, Direct Relief Builds Resilience of Health Providers Across U.S. Coastal States and the Caribbean



Hurricane Preparedness Packs depart Direct Relief's warehouse in this file photo, bound for hurricane-prone communities along the U.S. Gulf and East Coasts and the Caribbean. (Lara Cooper/Direct Relief)

As residents along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts and across the Caribbean warily await the June start of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season, Direct Relief is helping the region’s healthcare providers and emergency responders prepare through an array of resiliency initiatives that expand on its annual prepositioning of medicine and medical supplies.

Bracing for an Extremely Active Hurricane Season

The NOAA National Weather Service forecasts an above-normal season with 17 to 25 named storms, including eight to 13 hurricanes, four to seven of them “major hurricanes” (category 3, 4 or 5, with winds of 111 mph or higher). Recent weeks have also seen a surge of highly destructive tornadoes.

“Direct Relief is making long-term health infrastructure investments to mitigate the destructive impacts of climate disasters in hurricane-prone regions, and to strengthen the local capacity to respond and provide care,” said Dan Hovey, Direct Relief’s Senior Director for Emergency Response. “At the same time, we continue to equip healthcare providers through our extensive prepositioning of the medicines and medical supplies most commonly needed in the aftermath of a hurricane.”

Ready When Hurricanes Strike

When Hurricane Fiona dropped up to 30 inches of rain on parts of Puerto Rico in September 2022, it left most of the island without power and caused at least 21 deaths. The airport was shut down, but Direct Relief was prepared with 28 tons of prepositioned medicine and emergency response supplies in its Puerto Rico warehouse. The organization immediately distributed 25 emergency shipments across the island, including 126 fully equipped medical backpacks to first responders, and provided nine power generators to patients relying on life-sustaining medical equipment.

This year, Direct Relief is again prepositioning medical caches (Hurricane Prep Packs) throughout hurricane-prone regions to ensure aid is ready when disaster strikes. Supplies are being prepositioned across the Caribbean, including in Cuba, Barbados, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, and St. Lucia. Direct Relief is staging most of these HPPs with its multilateral partners in the region, the WHO’s Pan American Health Organization and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Additional large caches are ready for deployment from facilities in Puerto Rico and California. These international HPPs weigh 1,470 lbs. and are designed to provide enough medical supplies to care for 1,000 people for 30 days.

In the U.S., Direct Relief is prepositioning 68 Hurricane Prep Packs in states along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Saipan. Each U.S. version of the pack contains 220 types of medicine and medical supplies, designed to support care for 100 people for 72 hours.

Preparing to Care for Disaster Evacuees

In northwest Louisiana, emergency response and public health partners are relying on a Direct Relief Hurricane Prep Pack to meet medical needs for a 2,400-bed emergency shelter in a vacant Sam’s Club warehouse in Shreveport. When activated, the shelter receives people arriving from across Louisiana and nearby states fleeing hurricanes and severe weather events. Based on the NOAA forecast, shelter operators anticipate needing to activate it twice this hurricane season.

As a member of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network, MLK Health & Pharmacy is prepared to care for people arriving at the Shreveport shelter, deploying its staff and the Hurricane Prep Pack it gets each year from Direct Relief. MLK Health, the only free clinic and charitable pharmacy in northern Louisiana, is also receiving two donated pharmaceutical-grade refrigerators from Direct Relief, one for the shelter and one to replace an aging refrigerator in its facility. MLK serves 1,800 patients who lack health insurance and suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, COPD, high cholesterol, and other diseases requiring regular medication.

An emergency shelter in Shreveport, Louisiana, with people displaced by Hurricane Ida, September 2021. MLK Health, as part of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network, deploys its staff, along with medicine and medical supplies donated by Direct Relief, to care for displaced people in the shelter. (Photo by Knox Andress, Designated Regional Coordinator for Louisiana Emergency Response Network Region 7)

“This partnership around emergency preparedness is a game changer for us in Louisiana, benefitting us at the state level and also at the local level,” said MLK Health Executive Director Jordan Ring Scroggs. “When you get that call in the middle of the night that the busses are coming, and you don’t know how many people are arriving or what condition they’re going to be in, it makes a big difference in response time to be able to immediately transport the packs to the shelter because they are already on-hand, thanks to Direct Relief’s strategic thinking.”

They also benefit from Direct Relief’s close partnership. “As soon as something hits, they’re on the phone with us, asking ‘What else do you need? How else can we be of service?’ It really makes a difference when you have partners that are as engaged as Direct Relief,” Scroggs said.

In years when no hurricane requires the caches to be opened, healthcare providers like MLK Health can integrate the items in the Hurricane Prep Packs into their regular inventory at the end of the hurricane season.

Bolstering Regional Emergency Response Capacity

Last June, Direct Relief convened top health officials from 15 Caribbean nations to increase collaboration on disaster preparation and response. At the time, Direct Relief made a $10 million commitment to fund resilience in the Caribbean region.

From the $10 million commitment:

  • $3 million has been allocated to build a large solar and battery backup system in Jamaica for a central pharmaceutical warehouse, preventing refrigerated medicine from being spoiled during extended power outages.
  • Amid the civil unrest in Haiti, $1 million has been donated to help nine health facilities with ongoing operational costs, including safe transportation for medical staff.
  • $1 million each has been allocated to bolster disaster prep and response efforts in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
  • $3 million has been allocated for health infrastructure projects in Caribbean nations. Projects include resilient power, cold-chain infrastructure for refrigerated medicine, medical oxygen, and mobile healthcare services.
  • Direct Relief is helping establish a new rapid medical response network for Caribbean nations comprised of volunteer U.S.-based doctors and nurses (many of them of Caribbean origin) who are ready to deploy when a hurricane overwhelms local health capacity.

Hurricane Prep Map

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