If You Haven’t Thought About It … There’s a Close Relationship Between the Weather and Our Health!

Deadly Weather OccurencesWe are all aware of the devastating and tragic weather that has been occurring across our nation. The weather contrasts include the severe drought ongoing in California; deadly rains and flooding in Texas; horrifying tornadoes in Oklahoma and the Central and Southern Plains; and the season’s first hurricane came ashore near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Tragically, the consequences of these events result in loss of life; traumatic injury; exacerbation of previous health conditions; stress-related mental health challenges; loss of continuity with care providers; and long-term environmental impacts that negatively effect the social determinance of health and the physical conditions necessary for healthiness.

I offer you two thoughts in this regard:

1.  The National Weather Service is our government agency with tremendous resources for national weather forecasts with related maps and weather safety tips and guidance.

Their website provides information regarding preparation for an impending weather situation, as well as helpful resources pertaining to various weather hazard situations, including Severe Weather and Tornadoes; Flooding; Wild Fires and Hurricanes, among others.

2. Recently, I had the opportunity to Chair the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Post-Disaster Recovery of a Community’s Public Health, Medical and Social Services. I was honored to Chair the Committee and proud to share our Report titled “Healthy, Resilient, and Sustainable Communities After Disasters” along with the Committee’s specific Key Figures and Recommendations.

U.S. communities and federal agencies should consider human health in decisions of all kinds during disaster preparation and recovery efforts – something that rarely happens now, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine.  By adding a health “lens” to planning and recovery, a community can both mitigate the health damage caused by disasters and recover in ways that make the community healthier and more resilient than it was before.

This report is noteworthy because it focuses the nation’s attention on the remarkably unappreciated opportunity we have to transform our response to devastating disasters into opportunities to meaningfully enhance the healthiness of our communities. Each year, millions, if not billions of dollars are spent to restore communities after disasters. This report provides practical guidance for disaster and health professionals, government and elected officials, communities and individuals that can enhance disaster recovery, but advance the realization of maximally health communities.

The report notes that healthy communities are the result of  comprehensive and integrated actions that include an environment that is conducive to healthy behaviors by its residents, free of environmental toxins and risks, and that includes a robust human services infrastructure. Simply put, healthy communities have roads that facilitate exercising such as running, biking and walking; they have houses that are safe; they have ready access to fresh fruits and vegetables; and they are well served by health and social services professionals who assist people in staying healthy and optimally managing diseases.

The Committee observes that when roads, houses and health infrastructures are lost in a disaster, communities, based upon  prior planning and informed participation, should use all available federal, local and philanthropic dollars to not only rebuild, but to intentionally seek to do so in a manner that creates a community that is healthier than before the disaster. The Report’s twelve recommendations, numerous case studies, and other supportive material provides practical guidance for how to accomplish this.

For example, Local and elected public officials should incorporate a vision for a healthy community into community strategic planning, before a disaster occurs. Healthy community planning should be the norm for all communities and these plans should be connected to the pre-disaster planning that communities are also urged to conduct. The Committee was impressed by the relationship of a healthy and resilient community to the ability to withstand the heartbreaking devastation that so often accompanies disasters. Leadership by local officials is essential to bringing these two related activities together on behalf of their communities.

The report provides specific guidance for federal agencies such as FEMA, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and urban Development and other agencies involved in implementing the National Disaster and Recovery Framework. The report also makes special note of the thousands of dedicated, and too often unrecognized, disaster professionals who so tirelessly serve our nation. Recommendations are offered to facilitate their ability to respond not only to the immediate and short term effects of disasters, but how their efforts might create a more fertile foundation for ultimately creating a maximally healthy community.

The Report is available to everyone on the IOM’s website and I encourage people – disaster recovery professionals; state/local officials; health professionals; and people in general – to read the report for important recommendations regarding how to utilize disaster planning and post-disaster recovery to build healthier communities.