Planning the response to a public health emergency can be a daunting endeavor. Many factors in multiple complex systems contribute to the potential for success in executing these plans at every level of the response. Preparedness planners have to consider these many factors to ensure that their plans can work despite potential failure points.
Most chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) critical incidents differ from more common hazardous materials (hazmat) events by virtue of four factors: broader scope, enhanced physical toxicity, malicious intent, and the potential to do the unimaginable. The net effect is new levels of stress and psychological toxicity.
With the current amount of discussion and media coverage regarding the spreading Zika virus and the mounting concerns over antibiotic drug resistance, public health remains a critical homeland security and emergency preparedness priority. Unfortunately, it is often a fluctuating priority that does not receive consistent attention, action, and funding to prepare for future known and unknown public health threats.
Although avian influenza outbreaks occur periodically in poultry flocks, only recently has avian influenza been considered a significant threat to human health and the global economy. The 1997 emergence of H5N1 first brought attention to avian influenza's ability to cause disease in humans. However, human infection with influenza from avian sources is not a new phenomenon.
The term "situational awareness" typically conjures images of emergency responders on the scene of a complex incident with many emergency vehicles and various levels of activity, both command and operationally oriented. Public health normally does not enter into the equation, but perhaps it is time to change that thinking.
Responders in the pre-hospital emergency medical field must be in a state of readiness at all times. Working on the front lines of an emergency incident requires the ability to leverage external resources, the determination to harden operations, and the skillfulness to manage patient surge.
Although fewer than 40 percent of U.S. veterans receive care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the agency strives to have broad access to reliable medical care during a disaster. The Veterans Emergency Management Evaluation Center and its partners are exploring ways to improve healthcare resilience both inside and outside the VA.
Although many lessons have been learned from Ebola and other infectious diseases, planning needs are quickly diverted when the previous threat is overshadowed by another emerging or re-emerging disease, or other homeland security threat. However, without adequate prioritization, planning, and preparedness, the nation may be set for failure when the next unexpected threat presents.
Civilian responders have successfully acquired many skills that were originally developed by military services. Situational awareness is one such skill that would be beneficial to adapt to the civilian members of the emergency medical services. Maintaining a heightened sense of awareness would help responders stay "in the loop."
When one peanut has the ability to kill, it is necessary to examine the practices and procedures used in public yet confined spaces such as emergency shelters. By following simple steps, emergency managers are able to perform shelter operations while limiting exposure to allergens and contaminants that could turn a safe haven into an exposure risk.