The past three years have demonstrated a collective effort to continuously improve disaster response strategies in Florida. The Emergency Census lays the foundation for other states considering how to locate missing persons once disasters strike.
An “above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is expected,” according to forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service. As state and local leaders and disaster response teams are preparing for hurricane season, which in the Atlantic region runs from June 1 through November 30, they are turning to health information organizations to identify tools that will assist response efforts. In Florida where hurricanes have devastated communities over recent years, the Florida Health Information Exchange, operated by Audacious Inquiry, has implemented the Emergency Census to actively assist local agencies in locating missing individuals. This deployment was done in collaboration with Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), the Florida Department of Health, and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
How the Emergency Census Works
Florida’s communities have located missing persons through the Emergency Census, which runs on Audacious Inquiry’s Encounter Notification Service® (ENS®). ENS’ technology utilizes real-time Admit, Discharge, Transfer (ADT) data provided by over 95% of acute care facilities, 89% of Florida’s rehab hospitals, and over 120 skilled nursing facilities. State agencies and other authorized participants submit lists of missing individuals that are loaded into the Emergency Census module of ENS. The system then monitors inbound feeds from provider facilities, compares them to the lists of missing individuals, and generates a census of missing individuals identified as having received care at a given facility during the emergency.
History of the Emergency Census
The development of the Emergency Census in 2017 marked a turning point for hurricane preparedness and response efforts in Florida. By the following year, response teams leveraged the Emergency Census to locate missing individuals when Hurricane Michael hit. Over 5,000 missing persons were recorded and loaded into the system, and 400 people were located within the first hour. In 2019, the Emergency Census and its credentialed users were well-positioned to identify more missing persons when Hurricane Dorian hit, but luckily the service did not need to be deployed since there was not significant hurricane damage.
Key tips for emergency preparedness and response teams to consider
Here are some key tips from Evan Carter, Senior Director at Audacious Inquiry, for successful deployment of Emergency Census in other states during hurricane season:
- Temporary data retention enables services like the Emergency Census during a state of emergency.
In Florida, encounter data is typically purged soon after real-time routing of ADT data. This routine purge is temporarily paused during a declared state of emergency to allow missing persons to be located using Emergency Census.
- Identify, train, and provide credentials to users prior to a hurricane.
Ensure disaster response personnel have enough time to become fully engaged with new processes and procedures before implementing new technology. The Florida HIE maintains strong, ongoing lines of communication throughout the year with constituents, which helps support utilization during hurricanes
- Standardization of information into the Emergency Census enables automation of identifying missing persons.
During Hurricane Michael in 2018, data quality from external sources did not match the formatting of data within the Emergency Census, which made the process of finding missing persons extremely manual. For instance, missing individuals need to be assigned an identifying number and patient demographics, such as date of birth and address, must be captured in a standardized way.
- User-focused information generates better efficiency.
The Emergency Census runs on data collected in ENS®, a service intended for initiating post-discharge care coordination. In the instance of a hurricane, not all of the data in ENS is pertinent or actionable to emergency response personnel so the information distributed is tailored to remove non-relevant information and enrichment of additional data needed. Additionally, information has been restructured so it meets the priorities of response teams.
This article was originally published on Audacious Inquiry and is republished here with permission.