Preparedness Month 2016: Raising Local Awareness this September and Beyond

By LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, MPH, Executive Director, NACCHO

September marks National Preparedness Month, a golden opportunity for local health department (LHD) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) Unit leaders, staff, and volunteers to highlight the importance of public health preparedness. Whether it is a natural disaster, like the current flooding in New Orleans, or a sudden disease outbreak, like the Zika virus, raising awareness about preparedness, its various components, and the role of LHDs, MRC Units, other agencies, and community members is crucial to ensuring the health and safety of our nation. LHDs and MRC Units—typically leading the charge in the wake of a public health emergency—stand to particularly benefit in two big ways by celebrating Preparedness Month. First, they can pique community interest in emergency planning and response activities in September, and ultimately inspire residents to be vigilant and engaged in preparedness efforts throughout the year.

Increasing awareness and capacity for LHD and MRC Unit preparedness efforts, which are essential during and in the aftermath of a disaster, should be a national priority. The need for effective planning and response is ever-present, although many LHDs and MRC Units lack the resources and support they need. This includes limitations due to high staff turnover rates and strained capacity resulting from increasing requirements with level or, in some cases, reduced resources. Based on a recent NACCHO survey engaging 345 LHD preparedness coordinators, nearly half reported five years or less of experience in their role. Furthermore, the same survey identified LHD staff describing reservation when addressing risks including hazardous materials release, storms/flooding, terrorist threats, accidental nuclear/radiation releases, and infectious disease outbreaks.

National Preparedness Month can serve as springboard to close these gaps by providing training, education, and scenario-based activities and resources to increase the knowledge of LHD staff, MRC Unit volunteers, and community members. For example, an LHD and/or MRC Unit can host a free CPR training, distribute information on emergency preparedness kits, collect donations for disaster impacted areas, or lead a community-wide preparedness exercise. Planning and facilitating these events can also assist LHDs and MRC Units to identify and partner with local, state, and national agencies that can further advance their preparedness efforts.

As a public health preparedness champion, NACCHO strongly encourages LHDs and MRC Units to use National Preparedness Month to raise awareness about the value of this field, focusing on the impact generated in the context of their communities. As a guiding resource, LHDs and MRC Units should look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), both leading efforts in support of National Preparedness Month. The NACCHO Preparedness Brief Blog will also feature useful tools and information on National Preparedness Month throughout September. Finally, NACCHO is offering three ways LHDs and MRC Units can receive national recognition for promoting their preparedness-related efforts this September:

  1. The NACCHO Preparedness Pledge Campaign will spotlight LHDs and MRC Units conducting events in celebration of Preparedness Month on two organizational blogs and social media. Read the recent National Preparedness Month kick-off blog, featured on the NACCHO Preparedness Brief, for complete requirements on making and fulfilling the pledge.
  1. Accompanying the Pledge, NACCHO is hosting a photo contest inviting LHDs and MRC Units to capture their preparedness activities in action. Winning photos will be selected based on the level of innovation and preparedness relevance, and will be featured during the 2017 Preparedness Summit. For complete photo contest rules, eligibility, and prizes, click here.
  1. Finally, NACCHO will open abstract submissions for the 2017 Preparedness Summit throughout the month of September. LHDs and/or MRC Units with accepted abstracts will have an opportunity to further promote their preparedness work and resulting impact on a national stage among their peers. The National Preparedness Month kick-off blog also includes more information on the 2017 conference theme, dates, location, and details on where abstract submission guidelines and instructions will be posted.

Public Health Preparedness is one of four signature NACCHO programs for a reason: it directly supports our local public health officials in protecting their communities and the nation as a whole. The field is a cornerstone of public health, emphasizing planning and prevention to increase community resilience. Although many emergencies or disasters are unpredictable, building the capacity and support for preparedness creates the highest likelihood of limited devastation and swift recovery. All the more reason for LHDs and MRC Units to take part in National Preparedness Month and attend NACCHO’s Preparedness Summit Conference this spring.