Strong Community Ties Strengthen National Health Security

By Pamela Barnes, MA, National Strategic Engagement Team Lead, Office of Policy and Planning, Division of Policy and Strategic Planning, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response

nat-health-security-logo-final-webEvery disaster holds the potential to impact health so this September, join the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response within the Department Health and Human Services in commemorating National Preparedness Month. National Preparedness Month encourages every American to “Be disaster aware; take action to prepare” and creates an important opportunity for every individual and community to prepare their homes, businesses, and neighborhoods for any type of emergency, including severe weather, infectious diseases, hazardous material exposures, or terrorist attacks.

This year, for the first time, National Preparedness Month will culminate in a National Day of Action on September 30. The National Day of Action focuses on practicing, with businesses, government agencies, community organizations and faith-based organizations sponsoring emergency drills. We encourage you to work with community organizations and your emergency management agency to get the word out or sponsor a drill.

Individual and community preparedness are major contributors to national health security. The vision for national health security as described in the 2010-2014 National Health Security Strategy is, “…when the nation and its people are prepared for, protected from, respond effectively to, and able to recover from incidents with potentially negative health consequences.” An essential part of achieving national health security is a prepared population.

Preparedness fosters informed, empowered individuals and communities. They are informed and empowered to increase their overall quality of health; connect to the healthcare system; and take action to support their neighbors. Although individual preparedness actions, such as creating an emergency supply kit and making a family emergency plan, are vital steps all Americans should take, equally vital are actions that promote community preparedness—from getting to know which neighbors may need help after a disaster to community organizations and businesses working together on emergency drills.

Public health emergencies underscore the importance of community health resilience—the ability of a community to use its assets to strengthen public health and healthcare systems and to improve the community’s physical, behavioral, and social health to withstand, adapt to, and recover from adversity —to enhance community preparedness. Health resilient communities have strong social support and robust social connections that increase population health. They are prepared to leverage strong partnerships among people and organizations, such as healthcare systems, to support preparedness, response, and recovery efforts in the face of incidents.

Experience from emergencies—like the H1N1 influenza pandemic, Hurricane Sandy, and the Boston Marathon bombing—are examples of how communities have to come together to meet the enormous challenges they faced in public health emergencies. Thus, preparedness is built on the efforts of all sectors, including individuals, families, community-based organizations, private sector, academia, and all levels of government, working together to improve the nation’s ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents.

Local health departments play a critical role in bolstering and maintaining national health security by way of individual and community preparedness. Local health departments can:

  • Promote general population training in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and self- and family-care.
  • Implement trainings and exercises for volunteers on effective and educated bystander response.
  • Empower community members to engage in their communities’ preparedness activities by creating culturally sensitive guidance.

Tweet your thoughts on building strong community ties to strengthen national health security using hashtag #NHSS.

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