Addressing the needs of electricity-dependent community members can be challenging for any health department, a fact that is most striking during a public health emergency. To address this problem, the Broome County Health Department in New York utilized the tools of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) emPOWER Initiative, developed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
Flooding has been a major issue for Broome County over the past decade. In 2006, the county was devastated by the rising waters of the Susquehanna River, which resulted in the evacuation of nearly 5,000 individuals. A few years later, in 2011, massive flooding again impacted the area when the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene passed through the southern tier of New York, placing thousands in emergency shelters, including persons who lived independently at home but utilized medical equipment dependent on electricity for their health and well-being. Though Broome County was well-prepared to handle the impacts of flooding and address the needs of at-risk individuals with access and functional needs during the 2011 floods, county leadership continued to actively seek additional tactics and strategies to better anticipate, mitigate, plan for, and respond to the needs of this population.
Two years later, as Broome County continued to recover and rebuild from the previous flooding events, the health department and county leadership were approached by the New York State Commissioner of Health and ASPR with a unique opportunity.
Broome County was introduced to a program focused on assisting local health departments and their partners with their planning and response efforts focused on addressing the needs of at-risk community members living independently throughout communities. Utilizing Medicare billing data through a partnership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the HHS emPOWER Initiative provides local health departments and their partners with the situational awareness to prepare for those individuals who utilize durable medical equipment, dialysis, oxygen tanks, home health care services, and other assistance that requires access to electricity. Both impressed with Broome County’s response to major flooding in previous years, the State Commissioner of Health and ASPR reached out to conduct a three-day exercise focused on utilizing emPOWER’s tools.
Planning began in fall of 2013 and the exercise took place in early 2014. In addition to the Broome County health Department, the New York State Department of Health, and ASPR, collaborating organizations included the Broome County Emergency Services, Broome County Office of Aging, Broome County Emergency Medical Services, local hospitals, the Southern Tier Independence Center, and others.
During this exercise, Broome County used CMS data to identify locations within the community where resources would be needed for electricity dependent individuals seeking care during an emergency event using geographic information system (GIS) mapping. After identifying these locations, the county set out to verify the accuracy of the CMS data used for the exercise by creating and dispatching teams of individuals to contact electricity dependent community members. The data proved to be more precise than anyone could have imagined, with a level of accuracy around 98 percent. “The results validated that the CMS billing data from Medicare could be utilized for (emergency preparedness)” Sean Britton, Director of Public Health for the Broome County Health Department noted.
Broome County Health Department has fully embraced the HHS emPOWER Initiative as a critical tool in its planning and response efforts, becoming an important resource for the health department and its response partners.
The county is already looking ahead and is considering other ways in which it will be able to utilize HHS emPOWER. “Sheltering is great, we’ve gotten real good at it here, but wouldn’t it be better if we could even support people in their homes and not have to have them leave their homes and enter the shelter? That’s where the data from emPOWER comes into play” Chris Ryan, Broome County Health Department’s Medical Director noted.
“As County Executive I am very proud of my team because I know that we’re ready. Between the health department and our EMS community I know that we will take care of the people of the community. As we move forward, the more we can do with this type of reporting and data collection, the easier it’s going to be and the faster it’s going to be when we respond to the next disaster” said Debbie Preston, Broome County’s County Executive. “The community will feel safer knowing we have emPOWER.”
- emPOWER Map 2.0 (publicly accessible HHS emPOWER Map Tool): https://empowermap.hhs.gov/
- NACCHO Tool – HHS emPOWER Fact Sheet: NACCHO Publications Site