Is Yellow Fever Knocking At Our Door?

25 04 2017

The following article was passed along to me by David Olinger, the County’s Public Health Preparedness Coordinator.  It is an article that is written by Michaeleen Doucleff and published by Houston Public Media News 88.7

It is a good reminder that, even as we prepare for hazards that we know too well (like river flooding and hurricanes), everybody needs to be equally prepared for hazards that come from the public health realm.  Back in 2009, it was H1N1.  Then it was Ebola a couple of years later.  And then last year it was the Zika virus that still is hanging around causing problems.  As the author says—- is Yellow Fever the next infectious disease we will have to worry about in the Houston area?

 

 

 

Scientists love patterns.

It’s what makes science possible — and powerful — especially when it comes to infectious diseases.

Over the past 30 years, scientists have noticed a distinctive pattern of mosquito-borne diseases in the Western Hemisphere: Three viruses have cropped up, caused small outbreaks and then one day — poof! — they hit a city and spread like gangbusters.

All three viruses are carried by the same mosquito, called Aedes aegypti. All three have caused millions of cases in Latin America and the Caribbean. And all three have gotten a foothold in the U.S., causing small outbreaks.

Now there’s a fourth one lurking in the Brazilian rain forest, says Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. It’s familiar. And it’s deadly: yellow fever.

In a recent commentary for the New England Journal of Medicine, Fauci and his colleague Dr. Catherine Paules explain the pattern seen across Latin America and how the historical information could help us intercept the next epidemic.

The waves of epidemics from the three other viruses started in the 1990s.

First dengue — a nasty virus that can cause hemorrhaging — re-emerged in parts of Latin America after it had been eliminated in 18 countries.

Next up came chikungunya. The virus first appeared in the Caribbean in 2013. It hopped around the islands for a few months and then finally hit the mainland of Central and South Americas, where it caused debilitating joint pain in thousands of people.

Then last year, Zika emerged as the first mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects. Still today, the U.S. is seeing about 30 to 40 Zika cases in pregnant women each week.

“Now all of a sudden you start to see this very interesting clustering of yellow fever cases in Brazil,” says Fauci.

The outbreak started in December and has swelled to about 600 confirmed cases and more than a thousand suspected cases, the Brazil Ministry of Health reports. Symptoms can include fever, nausea and muscle aches. In about 15 percent of cases, the disease progresses into a toxic phase, which can include jaundice, bleeding and organ failure. There have been about 200 deaths in Brazil.

“That’s a potential threat,” Fauci says.

So far, the disease is still isolated to a rural area, Fauci says. And it’s spreading only among mosquitoes that live in the forest and not in mosquitoes that thrive in cities, called Aedes aegypti.

But that scenario could change quickly, Fauci says, if Aedes aegypti picks up the virus from infected people.

“If Aedes aegypti mosquitoes start spreading yellow fever in Brazil, there’s a possibility that you might have an outbreak in very populous areas in Brazil, such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo,” Fauci says.

“Whether that’s going to happen, I don’t know. But if it does, we’re going to get a lot of travel-related cases in the U.S.,” he says, “which means physicians here have to be aware of it.”

And that’s why Fauci penned the commentary: To alert public health officials and doctors so they won’t miss cases.

“This is a wake-up call,” Fauci says. “Be careful. If someone comes in with an illness that’s compatible with the yellow fever, you might want to ask them, ‘Have you traveled to this part of Brazil?’ “

But there’s another reason to keep an eye on yellow fever in the Americas. Unlike Zika, chikungunya, and dengue, the world actually has an effective way to prepare for an outbreak. We have a vaccine that is 99 percent effective.

“That’s really an amazing asset,” says biologist Erin Mordecai, who studies infectious diseases at Stanford University.

“So this is a great example of a time that we could be proactive,” she says. “We have a good vaccine, and we need to make sure that there’s enough available in the case of a large outbreak.”

And right now, that’s a bit of a problem, Fauci says. The world’s supply of the yellow fever vaccine is low. There aren’t enough doses to protect Brazil’s population of 200 million, not to mention the rest of Latin America.

