Learn How Federal Medical Stations Help People during a Public Health Emergency
When the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) calls, CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) answers. In 2017, the stockpile simultaneously responded to not one, but three consecutive hurricanes, and, at the direction of HHS, rapidly deployed expert personnel, Federal Medical Stations (FMS), and other supplies to the affected areas.
An FMS is a non-emergency medical center set up during a natural disaster to care for people with special health needs, including those with chronic health conditions (e.g. respiratory illnesses and diabetes), limited mobility, and common mental health illnesses. It is between a temporary shelter and temporary hospital. Although FMS are typically up and running within 48 hours, their length of service is more open ended. FMS remain operational for as long as they are needed by the state or territory, and the stockpile can resupply them as requested.
Stockpile staff and volunteers rapidly setting up beds at George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX
Strategic National Stockpile leadership preparing for Irma while watching the path of Maria in team room at CDC Headquarters in Atlanta
Unloading FMS cargo in Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria Response
Steve Holland assisting with FMS set up in Manati, Puerto Rico
The Road to Houston
What would have been a 3-hour drive on a normal day took nearly 13 hours because of flooding roads. “Once we received orders to move the supplies to Houston, our SNS liaison coordinated with the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make a route plan for us, however, the plans continued to change as roads were flooding and closing every 5 minutes,” said Steve Holland, FMS strike team member. “The U.S. Marshal Service was instrumental in helping us get to the convention center.”
FMS strike teams (a specialized group of stockpile experts deployed to assist local responders) arrived in San Antonio, Texas, a few hours after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Most of the trucks were already there.
With the help of volunteers, the strike teams were able to unpack and set up in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston (pictured above) in only five hours. A typical set up normally takes 10-12 hours. This FMS site cared for 160 people displaced by Hurricane Harvey and in need of non-emergency medical care. As the convention center’s general population shelter began to accumulate, there were many patients running out of oxygen in their tanks. “Houston’s emergency response team asked if we were setting up for them,” said Martha Mock, CDC emergency management specialist serving on the strike team. “Once we confirmed, within an hour, patients were being placed in the beds as we were setting up.”
Houston was running out of oxygen, so it was crucial for the strike teams to set up the oxygen concentrators quickly. “Medics were literally hooking up the oxygen lines as soon as we handed it to them,” said Mock. “One patient’s granddaughter extended her gratitude to our team. If it wasn’t for the supply of oxygen we provided, her grandfather might have died. There were lot of hard-working volunteers doing good work, and it felt good to know that we were able to make a contribution.”
No Breaks In-Between
Meanwhile in Atlanta, stockpile staff were busy in the team room preparing for Hurricane Irma and following the path of Hurricane Maria, which would prove to be the largest and longest response in the 2017 hurricane season. By Sept. 13, 2017, the stockpile had deployed 3 FMS to Florida and 9 staff to support the Hurricane Irma response, and it would not be long before staff would regroup and prepare to deploy to Puerto Rico, as well.
Where Are We Now?
The first FMS and staff arrived in Puerto Rico within 48 hours of receiving orders from HHS. To date, six FMS have been shipped to Puerto Rico, and four are set up and operating in the cities of Manati, Bayamón, Ponce, and Arecibo. The stockpile had 115 personnel engaged in the response for Hurricane Maria, including those who have deployed to Puerto Rico as strike team members and supply chain experts as well as responders at CDC headquarters and at stockpile warehouses across the country. SNS also deployed liaisons to the HHS Secretary’s Operation Center in Washington, D.C. and to the Incident Response Coordination Team in San Juan.
Since Sept. 26, 2017, the stockpile has:
- coordinated delivery of four refrigerators, meals ready-to-eat, water and ancillary supplies for vaccines
- established warehouse service and ground transportation in Puerto Rico, specifically a medical distribution center supporting all medical supplies for the Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and FMS across the island
- restocked FMS operations with a new shipment of medicines and supplies
In addition, the stockpile has purchased and deployed vaccines for hepatitis a and b, tetanus, pneumococcal, rabies and influenza as well as surplus medical supplies to assist in Puerto Rico’s public health needs.
Check out the stockpile’s infographic regularly for up-to-date numbers on the division’s response efforts. To learn more about how CDC supports America during emergencies, visit CDC 24/7 and Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response webpage.