The JIC Never Sleeps

Posted on by Clarice Conley
Photo by Rosa Norman: CDC's Joint Information Center (JIC) during response to Japan earthquake, tsunami, and radiation release
Photo by Rosa Norman: CDC's Joint Information Center (JIC) during response to Japan earthquake, tsunami, and radiation release

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

Clarice Conley, JIC Coordinator
Clarice Conley, JIC Coordinator

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.

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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.

Dagny Olivares (in green), Acting Deputy Chief, ERCB
Dagny Olivares (in green), Acting Deputy Chief, ERCB

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.

ERCB Chief (at desk) Joanne Cox. Standing (left to right) Catherine Jamal, Kimberly Brock
ERCB Chief (at desk) Joanne Cox. Standing (left to right) Catherine Jamal, Kimberly Brock

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.

Posted on by Clarice Conley

12 comments on “The JIC Never Sleeps”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I live in Oregon (part of the “ring of fire”) and like most people the recent string of major earthquakes has my attention.

    I’m glad CDC is here and I’m especially grateful your information is part of the public domain and I can put it on my site. I’ll be sure to include links so my site visitors can come here themselves and discover the resources you have available.

    Thanks for all you do.

    Great post and it just another reminder of the wonderful people we are surrounded with that jump to action in the event of anything that harms their fellow man or neighbor!
    Thank you for the great article!

    Thank you, Ms. Conley, for sharing an insider’s perspective of the amazing work being done to help our allies in Japan. Your blog was incredibly useful in regard to understanding an aspect of how the federal government is addressing this terrible crisis, and I truly respect you and your colleagues’ efforts. As an essential U.S. ally since World War II, it is our duty to help our Japanese allies establish stability in this tumultuous period and recover their former state.

    Prior to these events, it was difficult to imagine the effects a natural disaster could have upon an advanced society. Though Japan has been a leader in the global community for some time, it was still overcome by events that one assumed they were prepared for. In light of the growing chaos in a country already overwhelmed with loss and our own struggle with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I think we, as Americans, need to further reflect upon our own infrastructure and readiness for unforeseeable events. While obviously no one can prepare for every possibility in a natural disaster, I believe further steps can be taken to ready the American response. In addition to a continued federal reflection on how to better respond in emergencies, I think more attention should be paid to educating vulnerable American citizens. Such steps would ensure greater efficiency for Federal agencies working to address the crisis, as well as pacify (ideally) citizens who are in risk or already affected by the event.

    Regardless, I express my deepest condolences to the Japanese people. I am proud we are working to help both the Japanese government and citizens, and I hope we will continue our efforts until stability is once again reached.

    Thank you so much for the post you do. I like your post and all you share with us is up to date and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful blogs.

    I am traveling to Tokyo in August, will I be jeopardizing my health by taking this trip??

    Janis, thank you for your question. CDC has an extensive list of resources for travelers here. We hope this helps in planning your trip.

    Thank you for reading!

    It’s very informative and you are obviously very knowledgeable in this area. You have opened my eyes to varying views on this topic with interesting and solid content.

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Page last reviewed: March 29, 2011
Page last updated: March 29, 2011