The National Hurricane Conference – Dialogue and Lessons Learned

Erin Mullen

Dr. Erin Mullen is the Director of the Rx Response program. She is also a disaster responder, serving as a member of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) as a Clinical Pharmacy Unit Leader with the Logistics Response Assistance Team.

Last week at the National Hurricane Conference, we announced our new, easier to remember name and website for the pharmacy status reporting tool – Rx Open (available at

But what we didn’t talk about was what a great experience the conference was for me as an emergency manager, weather geek & hurricane survivor. I got to meet Bryan Norcross, who talked me & thousands of other South Floridians through the night 20 years ago as we went through Hurricane Andrew. And, of course, I met a bunch of dedicated professionals in meteorology, public safety and emergency management. We talked about Rx Response’s experiences and lessons learned with the response to Sandy, which you can read about in our Hurricane Sandy report.

What struck me as I attended the sessions and talked with attendees is the common struggle we all face as public health professionals, emergency managers or clinicians in developing messaging that motivates the public to respond with the behavior we want: get vaccinated, evacuate a dangerous area, or plan your medication needs before disaster strikes.

Dr. Earl “Jay” Baker presented research showing that even when people knew there was a danger, they often misunderstood the actual risk, and their incomplete knowledge led to the wrong decisions not to evacuate their homes when they were in danger. Dr. Rick Knabb, Director of the National Hurricane Center, talked about the decisions he and his staff had to make when communicating about the nature of a tropical system (hurricane vs. post-tropical) and the consequences of that storm making landfall.

FEMA’s Administrator Craig Fugate expressed his frustration with the public’s continued unwillingness to heed pre-storm warnings. In public health, we waste resources proving again and again that vaccines are safe, effective, and appropriate health interventions that reduce morbidity and mortality significantly. And in clinical practice, we see the effects of non-adherence in decreased health outcomes and antibiotic resistance.

These common challenges of developing the right communications to motivate changes in behavior to achieve health and safety goals are recurrent ones. There is never one answer…we all take in information in many ways, and there are many things that influence the decisions we make based on our personal experiences and the information we have collected.

What motivates you to take action? Email me at with comments, questions or blog ideas.