Category Archives: preparedness

2018 Preparedness Summit First Plenary Session—“Extraordinary Events of 2017: State, Local and Territorial Perspectives on Hurricane and Wildfire Response”

This story originally ran in Preparedness Brief blog.

At the 2018 Preparedness Summit, speakers representing the state, local and territorial perspectives on last year’s hurricane and wildfire events gave an overview of what happened, what went well, and what could have been done better.

Susan Fanelli, assistant director, California Department of Public Health, provided the state perspective on the California wildfires. California developed the Public Health & Medical Response System several years ago to share resources and situational awareness to increase coordination across counties. Between this resource and the GIS-based (geographic information system) dashboard that allowed the state to capture updates in real-time to disseminate out to stakeholders, local health departments were equipped with the most accurate information available.

Last year’s wildfire season was especially challenging because the affected areas were heavily populated areas. The challenge to evacuate assisted-living facilities was unprecedented. They needed a lot of things that were difficult to acquire, quickly.

Chris Rosa, deputy emergency medical services (EMS) administrator, Ventura County EMS Agency Rosa, from Ventura County, Calif., spoke from the local perspective. His cautionary advice included: Know your roles and responsibilities, develop and maintain relationships, trust the information relayed by partners, capitalize on available resources, and balance logistical “wants” with “needs.”

In addition to the behavioral health challenges, the largest impact (mental health and otherwise) the county sustained was the loss of a psychiatric hospital.

The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) experienced two Category 5 hurricanes back-to-back—Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria. Almost 100 percent power was lost, there was significant damage to health department buildings and hospitals, 13 schools closed and about 900 critical-needs patients and caregivers had to be evacuated.

The most successful aspect of the response was the coordination between EMS, nursing, and preparedness staff and the collaboration with federal partners. EMS teams from Arkansas and New Jersey helped respond to the spike in emergency calls made in USVI.

Michelle Davis, health commissioner and chief health officer, U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health, pointed out the necessity to talk about cultural competence and increasing diversity across race, gender and languages spoken when talking about national preparedness efforts. USVI is a territory consisting of primarily people of color; and the territory experiences many health disparities. Other improvements that could have helped response efforts include increasing procedural flexibilities for government operations (e.g., procurement, hiring/reassignment of staff) when in the midst of crisis and developing a more equal partnership with local government officials and communities.

Robert Eadie, health officer and administrator, Monroe County, Fla., shared his hard-earned wisdom with the crowd. All communication was lost for four days and the debris from Hurricane Irma created significant logistical challenges. Eadie recommended to think beyond what supplies you need, and consider how you’ll get it from where it lands, to where you actually need it. Other suggestions included testing out your resources (e.g., a satellite phone) prior to an event.

Eadie reminded the crowd, “Be with your people, with your staff. Tell them what a great job they’re doing. Remember, they’re affected like everyone else. You’re asking them to put that aside to serve everyone else.” And it takes everyone in the room to respond in a comprehensive way.

Check out this slideshow from the Summit!

Stay up-to-date on the Preparedness Brief blog in the next few weeks to get a summary of each plenary and late-breaking session.

Access 2018 Preparedness Summit Resources

  • Visit the Preparedness Summit website to stay up to date on when abstracts open for the 2019 Preparedness Summit and when to register.
  • To access photos and presentation slides of the sessions, go to the Preparedness Summit website, click on the “Schedule of Events” tab to go to the full schedule. Log into your account by clicking “My Schedule” on the left column and click the audio icons next to each session.

Save the Date for the 2019 Preparedness Summit

Next year’s Preparedness Summit will take place March 26-29 in St. Louis, Mo.

The Preparedness Summit is the first and longest running national conference on public health preparedness. Since its beginning in 2006, NACCHO has taken a leadership role in convening a wide array of partners to participate in the summit; presenting new research findings, sharing tools and resources, and providing a variety of opportunities for attendees to learn how to implement model practices that enhance the nation’s capabilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other emergencies.



Taking Action to Address the Public Health Impact of Wildfire Smoke

By Alan Vette, Acting Director, Air and Energy National Research Program (ORD), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Erika Sasser, Director, Health and Environmental Impacts Division (OAQPS), EPA

This story originally ran in NACCHO’s Essential Elements blog.

During Air Quality Awareness Week (April 30 – May 4), a focus on wildfire smoke is timely for public health because the 2018 wildfire season is about to begin for most of the U.S., and it has already started in some areas.

Exposure to wildfire smoke is a community health issue that has gained the attention of public health professionals and organizations, especially in states where fires are becoming more frequent and intense. Wildfire smoke has significant health implications for those near the fire as well as for those living farther downwind. Continue reading

The Local Health Department Response to the Zika Virus: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

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

Local health departments (LHDs) have been on the front lines of responding to the Zika virus since its emergence as a public health threat in the United States (U.S.) more than two years ago. The virus, spread by Aedes aegypti (L.) and Ae. albopictus Skuse mosquitoes, carries adverse and costly health risks for pregnant women and their babies and has affected communities across the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2,395 pregnant women in the U.S. states and the District of Columbia have shown laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection to date. Additionally, NACCHO’s 2017 Forces of Change survey found that confirmed travel-related cases of Zika have been reported in nearly 90% of large LHD jurisdictions. LHDs incorporated a multi-pronged, One-Health approach to responding to the virus that included vector control, epidemiology, environmental public health, maternal and child health, community engagement, and advocacy activities. Continue reading

Influenza Season: Resources and Information for Local Health Departments

This story originally ran in NACCHO’s Preparedness Brief.

Flu season is upon us. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports increasing and widespread flu activity across the United States. According to CDC surveillance, influenza-like illness activity is higher than it was during the peak of the 2014-2015 flu season and so far hospitalization rates are similar to that same time period. Continue reading

Public Health Policy: What to Watch in 2018

NACCHO’s government affairs team has provided a forecast of what to expect in public health policy in 2018. The decisions made in Washington this year will have a major impact on local health departments and on the public’s health. As always, NACCHO members and staff will work together this year to be the voice of local health departments. Below is a short list of the top things to watch this year. For the full list, go to Continue reading

Understanding the Changing Public Health Landscape: Findings from the 2017 Forces of Change Survey

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has released its 2017 Forces of Change report, The Changing Public Health Landscape, containing new findings on the forces that are affecting the nation’s local health departments (LHDs). LHDs face both challenges and opportunities as the public health environment evolves, and the Forces of Change survey helps to identify infrastructure gaps, as well as strategies for strengthening public health capacity. Continue reading

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. Continue reading