ANTHC Commissioned Corps Officer helps with hurricane recovery efforts in U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

October 18, 2017

After the Hurricane Irma storm cleared, a rapid public health response was needed for the citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. On Sept. 14, ANTHC Environmental Health and Engineering’s Safety Program Coordinator, Christopher Fish, a Lieutenant Commander in U.S. Public Health Service, was deployed to Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Irma recovery efforts. The Commissioned Corps for the United States Public Health service offer their talents to the Alaska Tribal Health System as part of their course of work, but can also be mobilized for disaster response in a variety of ways. For Fish, his skills as a safety officer on ANTHC construction projects made him uniquely qualified to work in the complex hazards that hurricane response would present. Fish arrived in San Juan just before Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island. As Maria approached, Fish prepared sheltering plans for responders and worked quickly with the other emergency personnel to medevac 150 dialysis patients to the continental U.S. He remained in San Juan with other emergency responders to ride out the Category 4 storm. As soon as the tropical force winds passed, assessment teams went out to evaluate hospitals in the area. The first hospital Fish arrived at was a total loss with significant damage and multiple patients in need of immediate evacuation. Because of the extreme conditions brought by the hurricane, the hospital staff were not able to get word out of their dire situation. Fish’s team was able to quickly partner with local authorities to ensure that the hospital evacuated all patients within 24 hours of the assessment. After the initial response to Maria on Puerto Rico, Fish traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands to evaluate the water and mold damage at the two major hospitals. His in-depth reports to hospital and government leadership helped inform the extent of the hazards present. On Oct. 6, Fish returned to Anchorage and ANTHC with new leadership skills and a renewed appreciation for serving the public health needs of our nation. His deployment helped the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands while positively representing both ANTHC and the U.S. Public Health Service. He, along with other Commissioned Corps officers and ANTHC staff, exemplifies the extraordinary disaster response readiness available for public health issues in our own state.

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