By examining the successes and challenges of national preparedness efforts each year, the nation is steadily raising the bar for protecting its residents. The unresolved question remains, though, about how to sustain efforts on a decreasing budget - especially when the health of the American people depends on it.
The smallest town in the nation's smallest state has an extremely big job - providing fire, medical, and rescue services to its year-round residents as well as 15-20 times as many summer vacationers. Fortunately, through a combination of innovative technology and mutual aid agreements, Block Island residents and visitors have additional lifelines they can use if and when needed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in six Americans suffer from food poisoning each year; most of those cases are attributed to familiar pathogens like Salmonella. However, the deadliest U.S. foodborne disease outbreak in nearly a century was caused by a lesser known, but much more fatal bacteria in 2011 - Listeria monocytogenes.
The Annual Meeting of the Association of Public Health Laboratories hosted more than 500 participants who share the common goal of improving public health efforts and laboratory preparedness. Through workshops and online resources, people from multiple disciplines can learn more about the role of public health laboratories in detecting and investigating emerging threats.
Working with several allies throughout the world, U.S. public-health agencies have significantly improved the nation's ability to detect, analyze, and counter a broad spectrum of infectious diseases before they reach the pandemic stage. More effort, though, is still needed in cooperation with the private sector - the biggest and most vulnerable link in the U.S. food supply chain.
Protecting the food supply chain and defending against intentional contamination requires preventive/defensive efforts at all levels of government, particularly within local communities. All stakeholders therefore must be able to identify vulnerabilities, integrate federal requirements, and determine the resources and training needed to effectively protect the nation's food supply.
Multi-use equipment is a valuable tool for emergency response. Sometimes, though, specialized equipment also is needed to manage unique risks within a community. Thorough risk assessments and cost estimates can help determine specific planning and equipment needs.
The relatively new world of social media has the ability to enhance communication efforts for emergency managers, but it also has the potential to harm the reputation of public agencies. To minimize the negative effects, clear guidelines - reinforced with proper training - should be outlined in advance for all members of an agency.
Protecting the safety and well-being of patients, visitors, and staff can be a major challenge for healthcare facilities. Many variables must be considered when assessing security needs and determining the type of enforcement that should be used to resolve violent situations.
The middle of an emergency-response situation is too late to consult plans designed for a specific incident. To ensure that decision makers and first responders are fully prepared to cope with potential disasters, the plans and equipment needed should already be on hand. Providing the availability of an expandable plan, reinforced by and during daily operations, is the best way to help prepare for the next major disaster lurking just over the horizon.