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Preparedness and Response in Action: Stories from the States

Posted on by Kelcie Landon, MPH

Celebrating 15 Years of PHEP

CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) cooperative agreement is a critical source of funding, guidance, and technical assistance for state, local, tribal, and territorial public health departments to strengthen their public health preparedness capabilities.  Since 9/11, the PHEP program has saved lives by building and maintaining a nationwide public health emergency management system that enables communities to rapidly respond to public health threats.

The following stories are examples of how PHEP has equipped states for each of the four stages of preparedness: Ready. Steady. Show. Go!

READY: Planning for the inevitable6 domains of preparedness

Often the emergency managers and public health professionals who respond to an emergency are personally impacted by the same event. The ability of emergency response staff to take action during a disaster is limited when they are stranded in their homes due to an ice storm, without power, or unable to make it into the office.

The Connecticut State Department of Health, led by Jonathan Best, took on the challenge to ensure that operations can run smoothly even when their own staff are directly impacted by an emergency. They developed the Red Sheet Program, which trains three people for every key position in the emergency management structure – a primary contact with two back-ups. This means the health department can be fully staffed and ready to respond to a crisis within 20 minutes.

STEADY: Solving two problems at once

As the saying goes, even the best laid plans often go awry. Planning is an essential part of any preparedness program, but it is often difficult to imagine every scenario and obstacle that may arise during an emergency. But we also know that practice is the best way to identify and address those gaps– and practice is exactly what the Oklahoma State Department of Health does to improve its preparedness programs.

In September 2016, the Oklahoma Strategic National Stockpile team prepared to conduct a full-scale exercise of its ability to distribute medical countermeasures – medications and other products used to prevent and treat health conditions that may arise during a public health emergency.  Before the exercise began, the state realized they had shipments of flu vaccines that they needed to distribute around the state and the team distributed the vaccines as part of their regularly scheduled exercise. The team transported 11,960 doses of vaccine to eight local health departments while simultaneously completing this practice exercise.

SHOW: Creating a culture of preparedness

Emergencies impact all sectors of health, and experts from across departments are often asked to weigh in, from epidemiologists, to laboratorians, to mental health experts. However, public health staff in these positions may not often consider their roles in an emergency situation.

To build a culture of preparedness across the entire Oregon Health Authority, the Emergency Operations Division provided all staff with a 72-hour emergency kit, worked to enroll staff in the Health Alert Network, and trained staff on the Incident Management System. Since this initiative, staff personally feel more prepared for an emergency, and more staff are now prepared to respond should the need arise. “The culture has shifted. People are now talking in the elevator about what they would do in the event of a large-scale disaster,” acting PHEP director Akiko Saito said. “If we can build this culture of preparedness here, then we’re better equipped to build community resiliency on a larger scale.”

GO! Putting plans into action

While we all hope that emergencies never occur, they are inevitable and the true test of any preparedness system. Washington experienced an outbreak of mumps that affected more than 800 people of all ages in late 2016 and early 2017.

During this outbreak, the state and local health departments in Washington investigated new cases, advised local school districts on prevention measures, and developed culturally appropriate risk communication materials. Due to a robust preparedness system and the efforts of the health department staff and partners, more than 5,000 more people were vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella compared to previous years.

For 15 years, PHEP has been there, from Katrina to SARS; Joplin to H1N1 influenza. To find out more about how the PHEP program has equipped jurisdictions to prepare for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies, check out our Stories from Field.

Read our other National Preparedness Month blogs:

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