No man or machine can predict exactly what a super storm such as Hurricane Sandy is going to do when it lands on a city like New York. A scary thought, considering storms seem to be getting more frequent and extreme around the world. But advances in technology are helping people and organizations prepare for, and respond to, natural disasters more quickly and efficiently than ever before.
As Sandy advanced on New York City, millions in her path braced for impact. With NOAA predicting extreme winds and coastal surges between six and eleven feet around the five boroughs, Mayor Bloomberg put the city on full alert. Evacuations were announced for residents living in flood zones, major transportation systems were shut down, and the city’s hospitals, clinics, and shelters awaited the thousands who were expected to seek refuge and medical care after the storm.
On the other side of the country, Direct Relief International, one of the world’s leading medical relief and disaster response organizations, was also closely tracking Sandy and preparing for action. Based in Santa Barbara, California, Direct Relief supports 70 clinics, health centers, and other public health institutions located in the identified evacuation zones around the NYC area.
Pulling together data from its own systems and sources such as NOAA, FEMA, the Red Cross, and local agencies, Direct Relief was able to map-out and pinpoint the partner clinics most vulnerable to the storm. Adding in data about the supplies it shipped to these clinics in the past enabled Direct Relief to quickly predict what specific materials would be needed at each clinic and to activate its response supply chain before Sandy made landfall.
Using supply chain management software from SAP, Direct Relief has complete visibility into its medical aid inventory as well as the appropriate level of tracking and accountability required for distributing pharmaceuticals. Having such tight control over its highly regulated inventory has enabled Direct Relief to become the only nonprofit organization licensed in the U.S. to distribute prescription medications in all 50 states, greatly improving its ability to respond quickly and efficiently wherever disaster strikes.
After the storm, the first clinic to receive supplies from Direct Relief was the William F. Ryan – NENA Community Health Center located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Although crippled by the ConEdison transformer explosion that left most of lower Manhattan in darkness for a week, the clinic stayed open without electricity and did its best to provide critical services to the local community. “People in need come to us for health services and it’s our obligation to give back as much as we can,” said Kathy Gruber, Ryan-NENA Executive Director. “Even during a difficult time like this hurricane, when everyone else is shutdown, we feel it is important to stay open for the community,” Gruber explains. Backup generators enabled medical staff to treat some patients by lamplight, while other clinicians made house visits to those people without transportation.
When FedEx, a longtime donor to Direct Relief, arrived at the Ryan-NENA Community Health Center with Direct Relief’s emergency relief packages, word spread quickly around the distressed lower east side neighborhood. Over 80% of the patients at the health center are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Before long hundreds of people were lined up around block, and within hours the personal care packs, filled with hygiene and nutritional products donated by corporate supporters - Abbott, Johnson and Johnson, Neutrogena, and Prestige Brands - were gone. By the end of the day, over 500 patients had received some much needed supplies, and renewed hope, from a helping hand.
The next day, Direct Relief arrived at Newark Community Health Centers (NCHC) in New Jersey. Serving more than 19,000 patients each year, NCHC is one of the largest providers of primary care services for the uninsured and medically underserved populations in one of the country’s most densely populated cities. When FedEx unloaded Direct Relief’s 44 boxes of Ensure, PediaSure, Pedialyte, and ZonePerfect bars donated by Abbot, the health center staff were elated. Ready-to-eat food and nutritional products were one of their biggest needs as many affected by the storm didn’t have electricity to cook or refrigerate their food.
Direct Relief also delivered desperately needed supplies to the Damian Family Care Center in Queens. Medical director Dr. Zamar Raza said that center’s biggest challenge has been maintaining a steady flow of medications to Samaritan Village – an affiliate facility that provides a residential inpatient drug treatment program. The pharmacy in Rockaway where patients are normally sent to get their medications was flooded.
Sandy also pounded Red Hook, Brooklyn, where the storm flooded the only community clinic with four feet of water and seriously damaged the medical equipment. Under normal circumstances, the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center serves about 80 patients a day, mostly on Medicare or uninsured. With only small space heaters for warmth, clinic staff persevered, bundling up in their warmest winter clothes to provide continued care. When Direct Relief’s emergency shipment arrived, Bea Cordero, the clinic site manager, said the medicines and supplies seemed sent from heaven. Staff was especially excited to receive the nebulizers and medications needed to maintain regular care for their patients with hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and other chronic diseases.
In addition to medical supplies, the Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center will receive a $250,000 grant from Direct Relief and the National Association of Community Health Centers to help revive three of its Brooklyn community health centers. This is the first cash grant awarded from the Sandy Safety Net Fund, a special fund created by the two organizations to support nonprofit clinics affected by the storm. “I believe our new partnership with Direct Relief will help us get back up and running,” said nurse practitioner Jackie de Leon.
Throughout the week, Direct Relief’s post-disaster assessment team continued its outreach around the New York area. Using mobile technology the team stayed up to date on clinic shipments, essential contacts, and local event reports from Healthmap. To date, Direct Relief has made 27 large emergency deliveries (~30,000 lbs. of goods) to 19 community health care centers affected by Hurricane Sandy. In addition, Direct Relief has committed $1 million in cash and $25 million in medical inventories to support relief and recovery efforts in devastated communities along the East Coast and in areas of the Caribbean.
“Direct Relief is acutely sensitive to the needs of those who are most vulnerable in emergency situations, and we are working closely with partner nonprofit clinics and health centers in the affected areas to understand what is needed and to mobilize charitable resources to help address those needs,” explains Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief President & CEO.
By utilizing the latest technology to speed up the humanitarian aid supply chain, Direct Relief and all its collaborators are significantly improving the lives of millions of people who depend on essential care from community clinics during and after a crisis like Hurricane Sandy.
- Go to Direct Relief's Hurricane Sandy website >
- See how Direct Relief uses SAP software to support its mission >
- Watch Thomas Tighe, Direct Relief President & CEO, talk about his experiences delivering humanitarian aid >