North Carolina Integrates Data from Disaster Medical Assistance Teams for Improved Situational Awareness

Summary
hurricane

In September 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina as a slow-moving Category 1 hurricane. It brought record-breaking rainfall and catastrophic flooding to the southeastern region of the state. Mandatory evacuations swelled statewide shelters to more than 20,000 residents. Real-time syndromic surveillance data were essential not only to monitor injuries, illness, and deaths during and post-hurricane but to provide actionable situational awareness to responders and the public.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health (NC DPH) conducted active, enhanced surveillance before, during, and after Hurricane Florence. Using syndromic surveillance, they monitored injuries, drownings, motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide exposure, medication refills, and other storm-related health effects. When national Disaster Medical Assistance Teamsexternal icon (DMATs) deployed to shelters in North Carolina, CDC’s NSSP team asked DPH officials if they wanted to integrate these data. Within 24 hours, data from the two deployed DMATs were available in NSSP, providing insight into the health events experienced by those in shelters. Data were monitored along with emergency department visits and poison center calls to provide a more complete picture of the storm’s health impacts.

Improved situational awareness during natural disasters, like hurricanes, leads to more thorough, better coordinated response efforts. Funding from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program supports the use of syndromic surveillance in improving the nation’s public health.

Full Story

Public Health Problem

Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in North Carolina in September 2018. As a slow-moving storm, it brought record-breaking rainfall and catastrophic flooding to the southeastern region of the state. Mandatory evacuations swelled statewide shelters to more than 20,000 residents. Hazards such as breaches of coal ash and hog wasters added to the list of potential exposures. Real-time syndromic surveillance data were essential not only to monitor injuries, illness, and deaths during and post-hurricane but to provide actionable situational awareness to responders and the public.

Actions Taken

circular chart

Situational reports included visualization of syndrome and subsyndrome categories.

The North Carolina Division of Public Health (NC DPH) conducted active, enhanced surveillance before, during, and after Hurricane Florence using the state syndromic surveillance system, NC DETECT, and the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP). NC DETECT uses emergency department (ED) visits from the state’s 126 acute care hospitals, poison center calls, and emergency medical services (EMS) runs. NSSP has the same statewide ED data as NC DETECT. A hurricane dashboard was created in both systems before landfall to make information more easily available to any user. A diverse set of syndromes were included to monitor injuries, drownings, motor vehicle accidents, carbon monoxide exposure, medication refills, etc. A hurricane syndrome was also created to try to capture visits specific to the event. Syndrome data were reviewed by staff epidemiologists, and pertinent information was included in a daily situation report that was shared with the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During the response, CDC’s NSSP team asked DPH officials if they wanted to integrate data from Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) deployed in North Carolina.  Within 24 hours, data from the two deployed DMATs, one in Wake County and one in Mecklenburg County, were available in NSSP.

Epidemiology and Surveillance Situation Report

Contact the North Carolina Division of Public Health for a more accurate representation of the dashboard used to support the hurricane and other response efforts.

DMAT data were monitored along with ED visits and poison center calls. NSSP staff provided visual summaries of data for DPH review and analysis. Findings from the DMAT data, which were added to daily situation reports, provided insight into the health events experienced by those in shelters receiving DMAT care. Data were monitored for about one week until the DMATs were no longer deployed.

Outcome

A surveillance plan was in place before Hurricane Florence, but that plan did not include field hospital (DMAT) data. Because the DMAT field hospitals serve shelters, the situation report would be incomplete and likely biased without these data. Once NSSP provided DMAT data to the North Carolina DPH, these data were integrated with speed and ease and monitoring began immediately. DMAT data did not reveal major health events among shelter populations—still, DPH officials acquired a more representative picture of affected populations.

Improved situational awareness leads to thorough, better coordinated response efforts that could, potentially, discover vital public health issues. The DMAT data provided by NSSP gave DPH another piece of the surveillance puzzle and helped DPH take an important first step toward improving the state’s disaster surveillance plan.

Now, whenever DMATs are deployed, data are available to the state through NSSP.

Lessons Learned

Syndromic surveillance systems are inherently flexible and provide valuable situational awareness during natural disasters.

When Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) are deployed, data are available in the NSSP to monitor public health issues among populations in shelters that might not be represented in other data streams.

Lessons learned from this experience include the following tips:

  • Update emergency response plans to include the potential use of additional data streams, including DMAT data. Where possible, identify these data streams and points of contact.
  • Work with the NSSP team before an event to prepare for the deployment and use of additional data streams.

Contacts

Zachary Faigen, Enhanced Surveillance Epidemiologist
Division of Public Health, Communicable Disease Branch
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
zachary.faigen@dhhs.nc.gov

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services
Division of Health Informatics and Surveillance
www.cdc.gov/nssp

This success story shows how NSSP

  • Improves Data Representativeness
  • Improves Data Quality, Timeliness, and Use
  • Strengthens Syndromic Surveillance Practice
  • Informs Public Health Action or Response

The findings and outcomes described in this syndromic success story are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Syndromic Surveillance Program or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

North Carolina Integrates Data from Disaster Medical Assistance Teams for Improved Situational Awareness pdf icon[PDF – 813 KB]

Page last reviewed: September 24, 2021