National Preparedness Month: We Have the Power to Prepare

By Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, NACCHO President and Executive Director of Harris County Public Health

This September marks the fourteenth annual National Preparedness Month, created to raise public awareness about the importance of preparedness and encourage Americans to plan for emergencies. Each year during the month of September, more than 3,000 national, state, and local organizations commemorate National Preparedness Month by promoting guidance and resources that help communities effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other catastrophic events. Ultimately, National Preparedness Month helps to ensure every resident in our nation has the skills they need to protect themselves and their families during an emergency.

Local health departments (LHDs) and Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units play an important role in preparing communities for emergencies. While we never know what new issue or event will strike next—hurricanes, vector-borne diseases, radiation events, mass-shooter incidents—local public health is on the front lines of keeping communities healthy and safe. Our agencies work diligently year-round to protect our cities and counties by developing emergency plans; securing shelter supplies, vaccinations, and first-aid equipment; training our workforce; conducting tabletop exercises; reviewing lessons learned to refine our plans; and engaging local partners.

National Preparedness Month provides LHD and MRC unit leaders, staff, and volunteers with an opportunity to foster greater community understanding and support for the critical role of local public health in supporting emergency preparedness. My health department, Harris County Public Health (HCPH), has developed public-facing videos as a means of communicating the value of our preparedness efforts to the community. One recent video, HCPH CASPER Assessment , is a short video about how our health department engages the community to see how prepared  they are for events such as floods and hurricanes . The video describes how HCPH conducted a Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) survey after the event to understand how the community was affected, what resources residents needed, and how HCPH can strengthen its planning efforts for future natural disasters. By telling our story, we’re helping our community understand how we build trust and connections neighborhood by neighborhood to better prepare for future responses.

How LHDs Can Get Involved

LHDs and MRC units can promote year-round community vigilance and strengthen collective resilience by hosting preparedness-themed education and outreach activities throughout September. NACCHO encourages local health departments to take advantage of National Preparedness Month to engage individuals, civic organizations, businesses, and other partners in preparedness activities. Local health departments can participate in a variety of ways this September:

  • Educate community residents: Provide information on family communications and disaster plans, offer first-aid and CPR trainings, and distribute information about emergency preparedness kits.
  • Engage partners: Provide training to healthcare and community partners on emerging infectious diseases and organize community events to raise awareness about emerging threats.
  • Build capacity at your LHD: Provide incident command system and emergency management system training to staff, test workplace evacuation and shelter-in-place plans, and distribute resources on how to assemble go-kits for the workplace.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have also developed a variety of resources for local health departments and the public. The CDC’s efforts will focus on the theme “You Have the Power to Prepare.” FEMA will promote resources and activities related to the theme “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.”

NACCHO’s Preparedness Brief blog will feature weekly posts with useful tools and information during September. NACCHO is also offering three ways LHDs and MRC units can receive national recognition for promoting their preparedness-related efforts this September:

  • NACCHO Preparedness Month Pledge: For the third year in a row, NACCHO is launching the Preparedness Pledge campaign. Through this pledge, LHDs and MRC units commit to conducting activities that promote preparedness throughout the month of September. At the end of the month, LHDs and MRC units that upheld their pledge will have an opportunity to be featured on the Preparedness Brief and on social media.
  • Preparedness Summit Abstract Kick-Off: LHDs and MRC units can also promote their preparedness efforts by submitting an abstract for the 2018 Preparedness Summit, which will take place April 17–20, 2018, in Atlanta. The summit is the premier national conference in the field of public health and healthcare preparedness. The abstract submission process opens Sept. [DATE TK]; learn more.
  • NACCHO Preparedness Month Social Media Promotion: NACCHO also encourages LHDs and MRC units to share their Preparedness Month activities on social media. Each week, NACCHO will highlight LHD/MRC Preparedness Month activity posts that tag NACCHO on Twitter (@NACCHOalerts) or on Facebook (@NACCHOhq).

I encourage all LHD leaders to take advantage of National Preparedness Month to promote the important ways in which their agencies protect the health and safety of our nation. Collectively, we have the power to prepare for a myriad of public health challenges and help create healthier, more resilient communities.