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September 27, 2017

Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season

Written by Genevieve Shattow

Disasters like the recent hurricanes can be costly for companies that rely on power to keep their products protected. Using both temperature and power outage data, our pharmacy clients were able to assess both product and revenue loss in ways that allowed them to continue to assist patients to the best of their best ability. We evaluated power outages across 1,200 locations we monitor in Florida to generate a timelapse map that shows the power loss impact of Hurricane Irma.

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To generate the map, we looked at over 1,200 pharmacies with gateways installed. Each gateway reports over the cellular network every 15 minutes, letting us know if it is on AC (wall) power or its backup DC (battery) power. The map was colored by dividing the state into "regions of influence" for each pharmacy. Each red pixel is closer to a pharmacy without power than it is to a pharmacy with power during the 4-hour window starting at the timestamp in the lower left corner.

The map is a time lapse of power outages in Florida during Hurricane Irma and its aftermath. Red regions represent locations affected by power outages and blue regions depict areas that were largely unaffected (with the possible exception of cell tower outages). At Irma’s peak, over 40 percent of the pharmacies we monitor had lost power, and 44 percent of the area of the state was closer to a pharmacy without power than to a pharmacy with power. Five days after Irma made landfall in Florida, power had still not been returned to a number of stores.

Hurricanes are incredibly destructive. The storms themselves can take a full day to pass over a state, with heavy rains and high winds tearing down buildings and power lines. The aftermath can be just as painful it can take days to restore power to everyone and months or even years to rebuild devastated neighborhoods.

 

These storms can wreak havoc on public health and safety by limiting access to food, water, medicines, and other necessities that we typically take for granted. Power outages, for instance, pose a threat to perishables, such as milk and produce as well as to certain pharmaceuticals, including flu and tetanus vaccines, that require refrigeration to maintain their efficacy. Given that the Atlantic hurricane season extends through the start of flu season, a storm’s negative impact on the availability of flu vaccines could potentially contribute to higher rates of infection. Likewise, cleanup efforts can bring an increased need for tetanus vaccines, which are similarly unavailable.

After Harvey, Irma, and Maria hit the United States, several of our clients with stores in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico wanted to know which providers had managed to keep their stock adequately chilled. Many coolers and freezers are so well insulated that in the event of a power outage, they can keep their contents cool for several hours without a compressor running. By continually tracking temperatures in their coolers and freezers, we were able to identify which stores had the highest risk of unsafe storage conditions and which stores could continue providing customers with safe, effective products. With this additional information, our customers were able to decide which stock to get rid of on a cooler-by-cooler rather than a store-by-store basis, mitigating the financial fallout of the hurricanes by reducing product losses.

While nothing can compare to the human loss, the property losses from Harvey, Irma, and Maria are estimated to be in the billions. Insurance coverage for pharmacies is often tied to power outages. It can be difficult to get this information from utility companies that are still trying to restore power. We can track power outages through our cellular gateways, as shown below, and relate that information to our clients to help them document damage for insurance claims.

The data gathered by our system enabled our clients to not only save money, but also continue saving lives.

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