HHS launches GIS-based tool for health disaster readiness

By John DeGaspari

The Department of Health and Human Services has created an interactive online tool to help community health agencies and emergency management officials prepare for and keep operations running during disasters.

The emPOWER Map tool is designed to help agencies plan ahead for the emergency needs of residents who rely on electricity-powered medical and assistive equipment. More than 1.6 million Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries nationwide rely on electricity-dependent medical and assistive equipment, such as oxygen concentrators and ventilators, according to an announcement.

The HHS map shows the total number of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries' claims for electricity-dependent equipment at the national, state, territory, county and zip code levels by month. The tool incorporates the data with real-time severe weather tracking services from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a Geographic Information System (GIS), which collects, manages and analyzes geographic data.

For example, the map can help emergency planners anticipate whether emergency shelters might experience greater electricity demand due to higher concentrations of electricity-dependent Medicare beneficiaries nearby. 

The tool is timely: Recently, the Institute of Medicine released a report that called attention to the importance of robust community health and infrastructure in preparation for disasters and their aftermath.

To learn more:
- here's the HHS announcement
- check out the tool