“We don’t have enough vaccine. Period,” he says. “We’re going to have to make more vaccine. And that will take time.”

In the meantime, predictions that Brazil’s outbreak would burn out quickly have turned out to be wrong. The outbreak continues to grow while health officials make deep cuts into the vaccine stockpile.





This Day in Texas Disaster History – April 16th

16 04 2017

April 16, 1947 – Ammonium Nitrate Explosion, Texas City, TX

The Texas City disaster was an industrial accident that occurred April 16, 1947, in the Port of Texas City. It generally considered the worst industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the port), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (approximately 2,100 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate detonated, with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department; 27 of the 28 members of Texas City’s volunteer fire department and 3 members of the Texas City Heights Volunteer Fire Department who were on the docks near the burning ship were killed.

One firefighter, Fred Dowdy, who had not responded to the initial call, coordinated other firefighters arriving from communities up to 60 miles (100 km) away. Eventually 200 firefighters arrived, from as far away as Los Angeles. Fires resulting from the cataclysmic events were still burning a week after the disaster, and the process of body recovery took nearly a month. All four fire engines of Texas City were twisted and burned hulks.  It is said that one positive result of the Texas City disaster was widespread disaster response planning to help organize plant, local, and regional responses to emergencies.

Hundreds of lawsuits were filed as a result of the disaster.  The disaster triggered the first ever class action lawsuit against the United States government, under the then-recently enacted Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), on behalf of 8,485 victims.

 





What is an Emergency Manager?

15 03 2016

Headline in The New York Times:  “Anger in Michigan Over Appointing Emergency Managers”

Headline in The Nation:  “The Scandal of Michigan’s Emergency Managers”

Headline in the Arizona Daily Star:  “Problems in Michigan show rift over emergency managers”


Clearly, the headlines listed above are disturbing.  As a certified emergency manager, my interest naturally piques when I come across a headline which indicates that there might be problems with my profession which is focused on disaster management.  What the heck is going on in Michigan?  Why are people angry with the Emergency Managers? What rifts have been created?  The fact that events have caused such questions to be raised is of concern to both me and the others I know that work in the field of emergency management.

They seem like strange questions.  Why?  Well, because the “emergency managers’ that I know are dedicated public servants who are focused on saving lives, preventing injuries, and protecting property when a disaster occurs.  These individuals are busy making plans, organizing resources, and analyzing data all in an effort to mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from effects of all types of hazards.  Perhaps getting organizations and citizens prepared for the hurricane season which begins on June 1st.  Perhaps sending out warning and alerts when a river is outside its banks and threatens a community.  Perhaps working with federal disaster aid workers who arrive in a community where a tornado has touched down causing loss of life and damages to homes and businesses.

A group of protesters carry signs against an emergency financial manager being appointed to the city of Detroit as they protest outside a private club where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was scheduled to speak in downtown Detroit, Michigan March 8, 2013. Snyder declared that the city faces a fiscal emergency which virtually assures that the state of Michigan will assume control of Detroit's books and eventually decide whether the city should file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)

A group of protesters carry signs against an emergency financial manager being appointed to the city of Detroit as they protest outside a private club where Michigan Governor Rick Snyder was scheduled to speak in downtown Detroit, Michigan March 8, 2013. Snyder declared that the city faces a fiscal emergency which virtually assures that the state of Michigan will assume control of Detroit’s books and eventually decide whether the city should file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)

Usually citizens do not get “angry” about the work of emergency managers— but they seem to do so in Michigan?  It made me wonder why that could be.  Well, the answer is actually quite simple—- though Michigan does have its share of “disaster emergency managers,” they also have other positions, created by the State Legislature, that focus on “emergency financial managers.”  These “emergency financial managers” do not necessarily focus on disasters of all types (e.g. hurricanes, public health, etc…); instead they are individuals appointed by the Governor of Michigan to take control of a local governments facing a financial emergency. Sometimes they are even appointed to take control of public schools.

