Evolution of a Search: The Use of Dynamic Twitter Searches During Superstorm Sandy


Twitter has emerged as a critical source of free and openly available information during emergency response operations, providing an unmatched level of on-the-ground situational awareness in real-time. Responders and survivors turn to Twitter to share information and resources within communities, conduct rumor control, and provide a “boots on the ground” understanding of the disaster. However, the ability to tune out background “noise” is essential to effectively utilizing Twitter to identify important and useful information during an emergency response.

This article highlights a two-prong strategy in which the use of a Twitter list paired with subject specific Boolean searches provided increased situational awareness and early event detection during the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) response to Superstorm Sandy in 2012. To maximize the amount of relevant information that was retrieved, the Twitter list and Boolean searches were dynamic and responsive to real-time developments, evolving health threats, and the informational needs of decision-makers.

The use of a Twitter list combined with Boolean searches led to enhanced situational awareness throughout the HHS response. The incorporation of a dynamic search strategy over the course of the HHS Sandy response, allowed for the ability to account for over-tweeted information, changes in event related conversation, and decreases in the return of relevant information.

Site Selection Criteria for Sheltering after Earthquakes: A Systematic Review


Objective: Proper shelter site selection is necessary for long-term welfare of earthquake affected people. This study aims to explore the criteria that need to be considered after earthquakes.
Methods: Through a systematic review, 273 articles found that were published till April 2014. Among these, seven articles have been selected and analyzed for the criteria that they introduced for sheltering site selection after earthquakes.
Results: Out of 27 proposed criteria, accessibility and proximity to homes of affected people were stressed in all the papers. Moreover, seven other criteria were the same in most of the papers including suitable size, suitable distance from hazardous areas, geological hazards and land slope, suitable distance from medical centers, water supply and Security.
We categorized all the mentioned criteria in six main categories. Size and location, disaster risk reduction, relief and rescue facilities, feasibility of the site, environmental and social aspects are the main categories.
Conclusion: Selection and applying proper criteria for shelter site selection after earthquakes is a multi-disciplinary task. The decision needs relevant models and/or tools. Geographic Information System (GIS) is a useful tool for this purpose.

Key words: Disaster, earthquake, shelter, site selection, systematic review

Optimizing the Use of Chief Complaint & Diagnosis for Operational Decision Making: An EMR Case Study of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake


Introduction: Data from an electronic medical record (EMR) system can provide valuable insight regarding health consequences in the aftermath of a disaster. In January of 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) deployed medical personnel to Haiti in response to a crippling earthquake. An EMR system was used to record patient encounters in real-time and to provide data for decision support during response activities.

Problem: During the Haiti response, HHS monitored the EMR system by recoding diagnoses into seven broad categories. At the conclusion of the response, it was evident that a new diagnosis categorization process was needed to provide a better description of the patient encounters that were seen in the field. After examining the EMRs, researchers determined nearly half of the medical records were missing diagnosis data. The objective of this study was to develop and test a new method of categorization for patient encounters to provide more detailed data for decision making.

Methods: A single researcher verified or assigned a new diagnosis for 8,787 EMRs created during the Haiti response. This created a new variable, the Operational Code, which was based on available diagnosis data and chief complaint. Retrospectively, diagnoses recorded in the field and Operational Codes were categorized into eighteen categories based on the ICD-9-CM diagnostic system.

Results: Creating an Operational Code variable led to a more robust data set and a clearer depiction emerged of the clinical presentations seen at six HHS clinics set up in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. The number of records with an associated ICD-9 code increased 106% from 4,261 to 8,787. The most frequent Operational Code categories during the response were: General Symptoms, Signs, and Ill-Defined Conditions (34.2%), Injury and Poisoning (18.9%), Other (14.7%), Respiratory (4.8%), and Musculoskeletal and Connective Tissue (4.8%).

Conclusion: The Operational Code methodology provided more detailed data about patient encounters. This methodology could be used in future deployments to improve situational awareness and decision-making capabilities during emergency response operations.

The Effectiveness of Disaster Risk Communication: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies


Introduction: A disaster is a serious disruption to the functioning of a community that exceeds its capacity to cope within its own resources. Risk communication in disasters aims to prevent and mitigate harm from disasters, prepare the population before a disaster, disseminate information during disasters and aid subsequent recovery. The aim of this systematic review is to identify, appraise and synthesise the findings of studies of the effects of risk communication interventions during four stages of the disaster cycle.
Methods: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, Sociological Abstracts, Web of Science and grey literature sources for randomised trials, cluster randomised trials, controlled and uncontrolled before and after studies, interrupted time series studies and qualitative studies of any method of disaster risk communication to at-risk populations. Outcome criteria were disaster-related knowledge and behaviour, and health outcomes.
Results: Searches yielded 5,224 unique articles, of which 100 were judged to be potentially relevant. Twenty-five studies met the inclusion criteria, and two additional studies were identified from other searching. The studies evaluated interventions in all four stages of the disaster cycle, included a variety of man-made, natural and infectious disease disasters, and were conducted in many disparate settings. Only one randomised trial and one cluster randomised trial were identified, with less robust designs used in the other studies. Several studies reported improvements in disaster-related knowledge and behaviour.
Discussion: We identified and appraised intervention studies of disaster risk communication and present an overview of the contemporary literature. Most studies used non-randomised designs that make interpretation challenging. We do not make specific recommendations for practice but highlight the need for high-quality randomised trials and appropriately-analysed cluster randomised trials in the field of disaster risk communication where these can be conducted within an appropriate research ethics framework.

