Unlike the sudden release of toxic chemical agents, pathogens often are difficult to detect and prevent. Such threats evolve over time and have the ability to silently spread between communities. Identifying the threat early would help slow or prevent the spread of disease before it overwhelms a community's response capabilities.
Communities have a new enemy in the battle against drugs. The growing use of fentanyl, which is causing an increasing number of unintentional deaths, is challenging public health agencies to reassess their distribution methods for lifesaving antidotes. Some changes include pre-positioning Narcan in the homes of drug users and their families.
Law enforcement as well as public health agencies could benefit from sharing interdisciplinary information through the state fusion centers. Four public health situations would particularly benefit from such partnerships: bioterrorism attacks; communicable disease outbreaks; suspicious activity reports; and the use of illicit drugs.
When hospitals transition from paper documents to an electronic healthcare information system, patient records become easier to track and to link between clinicians and hospitals. However, these advanced capabilities and benefits involve certain risks - higher costs, program failures, staffing needs, and security concerns. Protecting sensitive information from potential threats remains a high priority, regardless of what system is in place.
Paramedics acquire a wealth of skills and knowledge, but their tasks are physically demanding and the risk of injury is high. Rather than discarding their training and starting over, these skilled professionals instead could transition to higher-level, less-strenuous job positions. With a few changes, hospitals and communities can continue to move these valuable resources up the ladder.
When multiagency meetings take time away from everyday tasks, productivity may decrease - but only temporarily. Those participating in such meetings should recognize, though, that the productivity lost that day usually will be reimbursed, with interest, when the same participants simultaneously respond to future incidents.
The important on-scene roles played by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) may soon be shifting both upward and outward. Moreover, as various jurisdictions allow EMTs to carry out more life-saving interventions, paramedics will be able to expand their individual and collective capabilities to include the use of such new technologies as portable imaging devices.
Regardless of what many experts perceive as the likelihood of a biological attack, continuing improvements in U.S. public health preparedness programs are necessary to ensure more effective response operations and save countless lives. A cooperative approach to biodefense planning should include an expansion of the nation's existing arsenal of medical countermeasures and the development and production of additional vaccines.
The first step in preparing for a "Black Swan" event is to confirm that it actually exists. Once that is done, it is important to recognize its potential impact, implement the plans and strategies needed, and understand the roles played by all stakeholders involved.
Public health is a concern for all citizens, but the preparedness efforts for public health emergencies provide information primarily to that sector. Members of the private sector and/or other "non-public health organizations" should take the additional steps needed to help ensure that continuity of operations plans are in place before a major health emergency develops.