July 03, 2014

As Hurricane Arthur formed off the Atlantic coast this week, staffers at the humanitarian organization Direct Relief were watching to see whether the medical supplies they had pre-positioned in anticipation of this year's storm season would be needed.

"We have one prep pack in the immediate warning area and two others just outside," one staffer wrote in an email Wednesday, referring to the caches of supplies Direct Relief distributed, part of a plan informed by data from federal open data initiatives and the use of big-data analytics and mapping software.

Teasing out clues to community and clinical needs, Direct Relief uses mapping to visualize needs and plot the logistics of distribution. The program particularly aims to make sure medicines are available for those suffering from chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, and asthma who may have been driven from their homes without their prescriptions. The agency works to secure donations of these lifesaving medicines from pharmaceutical manufacturers.

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The hurricane preparedness packs comprise more than $1 million in medical resources. The sealed watertight containers are at 63 health facilities near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, the Caribbean, Central America, and the Philippines. Each US Hurricane Preparedness Pack holds enough medical supplies to treat 100 patients for a variety of conditions, from basic trauma injuries to chronic illnesses, for a 72-hour period, during which follow-on support can be mobilized. The International Modules contain supplies to care for 5,000 people for one month. If the storm season passes without a crisis, the clinic is allowed to crack open the prep pack and add the supplies to its operational inventory.

After years of priding itself on swift response to disasters worldwide, Direct Relief has begun anticipating disaster response needs closer to home, in the US. The agency works with community healthcare clinics to make critical supplies available in the days after a storm or other disaster. In the case of Arthur, an alert went out to 19 partners in three states (Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina).

[ Read the rest of this article on InformationWeek. ]