The Medical, Public Health, and Emergency Response to the Impact of 2017 Hurricane Irma in Cuba

Tanya L. Zakrison, Davel Milian Valdés, James M. Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In 2017, Cuba was pummeled by Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest and most devastating Atlantic basin hurricanes in history. Twelve of Cuba's 15 provinces and 90 percent of the population were affected, and there was island-wide loss of electrical power. Despite the significant damage, ongoing economic hardships, and the political realities that required Cuba to handle the situation without response support from other nations, Cuba's recovery was swift and effective. Cuba's disaster self-sufficiency and timely response to Hurricane Irma was grounded on 5 decades of disaster planning coupled with ongoing evolution of disaster risk reduction and management strategies. While the central command center, with local dispatch response teams, and mandated citizen engagement are features unique to Cuba's political structure, in this study, we highlight 5 defining attributes of Cuba's hurricane response that can constructively inform the actions of other island and coastal nations vulnerable to Atlantic tropical cyclones. These attributes are: (1) actively learning and incorporating lessons from past disaster events, (2) integrating healthcare and public health professionals on the frontlines of disaster response, (3) proactively engaging the public in disaster preparedness, (4) incorporating technology into disaster risk reduction, and (5) infusing science into risk planning. In terms of hurricane response, as a geopolitically isolated nation, Cuba has experienced particular urgency when it comes to protecting the population and creating resilient infrastructure that can be rapidly reactivated after the onslaught of storms of ever-increasing intensity. This includes planning for worsening future disaster scenarios based on a clear-eyed appreciation of the realities of climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-17
Number of pages8
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Cuba
  • Hurricane Irma
  • citizen engagement
  • disaster response
  • public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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