By Tony Barkey, MPH, Former APHL Senior Specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response
It’s hard to believe, but by the time you read this post, I will have ended my three and a half year tenure at APHL. As part of the Public Health Preparedness and Response team, I have seen stressful, joyous, inspiring and did I mention stressful times. As my going away present, I have decided to embrace our social media channels and give our loyal blog readers a look behind the scenes at APHL and a taste of the truth. It has been a wonderful journey and I am thankful for all of the amazing members and staff that I was fortunate enough to work with.
Here is a list of things that I learned along the ride:
– There isn’t a magic bat signal to contact CDC, but there are great partnerships that have formed through years of working together.
– Preparedness staff don’t sleep in our offices, it just seems like it.
– None of us enjoy creating superfluous subgroups, taskforces, subcommittees, subforces, taksgroups or any other combination. Much thought goes into creating any group and many factors are considered.
– The average daily roundtrip travel time for the four preparedness team members is over nine hours. *Guess we need to work on our internal logistics.
– Creating the annual all-hazards survey and report is literally a year long process that includes survey development, partner and member input, survey launch, data validation, data sharing, crafting a white paper, developing a theme, writing the report, many levels of revision, creating online and print copy and distribution to members.
– Planning for the Laboratory Response Network (LRN) national meeting is even longer – an 18month process.
– Our program is primarily funded through CDC cooperative agreement funding, like many of our members. As funding decreases, we feel the impact as well.
– Sometimes even we get lost in the acronym jungle and in the legislative mumbo jumbo.
– Depending on the week, we have anywhere from five to infinity meetings with internal and external staff and partners.
Of all the projects that I have worked on, I’m proudest of increasing awareness of laboratory preparedness issues with state and federal policy makers and improving existing and creating new partnerships at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), National Guard Bureau Civil Support Teams, and numerous local law enforcement, first responder teams and hospital partners.
I’m most concerned that many preparedness efforts remain retroactive instead of proactive. Acting in this manner leads to a perpetual cycle of catch up that is unsustainable especially when funding isn’t strong.
In closing I will share what preparedness means to me. Preparedness is something that we all do almost daily without even knowing it. Going to the grocery store to get food for the week is really just you preparing for a future hunger event. Similarly, washing your clothes ensures that you are able to dress appropriately for any situation. Trying to make specific preparations for a future event/threat that may or may not exist is a mistake. Building systems that can be used to respond to anything is the key.
The LRN is a real example of a system that can and has worked for issues ranging from natural disasters, emerging and re-emerging disease and acts of man-made destruction. To get to the next level, national preparedness efforts need to move from a top down approach and empower everyone. Systems should be in place at the local level that provides training and base knowledge. Having additional awareness will bring new ideas and build capacity that goes well beyond any central agency. By removing the shroud of secrecy and sharing information, people will be invested in their own health hand in hand with those tasked with protecting them.
So I end with a question: Were you able to handle my version of the truth?