Georgia’s hurricane season

Moderated by Rick Badie

For years, Georgia’s been blessed with quiet hurricane seasons, but a state emergency management executive suggests we not take that for granted. Despite forecasts of a silent 2015 season, he advises all Georgians to prepare. In the other column, a Taiwan diplomat writes about the efficacy of the sovereign state’s health-care system.

Prepare for hurricane season

By Jim Butterworth

In a deadly storm 117 years ago, Cumberland Island was struck head-on by a hurricane. The Category 3 storm pounded the Georgia coast with 135-mph winds and massive waves, causing a 16-foot storm surge in Brunswick that left much of the city underwater. It’s estimated that hurricane killed 179 people across the Southeast.

That’s the last time Georgia was directly hit by a major hurricane with winds of at least 111 mph. Despite our 100 miles of coastline, we’ve gone more than a century without a direct hit from the biggest storms. More recently, it’s been a record-breaking nine years since a hurricane made landfall anywhere on the U.S. coast (Sandy was not categorized as a hurricane when it hit the Northeast in 2012).

It would be nice to hope our streak of good luck will continue. But hope is not a plan.

With its proximity to the coast, Georgia is at high risk from tropical storms. The National Weather Service has called the threat of Georgia hurricanes a “sleeping giant.” Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, named Savannah as the fourth most-overdue city for a hurricane.

Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 23-30. I encourage every resident, along the coast and inland, to get prepared before the Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.

Hurricanes are the most powerful storms in the world and can cause catastrophic damage even hundreds of miles inland. Straight-line winds can knock over buildings and take down power lines; they can also spawn even more powerful tornadoes. Large waves and storm surges can produce devastating floods along the coast, but dangerous flooding can also occur inland due to heavy rainfall.

Tropical storms don’t have to directly hit an area or even be particularly strong to cause significant problems. While Hurricane Katrina didn’t directly “hit” Georgia, it caused serious flooding across the western parts of the state and spawned 18 tornadoes here in one day.

To prepare, there are three mains steps to take: Be informed, make a plan and build a kit.

Being informed about the weather is crucial to staying safe. Luckily, there have never been more ways to stay weather-aware. Pay attention to local news and download a weather app for your smartphone, such as the Ready Georgia app, that will alert you to severe weather in your area.

Making a plan with your family ensures everyone will know what to do, whether it’s a hurricane or a tornado or flood produced by a hurricane. Your plan should make sure everyone knows where to shelter during a major storm, how to contact with each other and where to meet if communications are down. You should also consider the needs of older relatives or those with special needs, as well as pets.

Building a ready kit with emergency supplies ensures you have what you need to weather a storm or evacuate on short notice. Your kit should include at least a three-day supply of food and water, a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, back-up chargers for your mobile phones, paper maps of your area and a NOAA Weather Radio.

You should also know the terms used to describe severe weather. A tropical storm or hurricane watch means a storm with major sustained winds is possible within 48 hours, and you should be prepared to evacuate. A tropical storm or hurricane warning means a major storm is expected in the next 36 hours. If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.

To make sure your home is prepared, cover your windows with hurricane shutters or marine plywood. Bring in or tie down all outdoor furniture and decorations. Keep your trees and shrubs pruned. Keep the gas tank of your vehicle at least half-full.

For more about information on how to prepare, visit www.ready.ga.gov or download the Ready Georgia mobile app for your phone.

Jim Butterworth is director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security.

Good health is a global goal

By Chiang Been Huang

National health insurance has long been an issue of controversy among Americans. Even now, with Obamacare in place, Georgians and other U.S. citizens are divided as to its efficacy. Perhaps Taiwan’s experience with national health care can offer some perspective.

There was controversy when, in 2013, Georgia refused to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would have provided an estimated 650,000 low-income Georgians with health coverage, with most of the funding provided by the federal government.

Taiwan’s single-payer National Health Insurance system enrolls more than 99 percent of the population, and around 93 percent of the country’s health care providers participate. Basic premiums, shared among the insured, employers and government, are calculated based on monthly salaries and a set premium scale.

Disadvantaged persons can have their premiums and co-payments subsidized or waived, if necessary. As the NHI has achieved universal coverage at an affordable cost, health care is not a financial burden for the public. These factors contribute to a system satisfaction rate of about 80 percent. In Georgia, by contrast, taxpayers bear the cost of care for the uninsured in public hospitals and emergency rooms.

Yet since its launch in 1995, the NHI has faced funding challenges. Rising user demand led to budgetary shortfalls, spurring the government to implement systemwide fiscal and structural reforms. In 2013, the government levied a 2 percent supplementary premium on capital gains and unearned income, a measure that contributed to the NHI’s newfound financial strength.

Another step in improving universal care was the adoption of the latest information technologies. The integrated circuit card, issued to all system users, functions as a link between patients and health care providers, giving quick, secure access to medical records. The smart card is also valuable in managing the spread of highly communicable diseases, such as SARS.

As time is of the essence when dealing with medical issues, in 2013, the NHI established PharmaCloud, a cloud-based database of patient pharmaceutical records accessible to health care providers. This undertaking has minimized the incidence of script duplication and over-prescription, as well as the risk of harmful drug interactions.

Buoyed by the cost and efficiency benefits of PharmaCloud, the NHI launched My Health Bank in 2014. In less than 10 minutes, users can access their full medical data from the past year. Designers hope easy access to personal records will help users develop an appreciation of healthier lifestyles.

An automated system for processing hospital claims and reimbursements contributes to the NHI’s administration costs of 1.07 percent of medical expenditures, the lowest in the world. The sizable database of claims, which boasts leading-edge, internationally certified information security, also allows the NHI to analyze trends and generate statistics.

Going forward, decreasing birth rates and rapidly aging populations are the order of the day. Taiwan is no exception to these global trends, and its shrinking youth demographic will have to shoulder a greater financial burden. When estimating future demand for health care, the factor of aging must be taken into account.

Looking at ways to improve public health and slow the rate of aging are two of the most important challenges facing the NHI in the 21st century and beyond.

Taiwan is committed to national and global good health. We are proud of our health care system, and we wish much future success to the Affordable Care Act and good health to the Georgians who subscribe to it.

Chiang Been Huang is minister of health and welfare for the Republic of China (Taiwan).


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