It was 5:45 a.m.The familiar vibration from the cell phone woke me up. The voice message said, “There was an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that occurred near Japan. We’re not sure about the extent of damages, deaths or injuries. But it has caused a tsunami that might affect Hawaii and the west coast later this morning. I’m calling a JIC ALL for 8:00 a.m. today. Please try to get to work early.” [View our Photo Gallery]
This was an actual call that I received on March 11 from the Emergency Risk Communication Branch Chief (ERCB), Joanne Cox. A “JIC All” call is a meeting that requires all of CDC’s Joint Information Center (JIC) teams to participate, either in person or by conference call. As the recipient of the call, it was imperative to move with great speed, listen to news reports on the way to the office, and prepare for what has become an evolving crisis situation in Japan.
A Round-the-Clock Calling
When public health emergencies occur, CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response is ready, and the JIC gets activated. The JIC is a 24/7 emergency preparedness unit comprised of the ERCB and associated cross-agency staff. Just within the past year, the JIC has responded to H1N1 Pandemic Flu; the Deep Horizon Gulf Oil Spill; and the Haiti Earthquake, followed by the Haiti Cholera Outbreak. And now, we are responding to the ongoing crises in Japan. These are all public health emergencies for which the Joint Information Center responds by collecting, creating, clearing and distributing health messages to several specific audiences and to the public-at-large.
Late in 2010, JIC Leadership thought it would be a good idea to produce a brief, general introduction to the JIC—who we are, our mission during public health emergencies, and the methods we use to accomplish that mission. We produced a JIC brochure and a video called, “The JIC Never Sleeps.” Since the JIC leadership and teams are always accessible, we fondly make this claim as a statement of truth. However, during the Japan Earthquake activation, it is constantly being put to test.
A Call to Action
The 2011 Japan Earthquake, the fifth largest in recorded history, and the subsequent tsunami caused widespread death and destruction, the magnitude of which is still being determined. The force of the earthquake and the resulting tsunami damaged three nuclear reactors causing explosions, fires and leakage of radiation. This has produced worldwide concern about radiation exposure to people in Japan and travelers leaving that country, as well as the potential impact on food, water, and other countries.
At 8:00 a.m. on March 11, the JIC, comprised of members of the five core teams of communicators from ERCB and associated cross-agency staff, converged on the JIC Team Room to get a situation update and to receive initial instructions. The five core teams are Operations; Research; Web; Epi-X/HAN; and Health Partners Outreach. The meeting also included health communications co-leads from other centers responding to the activation, in this case the National Center for Environmental Health. Additionally, teams of communicators in the room and on the phone included colleagues who are not from the ERCB core teams, but from other CDC branches whose expertise and specific outreach to audiences would be needed during the activation. They are called the JIC’s matrix teams and their level of activation can expand or contract as needed. A few of the teams included in the current response are Media; Social Media; CDC-INFO; Travelers Health; Communications Services; Laboratory Outreach; and CDC Connects, CDC’s source for employee communications.
By 9:00 a.m., all teams began working collaboratively with subject matter experts to gather the most pertinent initial messages, the clearance process was clarified, and the Incident Management System (IMS) was implemented. The term commonly used is “the IMS was stood up.” Immediately, the JIC started working to deliver cleared messages using select communication channels (Web; Health Alert Network [HAN]; Epi-X e-newsletter; news media; PSAs; and social media networks) and targeting specific audiences (clinicians; public health workforce; and affected communities).
By noon, the JIC Team Room was abuzz with representatives from each core team, co-leads from centers responding to the event and others, all seated at computers strategically placed around the perimeter and in the center of the room. The television is permanently placed on CNN, except during response leadership meetings, which are broadcast in the room so team members can attend remotely.
Throughout the remainder of the first day, no one was idle, everyone was engaged, desk phones and blackberries were either ringing or buzzing. Nevertheless, everybody managed to remain relatively calm.
Just as the video states, “the JIC Never Sleeps,” because even when no one is physically present in the JIC Team Room, each team designates an on-call person for the evenings and weekends. The dedicated men and women who comprise the JIC know what is required and realize each function is necessary to complete our mission, which ultimately saves lives wherever public health emergencies occur.
“The JIC Never Sleeps “because emergencies occur anytime, and the JIC stands by, ready to respond.
I look forward to reading your comments or answering any questions you may have about the JIC.