Public Health Emergencies Can Happen

Public health emergencies often happen without warning – think tornados, avian flu, anthrax scares, nuclear plant accidents, hazardous materials spills. Local and state responders need to be ready to act on very short notice, and in a well-organized fashion. At the March meeting of the Council of Metropolitan Leagues (CMAL), attendees heard how the complex public health system works from Janice Maine of the Minnesota Department of Health and Gina Adasiewicz of Dakota County Public Health.

While disasters occur at the local level, all levels of government and other partners must be ready and well-trained, and lines of communication must be clear. Training exercises are carried out regularly to ensure sure all partners can work together efficiently. Exercises have simulated terror attacks at the airport or Mall of America, and disease outbreaks such as Ebola and pertussis. Exercises specific to the Super Bowl and other events at the new U.S. Bank Stadium are also in the works.

State agencies, counties and cities are required to have emergency response plans in place, with support and coordination from federal agencies. All funding comes from the federal government, chiefly the Centers for Disease Control and Homeland Security. In addition to training exercises, other activities include disease tracking through hospital and local reporting, stockpiling of emergency supplies and medications packaged for quick shipment, and labs for testing.

The National Health Security Preparedness Index identifies strengths and gaps in preparedness for states. Minnesota rates above average.