Project Public Health Ready: A Tool for Improving Statewide Preparedness

PPHR Logo 2006A hurricane is fast approaching your region. How will evacuation and sheltering procedures work when your neighbors are all affected, too? The local health department reports a suspected case of Ebola. Who at the state level should be notified first? Quick, effective responses to public health emergencies require planning, coordination, and practice among and between state and local health departments.  When local and state health departments share and coordinate resources, it can reduce duplication of effort, save time and money, and speed response and recovery time through clear processes and procedures. However, this kind of collaboration is not always easy to initiate and sustain over time.

Project Public Health Ready is one framework that states and local health departments have used to foster successful collaborative planning efforts. Project Public Health Ready is a criteria-based public health preparedness program that assesses local health department capacity and capability to plan for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies. Project Public Health Ready aims to protect the public’s health and increase the public health infrastructure by equipping local health departments with sustainable tools to plan, train, and exercise using a continuous improvement model. The criteria used by the program are nationally recognized standards for local public health preparedness and are updated regularly to incorporate the most current research and federal guidance.

Although the criteria standards are focused on local response planning, the program is implemented through a state-supported model. The model requires that the Project Public Health Ready application process for all participating local health departments within the state be coordinated by a state-level entity, such as a state health department. The state-level entity is responsible for coordinating the development of all applications for the local health departments in their state; providing state-level templates, tools, and guidance; and facilitating the sharing of local planning experiences and challenges. NACCHO works closely with both the state-level entity and local health departments to provide advice, training, and support whenever necessary. Typically several health departments in the same state apply for Project Public Health Ready in the same year. This cohort approach fosters shared learning, collaboration, and coordination between the participating local health departments. Strengthening these statewide preparedness networks enhances the state’s ability to cope with large-scale, unexpected, and emerging threats such as pandemics and extreme weather.

According to Katie Dunkle-Reynolds, state lead for the six applicants from Michigan recognized this month, “The true value of Project Public Health Ready for us has been in working through the criteria with our plans, and doing so together. Once you do, you realize how much better and more effective you can be at keeping people safe and healthy during emergencies.”

Melissa Marquis, Public Health Emergency Response Specialist with the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District in Connecticut, has this to say about her experience with the program:

“Having been both a Project Public Health Ready reviewer and applicant; I have a pretty good idea of what is required, what resources are needed and how much time and effort it will take to complete and application from start to finish. By utilizing a statewide collaborative network and process, I feel strongly that this approach helped me prepare four out of five regional applications. We utilized our existing substate regional ESF-8 structure (now known as our healthcare coalitions) which included individuals from the state health department, local health departments, regional public health colleagues, and our state association of county and city health officials, to work together on these applications; thereby allowing for a standardized approach. During the application process we needed to ensure that there was alignment of the state and local public health preparedness plans and, in some instances, we actually developed plans to ensure this alignment existed. Without having this network of colleagues, resources and support available to me, I honestly don’t know how I could have pulled those off simultaneously! I would say that the entire process has provided me with many pearls of wisdom, examples of best practices, and expansive networking opportunities.”

Those interested in learning more are invited to attend a learning session at the 2015 Preparedness Summit, “Using Project Public Health Ready as a Framework for Improved Coordination of State-Local Public Health Preparedness Planning.” Project Public Health Ready state leads and applicants will discuss their experiences leveraging the program to increase preparedness coordination across jurisdictions and sectors. Representatives from local and state health departments who have participated in Project Public Health Ready will share experiences, strategies, and tools that were successful in fostering peer engagement and building broader partnerships between state and local health departments and among local health departments in the same state. They will also describe how working to meet the requirements of the Project Public Health Ready criteria led to improvements in all-hazards planning, workforce development, and demonstration of readiness through exercises and emergency response. In addition, presenters will also address how their work on Project Public Health Ready can be leveraged to improve coordination on other preparedness efforts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness program. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Project Public Health Ready from peers in local and state health departments with first-hand experience.

The Preparedness Summit is a four day event that brings together public health preparedness professionals from around the world. Attendees from state, local, tribal, and national levels bring diverse perspectives on preparedness planning. Participants have the opportunity to share information, current research, and practical tools to deal with preparedness issues ranging from infectious disease pandemics to cybersecurity threats to critical infrastructure. Visit preparednesssummit.org to register for the Preparedness Summit today!

More information on Project Public Health Ready is also available at www.naccho.org/pphr or by emailing pphr@naccho.org.

About Rachel Schulman

Rachel Schulman is a Senior Program Analyst for Public Health Preparedness at NACCHO. Her work includes enhancing and recognizing local public health preparedness planning efforts through Project Public Health Ready and building collaborations between public health and emergency management. Twitter: @rms_ph

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