The HHS emPOWER Initiative: Emergency Preparedness Tools Addressing the Needs of Energy Dependent, At-Risk Populations

0173For the millions who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, oxygen tank services, dialysis services, and home health services; power outages are almost always life-threatening. Oftentimes, these individuals are forced to seek care during these potentially hazardous conditions, resulting in surge events, which may place additional strain on the resources of local health departments and healthcare facilities already responding to major public health emergencies.

To help communities address the added risks for these vulnerable populations, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) developed the emPOWER Initiative through a partnership with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. This innovative and first-of-its-kind integrated platform provides progressively dynamic data and mapping tools that can help state and local health departments, and their partners, to better anticipate, mitigate, plan for, and respond to the potential needs of at-risk persons with access and functional needs prior to, during, and after a disaster.

HHS emPOWER Initiative Tools

The HHS emPOWER Initiative consists of three data and mapping capabilities that provide the right data and tools to the correct professionals when they need it. The first tool is the HHS emPOWER Map, a publicly-available resource that integrates de-identified Medicare billing-data, real-time NOAA severe weather tracking, and GIS mapping to highlight the number of at-risk individuals that use electrically-dependent, life-maintaining, and assistive durable medical equipment in geographic areas down to the zip code level.

The second tool is the HHS emPOWER Emergency Planning De-identified Dataset, which is accessible to public health authorities and provides de-identified Medicare billing information for each type of durable medical equipment and dialysis, oxygen tank, and home health care service in use within a state, territory, county, or zip code.

The third tool is the HHS emPOWER Emergency Response Outreach Dataset, containing limited individual level information through a secure mechanism, which can be used to conduct outreach prior to, during, and after a public health emergency. This resource is made available by request to public health authorities in the event of an emergency that requires life-maintaining and saving outreach assistance.

HHS emPOWER Initiative in Action

The HHS emPOWER Initiative strengthens the ability of local health departments (LHDs) and their communities to ensure their preparedness efforts are inclusive, addressing the needs of all residents. By actively using the initiative’s three tools, many LHDs and their partners have already bolstered their preparedness and response capabilities in significant ways.

For example, through the use of the emPOWER Initiative tools, the City of New Orleans has made informed decisions on the locations of emergency shelters, to better anticipate the needs of their residents. Both the Maricopa County Department of Public Health and the Arizona Department of Health Services use the HHS emPOWER Initiative to plan for disasters with a higher likelihood of impacting energy dependent, at-risk populations. Such emergencies include events where transportation of at-risk populations is critical to response (e.g. flooding and wildfires), poor air-quality may detrimentally impact those using oxygen-related medical services, and high temperatures play a factor in planning for and responding to the threat of a power outage. In addition, Broome County Health Department in New York implemented emPOWER tools to plan for the needs of their electricity-dependent community members while responding to recent flooding events, while the Fairfax County Health Department in Virginia similarly used the initiative in early 2016 to prepare for Winter Storm Jonas.

Additional Information

For additional information on accessing and using the HHS emPOWER initiative tools, LHDs are encouraged to contact their ASPR Regional Administrator and Regional Emergency Coordinator. Resources on the emPOWER Map tool can be found at this link.

NACCHO is also hosting a webinar next Monday, September 26 at 2:00-3:00 PM ET, which will further highlight the experiences of health departments currently using the HHS emPOWER Initiative. Click to register today.

About Geoffrey Mwaungulu, Jr.

Geoff Mwaungulu, JD, MPH, is a Senior Program Analyst for Public Health Preparedness, Law, and Ethics at NACCHO. His work includes identifying and addressing issues related to the implementation of federal preparedness and response policies at the local level, fostering collaboration between local public health and community partners to address community resilience, and leading initiatives related to public health law.

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