Chair File: Effectively Preparing for and Responding to Public Health Emergencies
The COVID-19 pandemic, opioid crisis and mpox outbreak. Hurricanes Ian and Fiona. Severe storms, flooding, landslides and mudslides in Kentucky. Wildfires and straight-line winds in New Mexico.
In 2022, all these events were declared public health emergencies by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Such a declaration accelerates access to funds, supplies and services for people and communities affected by the emergency, among other actions.
To help address threats to public health and safety, the AHA has convened a consortium of national public health and health care organizations to discuss cross-sectoral partnerships that have been successful in mitigating the effects of disasters such as disease outbreaks, severe weather events and mass shootings. This collaborative effort, in partnership with ASPR, produced the CLEAR Field Guide for Emergency Preparedness. The guide provides a set of aligned priorities and actionable strategies that health care, public health, fire/EMS and emergency management can implement together, working to strengthen our nation’s emergency management systems.
The guide is organized around four common emergency management objectives that health care and public health partners can prioritize to effectively prepare for, respond to and recover from a crisis.
Strengthen cross-sector partnerships. With a cross-sector collaborative approach, all stakeholders have formal and informal responsibilities in disaster preparedness and response. Building and strengthening such partnerships helps create an evolved emergency management system that promotes access to knowledge silos, bolsters the public health infrastructure, diversifies health care integration and deepens the interaction between federal, state and local governments.
Build workforce capacity and resilience. Without a sufficient workforce, the field is unable to respond to the needs of communities in emergencies or non-emergencies. The guide highlights strategies, tools and examples to help build capacity and foster resilience among the health care and public health care workforce.
Share information and manage misinformation. It is important to establish multidisciplinary, cross-sector communication pathways to use routinely during non-emergencies and scale up during emergencies. Collaborating with trusted individuals and organizations to relay information to the public in culturally appropriate ways is key.
Normalize a culture of preparedness. Emergency preparedness strategies need to be incorporated as part of a larger collective culture of readiness. Reviewing emergency response plans to identify and address gaps ultimately saves lives and reduces many anxieties surrounding the threat of disasters.
Along with these priorities, it is critical to teach and develop crisis leadership skills for effectively managing public health emergencies.
Threats to public safety are increasing, and crisis scenarios can be unpredictable. We need leaders and teams that are prepared to navigate uncertainty, take action quickly and communicate effectively and transparently to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals and communities.