A Research Agenda for Humanitarian Health Ethics


This paper maps key research questions for humanitarian health ethics: the ethical dimensions of healthcare provision and public health activities during international responses to situations of humanitarian crisis. Development of this research agenda was initiated at the Humanitarian Health Ethics Forum (HHE Forum) convened in Hamilton, Canada in November 2012. The HHE Forum identified priority avenues for advancing policy and practice for ethics in humanitarian health action. The main topic areas examined were: experiences and perceptions of humanitarian health ethics; training and professional development initiatives for humanitarian health ethics; ethics support for humanitarian health workers; impact of policies and project structures on humanitarian health ethics; and theoretical frameworks and ethics lenses. Key research questions for each topic area are presented, as well as proposed strategies for advancing this research agenda. Pursuing the research agenda will help strengthen the ethical foundations of humanitarian health action.

Combining Dedicated Online Training and Apprenticeships in the Field to Assist in Professionalization of Humanitarian Aid Workers: a 2-year Pilot Project for Anesthesia and Intensive Care Residents Working in Resource Constrained and Low-income Countries


As a result of the gaps in humanitarian response highlighted by several reports, the international community called for an increased professionalization of humanitarian aid workers. This paper describes a pilot project by an Italian university and a non-profit, non-governmental organization to implement a medical apprenticeship in low-income countries during Anesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine residencies.

Before deployment, participants were required to complete a dedicated online training course about safety and security in the field, principles of anesthesia at the district hospital level, emergency and essential surgical care, essentials of medical treatment in resource-constrained environments and psychological support in emergencies.

At the end of the program, a qualitative self-evaluation questionnaire administered to participants highlighted how the project allowed the participants to advance their professional skills when working in a low-resource environment, while also mastering their adapting skills and the ability to interact and cooperate with local healthcare personnel. The project also proved to be a means for personal growth, making these experiences a recommendation for all residents as a necessary step for the professionalization of healthcare personnel involved in humanitarian aid.

Disaster-Driven Evacuation and Medication Loss: a Systematic Literature Review


AIM: The aim of this systematic literature review was to identify the extent and implications of medication loss and the burden of prescription refill on medical relief teams following extreme weather events and other natural hazards.

METHOD: The search strategy followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). Key health journal databases (Medline, Embase, PsycINFO, Maternity and Infant Care, and Health Management Information Consortium (HMIC)) were searched via the OvidSP search engine. Search terms were identified by consulting MeSH terms. The inclusion criteria comprised articles published from January 2003 to August 2013, written in English and containing an abstract. The exclusion criteria included abstracts for conferences or dissertations, book chapters and articles written in a language other than English. A total of 70 articles which fulfilled the inclusion criteria were included in this systematic review.

RESULTS: All relevant information was collated regarding medication loss, prescription loss and refills, and medical aids loss which indicated a significant burden on the medical relief teams. Data also showed the difficulty in filling prescriptions due to lack of information from the evacuees. People with chronic conditions are most at risk when their medication is not available. This systematic review also showed that medical aids such as eye glasses, hearing aids as well as dental treatment are a high necessity among evacuees.

DISCUSSION: This systematic review revealed that a considerable number of patients lose their medication during evacuation, many lose essential medical aids such as insulin pens and many do not bring prescriptions with them when evacuated.. Since medication loss is partly a responsibility of evacuees, understanding the impact of medication loss may lead to raising awareness and better preparations among the patients and health care professionals. People who are not prepared could have worse outcomes and many risk dying when their medication is not available.

Preventing Malnutrition in Post-Conflict, Food Insecure Settings: A Case Study from South Sudan


Background: Decades of civil conflict compound the challenges of food insecurity in South Sudan and contribute to persistent, high levels of child malnutrition. As efforts to prevent child malnutrition continue, there is a critical need for strategies that effectively supplement the diets of pregnant women and young children in transitional, highly food insecure settings like South Sudan.

Methods: This mixed-methods case study of four communities in South Sudan reports on the diets of children under 2 years of age and explores household-level factors including household size, intrahousehold food allocation practices, and responses to scarcity that may have significant impact on the effectiveness of strategies relying on household ration distribution to supplement the diets of pregnant women and children under 2 years of age.

