In many emergency situations – natural disasters or terrorist attacks – public health will be just one small part of a larger response effort, usually involving local government, police and fire officials. We have developed relationships with these groups, participating side-by-side in exercises and training, to ensure that we are prepared to work together to respond to a variety of emergencies.
In many cases, public health’s response to an emergency will involve several key steps:
- Provide Medication
- Education and Communication
- Enforcement of Rules and Regulations
- Surveillance and Disease Investigation
- Helping Our Partners
In the event that an emergency requires distribution of vaccines or other medications to a large number of county residents, Hamilton County Public Health would activate a system that would enable the rapid delivery of those medications to predetermined locations all across the county.
These locations are called Points of Dispensing, or PODs. Most medication distributed to PODs comes from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile.
Education and Communication
Many times during emergencies, public health officials will make recommendations to the general public or other stakeholders about how to stop or contain the emergency situation. This could be done through local media outlets, Web sites, communication with our public health partners or through the distribution of appropriate educational materials.
For example, during a disease outbreak, you may be reminded that hand washing and covering your cough are important steps we can all take to prevent the further spread of disease-causing germs.
Enforcement of Rules and Regulations
During any emergency situation, Hamilton County Public Health staff will work with the community to carry out our day-to-day mission of protecting the public health and environment. In some situations however, special rules and regulations may need to be adopted to help public health officials carry out this mission. Similar to other public health agencies in Ohio and across the country, the Hamilton County Board of Health – the Health District’s governing body – has the authority to adopt rules which have the same status as law.
For example, during the 1918 flu pandemic, those communities that canceled public gatherings and closed schools saw much lower rates of illness and death than communities that did nothing to restrict public movement. To save lives and prevent illness, similar measures may be used here if such an outbreak were to occur in our community.
A less drastic and more recent example of when public health officials might enforce special rules and regulations occurred during the summer of 2005 when our area experienced an increase in cases of the recreational water illness Cryptosporidiosis. To help stop the spread of the illness, public health officials required that all effected pools take extra steps to super chlorinate their pools. This, along with an extensive public education campaign, helped to stop the spread of the illness through community pools. Had these prevention measures not worked, public health officials could have taken the extra step of closing all licensed public swimming pools.
Surveillance and Disease Investigation
Every day, epidemiologists and communicable disease nurses monitor the health of our community and work to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses.
For example, through hospital and physician notifications, communicable disease nurses are notified when cases of diarrheal illnesses occur at area daycare centers. Once cases are identified, testing is done to determine the cause of the illness and steps are taken to prevent the further spread of illness among this highly vulnerable population. In most cases, communicable disease nurses work one-on-one with affected families and daycares to provide education and recommendations.
These efforts would continue during a disease epidemic or other public health emergency. Epidemiologists and communicable disease nurses have the tools and skills needed to track a disease’s progression through a community, as well as the ability to make recommendations about public health interventions that could slow or stop its spread.
Helping Our Partners
In addition, Hamilton County Public Health assists our hospital partners in preparing for medical surge through the Alternative Care Center. The ACC is an integrated, self sustaining field hospital that operates in unusual, extraordinary circumstances. The purpose of the ACC is to provide the existing healthcare infrastructure (hospitals) with physical resources to help minimize the effects of mass casualty emergencies.
The make up of the ACC can be broken into three functional components: Supplies, Shelter and Staff. The entire tent system consists of seven wings, with three tents per wing and an additional command wing – which consist of command tent and supply tent.
The ACC was designed by a multidisciplinary team, led by the Hamilton County General Health District. The funds to purchase the equipment and supplies for the ACC were awarded by the Homeland Security Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Grant program. These funds were awarded to Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati.
- American Red Cross
- CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response
- Citizen Corps
- Current Threats
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- How should you prepare?
- Ohio Responds
- Public Health Emergency Response
- Prevent & Prepare
- Ready America
- Tri-state Medical Reserve Corp
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security