Mar 28 2014
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2014 Preparedness Summit: Q&A with Jack Herrmann

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NewPublicHealth will be on the ground in Atlanta next week for the 2014 Preparedness Summit, an annual event since 2006 convened by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and other partners including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Red Cross. Summit attendees include preparedness professionals working in local, state and federal government, emergency management, volunteer organizations and health care coalitions.

Goals of the summit include opportunities to connect with colleagues, share new research and learn to implement model practices that enhance capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and emergencies.

Additional partners include the American Hospital Association; the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO); the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH); the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE); the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL); the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR); the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC); the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC); and the Veterans Emergency Management Evaluation Center (VEMEC).

In advance of the summit, NewPublicHealth spoke with Jack Herrmann, Senior Adviser and Chief of Public Health Preparedness at NACCHO.

NewPublicHealth: What are some important issues going on in disaster preparedness in the United States right now that make the Summit especially important this year?

Jack Herrmann: There have been significant budget cuts to the ASPR Hospital Preparedness Program, and that is going to impact local and state public health departments and health care facilities pretty significantly across the country. Hopefully the summit will provide a venue to better understand what those impacts might be and allow us as a community to voice our concerns to our political leaders around the impacts of those budget cuts. It will also provide some very substantive evidence for organizations such as NACCHO , ASTHO and others to advocate on behalf of our constituents.

NPH: What are some of the key plenary talks?

Herrmann: Sheri Fink, a correspondent at The New York Times, who is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Five Days at Memorial” about her experience during Hurricane Katrina, will be a keynote speaker. What we’re having her do during the session is look back to her experience during Hurricane Katrina and researching what happened during that time from a health care preparedness perspective—and the lives that were lost and the issues and challenges that health care facilities faced in the aftermath of that disaster—and looking at where we are now.

NPH: What are some of the key plenary talks?

Herrmann: Sheri Fink, a correspondent at The New York Times, who is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Five Days at Memorial” about her experience during Hurricane Katrina, will be a keynote speaker. What we’re having her do during the session is look back to her experience during Hurricane Katrina and researching what happened during that time from a health care preparedness perspective—and the lives that were lost and the issues and challenges that health care facilities faced in the aftermath of that disaster—and looking at where we are now.

We will also be looking at our experiences after Hurricane Sandy and some of the other major disasters that have occurred over the last few years, and the ability for the public health and health care system to respond to and meet the needs of the communities.

We'll also be having a session with federal leaders from the CDC; from the HHS Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; and from the FDA, to focus in on some of the recent changes in the authorities around the distribution and dispensing of medical counter measures. Last year when congress passed the Preparedness and All Hazards Reauthorization Act there were some new guidelines and authorities under that particular act that require the FDA, the CDC and other federal agencies to perform specific functions during a disaster, and some of those have to do with issuing pre-disaster emergency use authorizations making it allowable to use certain medications during a disaster. We’ll be looking at the instructions that will be provided to the public on the use of those medications in disasters. We want to be sure that local and state public health professionals are aware of the changes.

NPH: Is this the first year that the American Red Cross has been a partner for the Summit?

Herrmann: Yes, and it was important for us to partner with them because they have a major role and responsibility in disasters. We felt that it was important that the public health and health care community understand the Red Cross’ role and authority during a disaster and look for ways to foster and build partnerships between local health departments, state health departments and American Red Cross chapters across the country.

NPH: There are quite a few sessions on communication. Are some modes increasing, while others are on the wane?

Herrmann: I think it’s important to recognize that people get information from all sources and that to only consider one source is not really going to be very useful or helpful. And in some cases it could be dangerous to a community. There is a role for traditional media, television, print, radio, as well as new social media, with the use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to disseminate important, critical and sometimes lifesaving information to a community, as well as a way of gathering real time situational awareness as to how an incident, situation, or disaster is impacting that community.

My own experience during Hurricane Sandy was that I was deployed to the American Red Cross national headquarters, and the first few days my job was to monitor the social media that was happening during that time to identify where there might be potential gaps in service. I think social media plays a very important role now in giving us access and an entry to information that we might not get in real time through other media sources.

NPH: Can attendees prepare in advance in order to maximize their time at the summit?

Herrmann: I think it’s important for people before they come to the summit to make sure that they understand the roles and authorities their particular organization plays in a disaster, as well as what they will be called on individually to do during a disaster, and to understand their agency’s disaster plan.

From there, they can see where the potential gaps and challenges are that occur within their agency or within their own staff pool, and then hone in on those sessions that are going to provide them the tools, resources and additional information that they can bring back to strengthen their plans, as well as the education and training that they offer to their staff and volunteers. The summit will also help them look at ways that they can enhance their planning efforts so that when they are called to respond they’ll be able to do the right thing at the right time.

Tags: Emergency preparedness and response, Faces of Public Health, NACCHO, Public health