October 29th marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. Thousands of residents living along the eastern seaboard were displaced and lost access to power. For most Americans, losing power during a storm is an inconvenience, but for those who rely on oxygen concentrators or portable ventilators or other electrically powered durable medical equipment (DME), electricity is a matter of life or death. Thousands of people in the United States rely on electrically powered DME to meet their medical needs at home. In prolonged power outages, they often must seek help in shelters or emergency rooms to power the equipment or recharge batteries.
To help these patients, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Dr. Nicole Lurie, issued an innovative challenge last month. The Department is offering a prize purse of up to $10,000 to competitors who submit winning ideas for a technology that, in emergencies, could determine the location and status of life-sustaining DME and get help to users. With access to real-time information about the locations and remaining battery life during emergencies, communities could better meet the needs and possibly save lives of people who rely on DME. The deadline for entries is October 31st.
This DME Challenge is the latest in a series of activities sponsored or supported by the Administration that have aimed to harness the power of technology and social media in support of disaster relief. It started in the immediate aftermath of Sandy, when tech companies, voluntary and faith-based organizations, and federal agencies and offices including the White House worked together to lower barriers to response and recovery. Most recently, in September, OSTP, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Energy, and HHS jointly challenged a group of more than 80 top innovators from around the country to come up with additional ways to improve disaster response and recovery efforts.
Are you a citizen solver with ideas about how to design a system that automatically monitors and electronically communicates the status and location of life sustaining devices, including power status, GPS location, time and date, remaining battery life, and user identifying information? Check out the specs and submit your life-saving idea today!
Nicole Lurie M.D., M.S.P.H. is Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Rear Admiral, US Public Health Service US Department of Health and Human Services
Brian Forde is Senior Advisor to the U.S. CTO for Mobile and Data Innovation