Emergency Preparedness Looks Different in 2020

June 1, 2020 HMS

A Strong Atlantic Hurricane Season Looms, While the COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that there is a 60% chance that 2020 will be above normal. The National Hurricane Center is expecting between 13 and 19 named storms, with three to six having winds exceeding 111 miles per hour. We’ve already seen one tropical storm (Arthur) form in the Atlantic prior to June 1.

A more active hurricane season alone has important implications for emergency preparedness planning. Add in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s fair to say that emergency planning will look very different in 2020 than in other years. When emergencies strike, the American Red Cross and state and local authorities are hoping to minimize contact between displaced residents by housing them in hotels, rather than in mass shelters at public venues like convention centers or arenas. This strategy won’t work in all instances, so emergency authorities are also developing new protocols for shelters such as checking temperatures, distributing personal protective equipment (PPE), and isolating potentially ill individuals in a separate part of the shelter.

When hurricanes occur, people naturally worry about access to health care and critical medications. COVID-19 will most likely exacerbate these concerns. Given this year’s predictions for Atlantic hurricane activity, health plans may want to proactively develop emergency response plans which include outreach programs targeted at members affected by storms. Key considerations for planners include the following:

  • Will certain members be less prepared due to social determinants of health? COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on employment rates in the United States. Some members who have lost their jobs may be unable to afford storm supplies, such as bottled water and food, or to evacuate their homes. Health plans may want to connect at-risk members with local resources that can help.
  • What type of messaging won’t cause more “disaster fatigue?” COVID-19 has hit Americans hard in terms of their emotional health. This year, individuals may be less willing to pay attention to yet more “bad news,” like an approaching hurricane. Health plans must craft outreach messaging that members will pay attention to. This means developing message content with behavioral health best practices in mind.
  • How will hurricane preparation be different this year? In light of COVID-19, the CDC has noted that people in hurricane zones should allow extra time to acquire emergency supplies and medicines in advance of a storm. To minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19, health plans should remind members about mail order options for prescriptions, as well as local pharmacies that have drive-through windows. The CDC has also recommended additional items for evacuation “go-kits,” including hand sanitizer and two cloth face masks for each family member over the age of two.
  • What is the best way to reach members with important crisis-related messages? Many health plans rely on HMS’ Eliza outreach programs for crisis management. These customer engagement campaigns utilize a wide variety of communication channels, ranging from text messages to IVR calls and email messages. This ensures that members get important and timely messages quickly. HMS can turn outreach programs around rapidly which is essential in hurricane situations that can change on a daily basis. Eliza’s consumer engagement experts use behavioral science to create personalized conversations that are tailored to different age groups, cultures, and demographic segments. Eliza also supports multi-language options and Hispanic cultural adaptation.

This summer will most likely be unpredictable, both in terms of the weather and the pandemic’s progression. Developing an outreach strategy now to support members in hurricane-prone regions will help your organization sleep a little bit easier. Feel free to reach out and learn more about HMS’ rapid outreach programs for crisis management. Implementation is easy, with our client engagement teams facilitating the entire process from content creation and design to program execution and reporting.

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