Results: Participants reported experiencing increased scarcity as a result of prolonged drought and household sizes enlarged by the high volume of returning refugees. Although communities were receiving monthly household rations through a non-emergency food assistance program, most households had exhausted rations less than 30 days after receipt. Results showed that more than one half of children 12-17 months and one third of children 18-23 months consumed diets consisting of fewer than 4 food groups in the last week. Intrahousehold food allocation patterns give children first priority at meal times even in times of scarcity, yet adult women, including pregnant women, have last priority.

Discussion: These findings suggest that distribution of supplementary household rations will likely be insufficient to effectively supplement the diets of young children and pregnant women in particular. In light of the multiple contextual challenges experienced by households in transitional, food-insecure settings, these findings support recommendations to take a context-specific approach to food assistance programming, in which considerations of intrahousehold food allocation patterns and broader cultural and environmental factors inform program design. Incorporating assessments of intrahousehold food allocation patterns as part of needs assessments for food assistance and voucher or cash transfer programs may contribute to more effective, context specific programming.

Rapid Health Needs Assessment Experience in 11 August 2012 East Azerbaijan Earthquakes: A Qualitative Study


Introduction: In disasters, health care providers need to find out the essential needs of the affected populations through Rapid Health Needs Assessment (RHNA). In East Azerbaijan earthquakes, a rapid assessment was performed by the provincial health system. The main purpose of this study was to explore the RHNA challenges.

Methods: In this qualitative study (Grounded theory), data was collected through semi-structured interviews with purposely selected health care workers. The data collection process continued until data saturation. All interviews were recorded and then transcribed. The Colaizzi’s descriptive method was used to analyze the data.

Results: The themes emerged from the analysis of the interviews were: 1) Logistic problems 2) Lack of RHNA tools 3) Inherent difficulty of RHNA in disaster situations 4) Lack of preparedness and 5) Lack of coordination between different organizations. These challenges result in inapplicable use of RHNA results.

Conclusion: The most important challenge in this RHNA process was the lack of East Azerbaijan health center preparedness. Although they were familiar with the importance of RHNA, they did not have any plans for conducting RHNA.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Flooding: Changes in Risk Before, During and After Flooding Require Appropriate Public Health Interventions


While many of the acute risks posed by flooding and other disasters are well characterised, the burden of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and the wide range of ways in which this avoidable poisoning can occur around flooding episodes is poorly understood, particularly in Europe. The risk to health from CO may continue over extended periods of time after flooding and different stages of disaster impact and recovery are associated with different hazards.

A review of the literature was undertaken to describe the changing risk of CO poisoning throughout flooding/disaster situations. The key objectives were to identify published reports of flood-related carbon monoxide incidents that have resulted in a public health impact and to categorise these according to Noji’s Framework of Disaster Phases (Noji 1997); to summarise and review carbon monoxide incidents in Europe associated with flooding in order to understand the burden of CO poisoning associated with flooding and power outages; and to summarise those strategies in Europe which aim to prevent CO poisoning that have been published and/or evaluated.
The review identified 23 papers which met its criteria. The team also reviewed and discussed relevant government and non-government guidance documents. This paper presents a summary of the outcomes and recommendations from this review of the literature.

Papers describing poisonings can be considered in terms of the appliance/source of CO or the circumstances leading to poisoning.The specific circumstances identified which lead to CO poisoning during flooding and other disasters vary according to disaster phase. Three key situations were identified in which flooding can lead to CO poisoning; pre-disaster, emergency/recovery phase and post-recovery/delayed phase. These circumstances are described in detail with case studies.
This classification of situations is important as different public health messages are more appropriate at different phases of a disaster. The burden of disease from poisoning caused by each potential source and at each phase of a disaster is different. CO poisoning is not compulsory and deaths associated with a flood but delayed for a period of months, for example due to a damaged boiler, may never be attributed to the flood as surveillance often ends once the floodwaters recede. The problem of under–reporting is crucial to our understanding of flooding-related poisoning.
The indoor use of portable generators, cooking and heating appliances designed for use outdoors during periods of loss of mains power or gas is a particular problem. In the recovery phase, equipment for pumping, dehumidifying and drying out of properties poses a new risk. In the long term, mortality and morbidity associated with the renewed use of boilers which may have suffered covert damage in flooding is recognised but very difficult to quantify.
Papers evaluating interventions were not found and where literature exists on prevention of CO poisoning in disaster situations, it is from the USA.

This paper for the first time describes the different risks of CO poisoning posed by the different phases of a disaster. There is a specific need to recognise that any room in a building can harbour a CO emitting appliance in flooding; wood burners and rarely used chimney flues may become particularly problematic following a flood.

1) Public health workers and policy makers should consider establishing toolkits using the CDC toolkit approach; the acceptability of any intervention must be evaluated further to guide informed policy.

2) CO poisoning must form part of syndromic and event based surveillance systems for flooding and should be included in measures of the health impact of flooding.

3) CO monitors in the domestic environment should be sited not only in proximity to known CO emitters but also in locations where mobile or short term CO emitting appliances may be placed, including woodburners and infrequently used fireplaces.