More than twenty times a Governor has appointed a manager to supplant a governing body or a chief executive officer to fix a financial problem.  After being appointed, these “emergency financial managers” have the authority to remove any of the governing body’s elected officials if they are not providing adequate assistance.  These managers are empowered to take total control of the finances of the agency, including having the ability to reduce pay, use private contractors, reorganize agency departments, and modify employee contracts.   They undoubtedly have tough jobs to do and obviously limited resources to do those jobs.  But, also, these emergency managers are often “outsiders” who are taking charge over and above the sentiments of the local populations and elected officials.  So, now I get it.  Now the headlines above make some sense—– I can clearly envision individuals who have “all the financial power” making citizens angry and causing rifts in a community.

The problem is that in Michigan, these individuals are simply called “Emergency Managers.”  That is misleading and confusing in many ways.  The headlines make sense to me now—- but I have a long background in municipal government working as both a city manager and an emergency manager (or should I specifically state a “disaster” emergency manager).  And I spent the time to investigate what is actually going on in Michigan.

But for the average citizen perusing the Internet, or who may still read a newspaper, they do not know there are two type of “emergency managers.”  They are not going to investigate the differences and they are going to assume that all “emergency managers” are the same because the moniker is the same—- even though the duties of the two types are not remotely the same.  And presently, you are probably hearing the term used many times in reference to the Flint, Michigan contaminated water emergency.

In a news release issued today, the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), believes “there is serious confusion and misunderstanding of the use of the term “emergency manager” in the press and public related to the Flint water situation,” as well as previous use of “emergency managers” in places like Detroit, Pontiac, and Benton Harbor, just to name a few locations.  So, what is the problem?

IAEM logoRobie Robinson, President of IAEM, takes a stab at answering that particular question in the news release.  He states that “the use of the term ’emergency manager’ to describe these appointed financial managers in Michigan has generated an incredible amount of dangerous confusion for the public, especially since the Flint issue has now become a national story.  Dedicated emergency managers across the country now are being forced to address questions that underline a misguided sense of concern about the role of an emergency manager.”  And, of course, Mr. Robinson is referring to the “disaster-type” of emergency manager.

“Unfortunately, an impression is beginning to take shape that emergency managers exist to cut budgets and reduce costs at the expense of the community safety and security,” Robinson noted, when indeed the exact opposite is true.”  As described above in this blog entry, the emergency managers most familiar in communities across the country, and including more than 4,200 professional emergency managers in the United States, do not act in a manner as a financial experts with immense powers to rein in the spending habits of a community.  Instead, most emergency managers work daily to collaborate with the community—- public safety agencies, non-profit organizations, the private sector, the media, in essence the “whole community,” in an effort to support disaster response and recovery efforts and build relationships to keep the community safe both on a daily basis; and in times of disaster.  And most importantly, they are not outsiders, they are members of the communities who build trust with those they serve.

“One thing must be made absolutely clear: the term ‘emergency manager’ in the Flint, Michigan, situation refers to a fiscal-­‐only function that bears no relationship to the term as it is commonly and universally used on national and an international basis,” states Robinson. “In the context of the Flint situation, emergency managers are actually municipal ‘emergency financial managers’ (EFMs) established by the Michigan legislature and appointed by the governor to oversee jurisdictions in Michigan that are threatened with financial insolvency.”

One last point I would like to make is that this confusion never really had to happen.  In Michigan, when this emergency manager position was created by Public Act 101 of 1988 (and as amended by Public Act 72 of 1990), the term used was actually “Emergency Financial Manager.”  But, as I understand the history, Public Act 72 was replaced by Public Act 4 of 2011, which RENAMED the position to emergency manager.

So the solution seems relatively simple—-let’s go back to the name of Emergency Financial Manager, or EFT, as was initially legislated in the early 1990s.  As stated in its news release today, “IAEM urges all media, members of government, and other leaders to educate the public, and help clarify that, in Michigan, an individual who is appointed to oversee a governmental body or jurisdiction because it is threatened with financial insolvency is not an ’emergency manager,’ but rather an ’emergency financial manager.’”

