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New York State's Success


Tracking Programs Aid in Disaster Response during Hurricane Sandy *NEW*

New York Environmental Tracking Program Logo

Hurricane Sandy Slams East Coast

Hurricane Sandy, a severe storm in October 2012, affected 24 states. The superstorm caused severe damage in many areas, especially in New Jersey, New York City, and other parts of New York State. Many communities in these areas experienced strong winds, heavy rainfall, widespread flooding, power outages, and damage to roads, bridges, buildings, and homes. As a result, millions of residents had no power, heat, or running water for multiple days during cold, fall weather. 

Right after the storm, residents of these areas faced several health risks. These risks included carbon monoxide poisoning from improper use of generators or gas heaters; hypothermia from not having heat; worsening symptoms of heart and lung disease from exposure to cold temperatures; not having access to medical care; and foodborne illnesses from a lack of refrigeration caused by power outages.

Tracking Programs Play Role in Disaster Surveillance and Response Efforts

Tracking programs offer experienced, skilled staff; provide easy access to health and environment data; and have existing technology systems that can be quickly adapted for new purposes. For all of these reasons, local tracking programs are valuable partners during disasters or other emergency events. Tracking program staff from NJ, NYC, and NYS provided expertise and innovative strategies to assist with Hurricane Sandy surveillance and response. The NYS Tracking Program assisted in the state’s response to Hurricane Sandy by using its existing GIS capabilities to map the locations of Disaster Recovery Centers for employees using tablets and other handheld devices. Having the maps made it easier for emergency responders and residents to find the centers and receive the services and support needed. The Tracking Program also developed a Web-based mapping application to help track and manage the needs of health care facilities in the storm’s aftermath. Workers were able to enter information related to supply management, patient capacity, and access. Tracking program staff members were also sent to the facilities to assist with the emergency response efforts.

Rapid Response Reduces Negative Public Health Effects

The efforts of the tracking staff, in partnership with other health department staff and other agencies, informed emergency and public health responses to meet residents’ needs after Hurricane Sandy. Technology, staff expertise, and strong working relationships that were built during earlier tracking program activities helped workers assess effects of the hurricane on residents and to prevent additional health effects.


Answering Concerns about Neighborhood Air Quality

Traffic Jam

What is the problem?

The Buffalo Peace Bridge Plaza spans the Niagara River and connects New York State to Ontario, Canada. Lots of traffic passes over the bridge every day. Residents in neighborhoods on the New York side of the bridge worried that the planned future expansion and improvements of the Peace Bridge Plaza would cause an increase in air pollution from additional traffic and lead to respiratory health problems like asthma attacks.

What did Tracking do?

The New York State Tracking Program partnered with state environmental and transportation agencies to investigate residents' concerns. They examined air quality and related health concerns in neighborhoods surrounding the Peace Bridge toll plaza. The tracking program analyzed zip code level data on asthma-related hospital stays and emergency department visits in the neighborhoods surrounding the Peace Bridge. They also studied and mapped air quality data, traffic counts, and socioeconomic data for the same areas. The data showed that neighborhoods surrounding the bridge were not at increased risk for asthma-related health problems from air pollution.

Improved public health

The state tracking program and partners presented the information to concerned residents and issued a report. They shared information about how current air quality in the neighborhoods around the bridge was not contributing to asthma problems among people living there. Also, they educated neighborhood residents about how the new construction would result in improved air quality over time, despite a possible increase in traffic.


Tracking carbon monoxide risk factors to prevent poisonings

New York Environmental Tracking Program Logo

What is the problem?

Many New Yorkers use portable generators when the power goes out. Generator use increases the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Little information is available about how many households use portable generators during power outages. Also, the number of households that have properly installed and maintained CO alarms is unknown.

What did Tracking do?

To learn more about portable generator and CO alarm use, New York State's Tracking Program added questions to the 2008 New York State Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. The Tracking Program collected and analyzed survey results that showed nearly 20% of state residents and more than 33% of residents living outside major cities had a portable generator. Almost 30% of all residents did not have a CO alarm in their homes.

Improved public health

The state department of health used the tracking program information to identify areas most at risk for CO poisoning. The state worked with local health departments and other partners to distribute generator safety posters and CO poisoning-prevention door hangers to area residents. The survey data will track the success of the generator campaign. The data will also show whether people follow the 2009 state law mandating CO alarms in all homes.


Providing neighborhood-level cancer data

Family on streets of New York

What is the problem?

New York residents would like to see maps showing new cancer cases in their neighborhoods. The state has long struggled with how to respond to this need, which requires sharing detailed data while protecting patient identity.

What did Tracking do?

New York State's Tracking Program worked with partners to develop the Environmental Facilities and Cancer Mapping application. It contains maps that show the number of cancer cases and locations of environmental facilities at the census block level. Users can search for data on 23 types of cancer and see locations of 15 types of environmental facilities.

Because showing data at the block level could risk patients' privacy, the Tracking Program developed the Geographic Aggregation Tool to group blocks with few cases. This reduces the likelihood of identifying specific people.

Improved public health

With these tools, health departments can respond more quickly and easily able to information requests. The public can also use this information to better understand cancer in their neighborhoods. Before the Tracking Program, this level of cancer information was not available to the public.


Assisting with public health investigations

Coal factory with smoke plumes

What is the problem?

A citizen asked the health department to look into respiratory disease in communities near an upstate New York coal-fired power plant. Getting, processing, and evaluating the necessary data can take a long time. Community members often want this information quickly.

What did Tracking do?

Using data gathered through the state Tracking Program, the health department quickly was able to find the rates of hospital stays for asthma and other respiratory diseases in areas downwind of the power plant. The results showed fewer than expected hospital stays for asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Improved public health

The Tracking Program data on respiratory-related hospital stays were readily available. The health department investigated respiratory disease in the area and efficiently and quickly provided findings to local residents and to the media.


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