Teaming up to bring shelter health surveillance data home

By Kjerstin Andreasen, Business Operations Manager at BAO Systems

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Copyright: @ The American National Red Cross 2018

In recent years, the United States has experienced severe weather. Hurricanes in the southern states, nor’easters along the top of the Atlantic coast, and drought that sets off raging wildfires displace thousands of citizens. These extreme weather systems and patterns shed light on the growing concern of a warming planet and in their wake, they leave a trail of devastation. In the blink of an eye, entire communities must evacuate. Hurricane Ida alone, making landfall in late September 2021, left tens of thousands of people without a home.

With nowhere else to go, many seek refuge in Red Cross emergency shelters. Here they are fed, clothed, provided a bed and receive other important services. Equally important to providing services to the displaced populations is collecting data so that the disaster response is the most effective. Identifying the actual or potential health risks is a critical step in understanding the acute needs, developing long term strategies, and making informed decisions.

Shelter health surveillance is an efficient means of quickly identifying and characterizing health issues and concerns in sheltered populations. In many cases, shelter surveillance may be the only source of near real-time public health data available, yet too often the data collection systems are paper based, which gives way to inaccurate data, onerous processes and delays.

Partnering to modernize shelter health surveillance

BAO Systems is developing and implementing an electronic shelter health surveillance data system for the Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Council of State & Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE). With this system, shelter staff and decision makers collect, transmit, and analyze real-time shelter health surveillance data during public health disasters and emergencies.

The electronic shelter surveillance system eliminates the paper based system and modernizes shelter health surveillance. It provides Red Cross, CDC and CSTE with a tool to more effectively and efficiently monitor the health of those in shelters post-disaster and assist in disaster response efforts. Better quality, real-time data are critical for infectious disease surveillance, such as a potential measles outbreak, and supply chain management. The frontline workers now know when to order more vital medicines and supplies, and have the information needed to prevent stock outs.  

The electronic shelter health surveillance system addresses the concerns around data quality and security, the data cycle, and data management. Data can be directly collected, centrally stored, and disseminated in a reliable, consistent and timely manner with the BAO Systems Dharma Platform. Reducing the need for fax transmission, photos of data, and secondary data entry brings efficiency to the data cycle with a web dashboard that provides access to real-time, descriptive analytics and easily prepared and disseminated reports. 

BAO Systems will continue, following a recent pilot, to partner with Red Cross, CDC and CSTE to implement the electronic shelter surveillance system in all Red Cross shelters and identify other public health disasters for which shelter health surveillance data is needed. With an improved data collection system, stakeholders will be able to more rapidly and accurately identify health issues and other concerns, and make decisions to quickly address the immediate and longer term health needs of the sheltered population in disaster areas.


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