Public Health Emergency Law Minimum Competencies

By Montrece McNeill Ransom, JD, MPH, Gregory Sunshine, JD, and Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA

law imageLegal preparedness is an integral part of comprehensive emergency preparedness for public health professionals and their legal counsel. To provide guidance on the minimum legal competencies necessary for effective emergency preparedness and response, CDC’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP), in collaboration with the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), developed the Public Health Emergency Law Competencies Version 1.0 (PHEL Competencies) for mid-tier public health professionals.[1] One of the benchmarks of legal preparedness is a legally competent workforce: professionals who understand applicable laws and how to apply them to achieve public health goals. Public health professionals who are competent in public health emergency law are better equipped to comply with the law, reduce concerns for liability, and respect community members’ individual rights within the context of the broader emergency response effort.

The Public Health Emergency Law Competencies Version 1.0

The PHEL Competencies consist of nine competency statements organized within three domains of public health emergency preparedness and response, including

  1. Systems preparedness and response
  2. Management and protection of property and supplies
  3. Management and protection of persons

The PHEL Competencies present a core set of law-specific skills and legal knowledge necessary for public health professionals to engage in effective preparedness and emergency response. By attempting to identify these minimum competencies and beginning to develop a consensus on their acceptance, public health practitioners can strengthen legal preparedness across the nation. For more history of the PHEL Competencies and the methods used to develop them, please visit the PHEL Competencies website.

By designating the PHEL Competencies as “version 1.0,” the PHEL Competencies can evolve over time as preparedness activities evolve. This is where we need your help!

How can you help ensure the PHEL Competencies enhance workforce legal preparedness understanding? Use them!

Use the PHEL Competencies to ensure law-based content is included in your public health emergency training and workforce development efforts. Specifically, state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) preparedness coordinators, other public health professionals, and their legal counsel can use these competencies to

  • Update or revise related job descriptions
  • Update or revise emergency preparedness plans
  • Assess your public health emergency training and workforce development efforts
  • Address  law related accreditation requirements
  • Launch discussions with legal advisors about which specific federal or STLT laws might be implicated by each competency

Public health attorneys can also use the competencies to assess their own knowledge, skills, and abilities in public health emergency legal preparedness, and introduce this area of law to colleagues. For technical assistance in applying the PHEL Competencies, please contact PHLP.

To view the PHEL Competencies, request technical assistance, or learn more about this project, please visit the PHEL Competencies webpage.

For more helpful resources on public health law, visit PHLP’s website and subscribe to the Public Health Law News.

Montrece McNeill Ransom, J.D., M.P.H. is a senior public health analyst and serves as the lead for Public Health Law Training and Workforce Development at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program, Office for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support.

Gregory Sunshine, J.D. is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education legal fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program.

Andrew Roszak, J.D., M.P.A., serves as the Senior Director for Environmental Health, Pandemic Preparedness and Catastrophic Response and the lead for the Public Health Law Program at the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

PHLP provides technical assistance and public health law resources to advance the use of law as a public health tool. PHLP cannot provide legal advice on any issue and cannot represent any individual or entity in any matter. PHLP recommends seeking the advice of an attorney or other qualified professional with questions regarding the application of law to a specific circumstance.


[1] A mid-tier public health professional is either a) an individual with five years of experience and an M.P.H. equivalent or higher degree in public health or b) an individual who does not have an M.P.H. or related degree but has at least 10 years of experience working in the public health field. In general, aside from years of experience and education, these workers may be responsible for program support, coordination, development, implementation, management and/or evaluation, supervision, establishment and maintenance of community relations, argument prevention, and policy issue recommendations. See Association of Schools of Public Health, Public Health Preparedness & Response Core Competency Model Version 1.0 (Dec. 17, 2010), available at http://www.asph.org/userfiles/PreparednessCompetencyModelWorkforce-Version1.0.pdf (last visited Mar. 11, 2014).

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