By Alyson Jordan, MPA, Communications Specialist, Public Health Preparedness, NACCHO
To mark National Preparedness Month 2013, members of NACCHO’s staff organized and participated in two activities to enhance their understanding of preparedness. Staff conducted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) zombie preparedness simulation and a screening and discussion of the plausibility of the response in the film, Contagion.
The major Preparedness Month activity that staff conducted was the CDC’s zombie preparedness simulation on Sept. 20. The exercise illustrated how important planning is in order to have a coordinated response. During the simulation, participants were confused by the different sources of information and how quickly key community leaders could turn into zombies! As leaders of important organizations such as the local health department, city government, and the hospital fell ill, the citizens of the “City of NACCHO” learned quickly the importance of succession planning in keeping their town running and fighting the zombie virus. The exercise also brought in many different partners, including the local health department, the City Council, the school district, the Medical Reserve Corps, and the transportation department, among others. Participating in the exercise illuminated how many groups would be affected by an emergency of any nature and the different concerns that folks would have in such an event.
On Sept. 12, several staff members gathered for a lunch screening of the 2011 film Contagion. After the screening, staff identified that many of the behaviors depicted on-screen were important principles that preparedness professionals routinely encourage in their work. For instance, as the pandemic spread internationally, public health leaders like the World Health Organization and CDC encouraged social distancing and quarantine of infected patients. The film also depicted communications concerns during an outbreak, including the best way to describe an unknown disease to the public while risking that healthy people will become scared. Many agencies struggle with risk communications and communicating to the public during a crisis. NACCHO recently formed the Risk Communications and Information Sharing Workgroup to address these and other communications concerns that local health departments may face during a disaster or emergency. NACCHO staff noted and expressed concern that the role of local health departments during the response was largely absent in Contagion.
Although National Preparedness Month is over, many of the lessons that NACCHO staff learned throughout the month will stay with them. Preparedness is important all year long, and NACCHO offers new tools, resources, and information to local health departments to stay updated on the latest preparedness news and research. Be sure to sign up on NACCHO’s website to receive the email digest so you can get updates as new information, tools, and resources are posted here. And visit NACCHO’s Advanced Practice Centers website for free tools developed by local health departments, for local health departments. We hope that National Preparedness Month offered you many useful tools and ideas in your future preparedness planning!