In the relatively young subspecialty of public health emergency preparedness, effective public health preparedness managers must identify the essential elements of their roles and the skills or requirements necessary to be effective in their positions. Although there is no set recipe for success, diverse and field-related skills are a must.
Pandemic influenza, an aerosolized anthrax attack, a nuclear detonation, chemical or radiological exposure, and other known and emerging threats and disasters are all potential threats to the United States. To combat these, one enterprise - comprising many collaborating federal agencies - is preparing to provide the necessary medical products when and where they are needed.
Once a public health outbreak occurs, it is too late to prepare. In 2014, Ebola highlighted gaps in the nation's preparedness for an unexpected viral threat that gained worldwide attention. Having supplies on hand or knowing how and where to get them when needed is the best way to protect public healthcare workers. The Strategic National Stockpile bridges these public health response gaps.
In a training scenario, a lose-lose situation may make a lasting impression on students, but does little to improve the decision-making skills of the responders. Regularly faced with making life-or-death decisions, emergency responders should receive training that includes no-win as well as winnable alternatives, thus reflecting real-life scenarios while not deflating student confidence.
An Ebola-infected American flown from Sierra Leone lies in critical condition at the National Institutes of Health. A nurse who contracted Ebola in 2014 when caring for a patient is suing Texas Health Resources for not properly training its employees. As these events demonstrate, biological threats to hospital workers still exist, and training must go beyond simply donning and doffing.
Equipment, plans, and personnel are only as good as their ability to perform when needed. When disaster strikes, it is imperative that local, state, and federal levels of government, emergency management, volunteer organizations, and healthcare coalitions are all operationally ready and trained to use all of the "stuff" they have acquired over the years.
Public health agencies serve valuable roles and fill operational gaps that only they can perform. Planning and training within and between agencies are necessary for public health services to transition from daily operations to emergency response to a widespread pandemic, environmental hazard, or other critical public health threat.
In December 2014, an unknown patient zero visited Disneyland in California. Whether that person knew that he or she was carrying a highly contagious infectious disease is not as important as the speed in which the disease spread and the reason behind it. There is a correlation between the resurgence of measles and vaccination practices in modern families.
As the old saying goes, there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics." The reality of how statistical data is gathered, compared, and used can make the decision-making process more difficult. In emergency medical services, setting the bar based on available statistics affects both lives and budgets, so decisions must be made wisely.
When the deadly Ebola virus travelled into the United States, many healthcare workers were not adequately prepared to manage the care, treatment, and transport of such patients. As a result, hospitals and other healthcare facilities now are scrambling to educate their personnel on this and other deadly biothreats before the next incident occurs.