Walking out into a rainstorm is hardly the best time to wonder if you remembered your umbrella; worse, the moment you lose control of your car is not when you should be fastening your seatbelt. So why, as a nation, should we wait until disaster looms to establish contingency plans, assess emergency measures, or set up new lines of communications?
The answer: We can’t afford to wait. Effective preparations require consistent, proven, and well-planned measures that tie together federal, state, local, tribal, and community resources and communications.
Partnerships do not establish themselves, but through organizations like the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), it’s easier to jointly prepare for the worst. With help from Aveshka, ASPR has been able—and continues—to proactively educate and prepare communities for disasters.
With this year’s hurricane season well underway, and strong storms gaining momentum and frequency, it’s more critical than ever to be prepared.
“Creating safer and prepared communities means leveraging an ‘all hazards’ approach. At Aveshka and HHS, we are looking at multiple layers of readiness across the national, state and local response levels,” said Carla Mitchell, Aveshka program director. “The key to this success is integrating into the communities so that in times of disaster, our nation can quickly recover.”
To that end, Aveshka supports ASPR programs like the National Disaster Medical System and the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), which in 2018 deployed hundreds of volunteers and intermittent employees to natural disasters throughout the 10 HHS regions across the country. That support includes working with state and local responders, coordinating information between key stakeholders, engaging ASPR with continuous updates, and supporting response and recovery efforts on the ground. It’s Aveshka personnel who help ensure all lines of communication are open, everyone has situational awareness and critical information is going where it’s supposed to.
“It boils down to everybody having access to all the information they need, especially in the planning prior to an event,” Mitchell said.
After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Aveshka supported the MRC on the ground ahead of the storm, coordinating with local volunteer and emergency response teams to prepare. Once Harvey made landfall, MRC teams assisted in establishing dozens of shelters in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, helping to manage donations for people forced from their homes, activating and helping staff community medical clinics, sheltering and transporting lost animals, and ensuring evacuees received important information and resources.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria that same year, Aveshka supported the MRC of Puerto Rico in their efforts to respond to hard-hit communities not just through shelters and ad-hoc medical stations, but also by getting out to remote towns isolated by collapsed infrastructure, providing everything from education on safe water practices to insect repellant and children’s coloring books.
In the aftermath of emergency events, Aveshka personnel have proven central to compiling and disseminating situation reports that provide a comprehensive rundown of activities. The reports include data such as units in the field and the work they’ve done; support measures such as shelters, medical treatment centers, and locations of deployed personnel and assets; key actions and accomplishments; and in retrospective reports, known shortfalls and lessons learned.
Preparing for disasters, expected or otherwise, is a process subject to ongoing fine-tuning. By fostering effective and impactful collaboration, Aveshka helps optimize the essential government partnerships and actions most needed in the wake of disaster.
“The heart of the work we’re doing is really about readiness, especially coordinating key stakeholders and ensuring robust communications,” Mitchell said. “Creating safer and better-prepared communities is the essence of our programs—it’s what we strive to do.”