Planning in Action
When the swine flu outbreak broke last year, there were many aspects of the virus that were unknown to scientists and researchers. However, preparedness initiatives and partnerships, in place well before the outbreak, went into effect for a coordinated response effort at the local and county level.
In Alexandria, VA, the Incident Command System (ICS) established eight years earlier at the public health level helped in providing information and services to the community—well before the first cases of H1N1 appeared in the region.
“Even before cases were identified, localities were busy responding to calls from the public, educating providers on the latest [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, monitoring respiratory illness through surveillance systems, and operationalizing their pandemic flu plans,” said Cyndi Lake, emergency planner with the City of Alexandria Health Department.
ICS Enables Coordination
Originally designed for managing forest fires in California in the 1970s, ICS at the public health level brings together partners in preparedness and emergency planning. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has an independent study program for learning the many aspects of ICS for a range of disasters.
Alexandria was able to coordinate with a wide range of city departments, including fire and emergency management systems, police, and public schools. Private businesses and healthcare providers were also included in coordination efforts. Meetings held weekly throughout the summer helped to bring everyone to the table, informing partners of any revised action plans for vaccine implementation or any updated strategies for a resurgence of H1N1 in the fall.
The pandemic was the first test of ICS for the county, and it demonstrated the necessity of coordination across many levels of local government and business. “This process strengthens community partnerships, communication and information sharing and provides public health with essential additional resources to manage a long duration event,” said Lake. “Pandemic flu affects all aspects of a community, and the entire community should be involved in the planning and response.”
Other health departments across the country found ICS structures essential during the H1N1 pandemic in coordinating and clearly defining a response strategy. Health officials in Spokane County Regional Health District, WA, developed a Major Incident Support Team that maintained clearly defined roles for all those involved in the pandemic response plan. Fire, police, and emergency medical services departments with the city were involved.
“Not only have we strengthened our understanding of IC and partnerships with these community resources, we have provided each of them with a much better understanding of public health and our responsibilities,” said Torney Smith, public information manager with the Spokane Regional Health District.
Read more about these and other stories from the field on NACCHO''s website.
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