Public Health Preparedness & Response

Innovations in Partnerships, Budgets, and Technology – Perspectives from the 2011 Public Health Preparedness Summit

By Raymond Puerini, Program Coordinator, LRN / Graduate Student, Emory University

The Public Health Preparedness Summit is an annual conference that brings together professionals from the local, tribal, state, and federal spheres. The goal is to enhance their ability to respond to public health emergencies and to strengthen preparedness and response capabilities. This year’s summit was held in Atlanta, GA and close to 2,000 individuals from the private, public, non-profit, and educational sectors attended. APHL was one of nine partner organizations that hosted the summit. As both a graduate student in public health and an intern at the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) program office, I was hoping to learn more about the activities of different organizations that participate in preparedness programs and becoming knowledgeable about the current challenges and opportunities facing public health professionals, particularly those at public health laboratories, across all levels of government.

Public Health Preparedness as an Issue of National Security

During the plenary and town hall sessions, the importance of public health preparedness was echoed by leaders across HHS, CDC, and DHS. Rear Admiral Ali S. Kahn, MD, MPH, Current Director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC, equated public health preparedness to be as instrumental to national security as defense spending. Laboratory participation in preparedness and response activities represents a key component of the nation’s ability to respond to a variety of emergencies including communicable disease outbreaks, biological, chemical, or radiological terrorism, and other natural and man-made disasters. Diagnostic and confirmatory laboratory testing ultimately leads to increased levels of situational awareness which is essential when making critical decisions during emergencies. This is true whether it be at the local, state, or federal level.

Conference Themes and the Road Ahead

Throughout the remainder of the conference sessions, 4 general themes emerged:

  • Governmental budgets across the board are shrinking while the scope of work continues to increase;
  • A focus on collaborations with partners across departments and borders as well as with community and faith-based organizations, private entities, and educational institutions;
  • The need for advancement in technological innovations and preparedness tools;
  • And the increased demand for accountability and monitoring of preparedness programs through quantitative and qualitative evaluative procedures.

Ultimately, there will be no easy solution to the problems that present themselves as budgets are slashed.,Effectively managing increased demands with fewer resources will require careful consideration and creativity. Laboratories require both highly trained personnel and specialized equipment to operate effectively. Cutting public health laboratory (PHL) budgets even further could seriously hinder their ability to respond to emergency situations. While there may be some significant obstacles, continuing to establish new partnerships by PHLs is critical to biosurveillance activities and surge capacity infrastructure. Furthermore, PHL technology and communication systems must continue to advance to better detect and respond to threats in an age where there is increased movement across borders and the threat of terrorism is ever-present. Finally, regular evaluation of PHLs represents an opportunity to identify program weaknesses, develop improvement strategies, establish accountability, and form a foundation for requesting increased aid.


Leave a Comment

Subscribe to get updates delivered to your inbox.