June 23, 2015
HHS launches GIS-based tool for health disaster readiness
The HHS emPOWER Map, an interactive online tool, launched today to aid community health agencies and emergency management officials in disaster preparedness as they plan ahead to meet the emergency needs of community residents who rely on electrically powered medical and assistive equipment to live independently at home.
The new tool is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) in its ongoing efforts to support community resilience and build national health security.
“For people who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, prolonged power outages can mean life or death,” explained Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response. “This tool helps communities better anticipate, plan for, and respond to these unique needs of this population and improve resilience for the entire community before and after disasters.”
More than 1.6 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries nationwide rely on electricity-dependent medical and assistive equipment, such as oxygen concentrators, ventilators and wheelchairs.
The HHS emPOWER Map shows the monthly total number of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries’ claims for electricity-dependent equipment at the national, state, territory, county, and zip code levels. The tool incorporates these data with real-time severe weather tracking services from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a Geographic Information System (GIS).
The integrated data accessible through the HHS emPOWER Map can help community organizations, including hospitals, first responders, and electric utility officials, work with health officials to prevent health impacts of prolonged power outages due to storms and other disasters on vulnerable residents.
For example, the HHS emPOWER Map could be used by electric utility companies to determine priority areas for restoring electrical service based on the location of the largest concentrations of electricity-dependent individuals. This could assist hospitals, health care coalitions and Emergency Medical Services in planning better for surges in medical services.
Emergency planners could also use the tool to anticipate whether emergency shelters might experience greater electricity demand due to higher concentrations of electricity-dependent Medicare beneficiaries nearby. Local officials could estimate more accurate assistance needs for transportation and evacuation when local mass transit systems are affected by prolonged power outages after disasters.
While the information in the HHS emPOWER Map is presented in a way that protects patient privacy, in an emergency, additional information can be made available to a health department to facilitate life-saving emergency response in a manner consistent with the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act and the Federal Privacy Act.
“With the rise in home-based care, real-time awareness of population-level needs, and the ability to respond to them, is critical,” Dr. Lurie noted. “Better planning helps communities respond better and recover faster, and that’s where our emPOWER Map can provide the greatest benefit.”
ASPR also has taken an active role in seeking opportunities to advance medical device technology. Through HHS challenges and international collaboration, ASPR is advancing equipment signaling technology that will enable family members, caregivers, and other responders to remotely monitor the status of a critical medical device’s back-up battery power in the event of a prolonged power outage.
The HHS emPOWER Map was developed collaboratively by ASPR and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
HHS’ mission is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans and fulfills its mission by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. ASPR leads HHS in preparing the nation to respond to and recover from adverse health effects of emergencies, supporting communities’ ability to withstand adversity, strengthening health and response systems, and enhancing national health security.