 

 





Brace Yourself for Fall and Winter Rainfall

19 10 2015

In its Fall 2015 Newsletter, the Brazos River Authority published an article indicating that those of us who reside in the Brazos River watershed, and that includes Fort Bend County, should be aware that we could experience more rainfall than normal this year.  The article is below:

A record-setting El Niño has the potential to deluge Texas with wet weather during the late fall and winter months, which could top off Brazos basin reservoir levels that have been dropping due to returning drought conditions. But the same weather phenomenon could also bring too much of a good thing, with potential flood conditions also a possibility in upcoming months.

The National Weather Service Fort Worth Office’s Climate Prediction Center projects that the El Niño conditions will continue into the spring.

What is El Niño? It is a weather pattern which begins in the Pacific Ocean and results in changing wind patterns and water temperatures. These weather patterns don’t just stay in that area, but move to other places, and affect the weather in the United States.

Climate experts say the current El Niño pattern is one of the largest ever observed, and El Niño is expected to get stronger in the coming months.

What will the impact be for the Brazos Basin?

The Pacific Jet Stream is expected to bring wetter conditions than usual to North and Central Texas, along with cooler winter temperatures. Interestingly, the NWS reports that outbreaks of extreme cold weather are actually less likely during strong El Niño winters, with fewer days of freezing temperatures. So while the weather may be cooler, extremes are less likely.

It is the increased cloud cover and precipitation that should result in lower than usual daytime high temperatures.

Texas experienced a wetter than usual spring this year, but the heat and dry weather of July and August allowed the drought conditions to return to the Brazos basin and other parts of the state.

If El Niño brings significant rainfall, as expected, it will end the ongoing “flash drought.” A flash drought is one that develops quickly but does not last long. Also, because the wetter weather is expected through much of the 2016 spring, that could prevent or delay drought conditions from returning later next year.

Flooding is always a concern, and can occur even during periods of drought, the NWS reports. During a prolonged wet period, however, the likelihood of flooding greatly increases because of saturated soil.

This past spring, the rainfall filled depleted reservoirs. This fall and winter, with most reservoirs remaining close to full, “the runoff from heavy multiple rain events would likely surge lake levels back into their flood pools,” the NWS warns.

Since data has been collected on El Niño patterns, there are El Niño events that can be classified as strong, and only two of these (1991-92 and 1997-98) were extraordinarily wet. However, those two seasons did not have much freezing precipitation. Two years that did have more freezing precipitation than normal were the 1965-66 and 1972-73 seasons, which interestingly, did not have higher precipitation levels overall.

State climatologist’s forecast

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said that we can’t predict with certainly what this El Niño season will bring, but we can be pretty sure of some wet weather.

“Most El Niño events produce above normal rain across Texas, especially from late fall to early spring,” he said. “But the two strongest El Niño events in history were associated with near-normal to slightly below-normal rainfall in Texas. It may be that there’s a sweet spot for El Niño and Texas rainfall, and the strongest El Niño events overshoot the mark. The fourth-strongest El Niño (since 1895) was the 1991-1992 El Niño that helped produce extensive flooding along the Brazos River in December 1991. About the only thing that seems possible to rule out at this stage is the possibility of being substantially drier than normal over the next nine months,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Because Texas is near the southern edge of the jet stream on average, storminess increases during El Niño and decreases during La Niña. In general, the chances of wet weather in the winter increase across the southern United States and decrease a bit in the northern United States. Temperatures in the southern United States tend to be a bit cooler than normal during El Niño, and warmer than normal in the northern United States.”

How certain is the impact of an El Niño pattern?

“In some places the effect is more reliable than others,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “In Texas the effect is especially reliable, but even so, it only accounts for about a third of the year-to-year weather variations we experience. Since 1950, Texas as a whole has never had a November through March significantly drier than normal during an El Niño.

“An El Niño winter is typically cold, wet, and cloudy. The best overall adjective would be ‘yucky.’ But think of all the food that’s going to be grown next spring that will have a good solid start thanks to the wet weather over the winter.”

Brazos basin status and forecast

Despite a hot and dry summer that lingered into early fall, the unusually rainy spring resulted in full reservoirs in the Brazos basin. While reservoir levels have declined some as a result of the recent hot, dry conditions, they are still “in pretty good shape,” said Brad Brunett, water services manager for the BRA.

