By Kristen P. Finne
(Released 4 June 2020) In an emergency response, timing is everything. As hurricane and wildfire season gets underway, think back to the 2017 historic hurricanes and wildfires which presented new challenges not only for the scale but also for the impact to critical infrastructure. To help those on the frontline and some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, emPOWER had to innovate and offer a tool that could deliver data with minimal actions and in seconds.
Three years ago, responders and volunteers rapidly rostered and deployed to areas on the shores and hills of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands and in the mountains and valleys of California to help those at risk and adversely impacted. Many of these areas faced communication challenges due to critical infrastructure damage which caused intermittent internet and cellular service that minimized their ability to use the HHS emPOWER Map, a public, interactive map to obtain data on the total number of at-risk Medicare beneficiaries in a geographic area, down to the ZIP Code.
To address critical needs that arose and help save lives, the HHS emPOWER Program leveraged the power of artificial intelligence and mobile device applications to create emPOWER AI, a free, voice-activated tool available on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant mobile device applications. emPOWER AI instantly puts HHS emPOWER Map data into the hands of every emergency responder in every community.
This award marks a milestone in the HHS emPOWER Program’s efforts to help communities assist electricity and health care dependent populations. Incidents, emergencies, or disasters, such as the 2017 hurricanes and wildfires, disproportionately affect at-risk populations, such as older adults and disabled populations and those with a chronic illness.
Disasters continually demonstrate that people who rely on electricity-dependent durable medical, assistive equipment or devices to live independently in their homes can be rapidly thrust into life threatening situations in the event of a disaster and particularly those that result in a prolonged power outage.
emPOWER AI gives users accurate, timely data and information to help them anticipate, plan for, and respond to the needs of electricity-dependent individuals in their communities. This data can support emergency preparedness and response activities, such as planning for shelters and recharging stations, evacuation routes and accessible transportation and identifying geographic locations that may require more first-responder assistance.
Local community centers and volunteer organizations can use the data to identify areas that may require additional assistance and possibly offer backup power recharging support as well.
emPOWER AI and the HHS emPOWER Program represent ASPR and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ dedication to emPOWERing communities to protect health and save lives of at-risk populations prior to, during and after a disaster. To learn more about the HHS emPOWER Program, please visit https://empowermap.hhs.gov/.
Released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Click here for source.