“Reservoirs typically lag behind the onset and ending of drought conditions,” he said. “Following a wet period when lakes fill up, it may take several months of dry weather before the effects are seen in lake levels starting back down. Toward the end of a drought when rainfall starts increasing, it takes a while before enough runoff is generated to start positively impacting lake levels. Because of the rain earlier this year, we’re in good shape heading into fall, and that should be the case heading into next summer, too.”

If El Niño brings heavy rains, what will that mean for the basin?

“If we experience higher than normal rainfalls, there’s a good chance we’ll have to pass more flood water through BRA reservoirs, and the (US Army Corps of Engineers) reservoirs may be up in the flood pools again,” Brunett said.

“The good news is that we should be in great shape as far as water supply heading into the summer months.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Bretagne: The Last Known Living Search and Rescue Dog Who Worked at Ground Zero

20 09 2015

As members of Texas Task Force 1, Bretagne and her mom/handler Denise Corliss had an intense first deployment They joined nearly 100 other search and rescue dogs to find and save people trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center after 9/11. They’ve had an unshakable bond ever since.

After hearing Bretagne’s story and learning that her 16th birthday was coming up, there was no question in our minds that she deserved a Dog’s Best Day for the ages.

To celebrate her birthday and thank her for her incredible service, we were honored to team up with the dog-lovers at 1 Hotels to bring this New York City hero and her mom back to the city for the ultimate Dog’s Best Day.

 





Never Forget – 9/11/2001

11 09 2015

World Trade Center Memorial Night_Reuters





Fort Bend County Still Among the Fastest-Growing Counties in the United States

29 04 2015

FBC mapThe primary purpose of this blog is to focus on emergency management.  Of course, we want to pay special attention to Fort Bend County and its efforts to provide a safe and secure environment for its citizens and businesses.  The Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management coordinates disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities to provide the safe environment noted above.  So, you might ask, why does this blog sometimes feature articles on economic development and population growth?  Because the construction of more housing, the locating of more businesses, and the arrival of new families has a direct effect on emergency management activities in the County.

Our County is now the 10th largest county in Texas having experienced a 57% rate in growth over the last decade. The efforts of our elected officials and the business community in Fort Bend County have caused this expansion which has created more jobs, more tax dollars, and dynamic business centers to create opportunity and diversity like no other place in Texas. Day in and day out, our population of almost 700,00 enjoys a fantastic environment for working and going to school and playing in a County which is the envy of most others, not only in the State of Texas, but in the nation.

On March 26, 2015, The Texas Tribune published an article about the growth of Texas’ population and the clear trend that the suburbs in metropolitan areas are demonstrating the quickest growth.  The article was written by Alexa Ura.  The reporter indicates that three of the State’s counties ranked among the fastest-growing areas in the United States based on recently released demographic information released by the United States Census Bureau.  Ura writes that “Fort Bend County, home to about 652,000 people in 2013, grew by 4.7 percent and ranked as the sixth-fastest-growing county. Southwest of Houston, Fort Bend has been called the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S. because its population comes the closest to having an equal division of the nation’s four major ethnic communities — Asian, black, Hispanic and white. The county comprises several Houston suburbs, including Sugar Land and Richmond.”  Additionally, Lloyd Potter, the State of Texas demographer estimates that “Fort Bend County would eventually outgrow the suburb label given the rate of its population increase.”

However, this creates a challenge—— to paraphrase from familiar scripture—– “though we are blessed in Fort Bend County, much is required to make sure that our beautiful landscapes, historic landmarks, and stable community is not devastated by natural or man-made threats.”  Fort Bend County, through the leadership of County Judge Bob Hebert and the Commissioners Court, recognizes the need to improve the quality of life in our County through economic development, but also the charge to, not only protect the safety of our citizens, but also to instill confidence that Fort Bend citizens can go about raising families, conducting business and living their lives without abnormal fears from those who wish us harm, or the unpredictability of natural disasters.