Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program
Any number of public health emergencies could occur in Kansas City ranging from natural disease outbreaks to deliberate acts of terrorism involving the use of biological agents.
The Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program plans for and responds to such events. Program staff comprises two emergency response planners, three epidemiology specialists, a risk communications officer, a volunteer coordinator and support staff. The program is directed by the Communicable Disease Prevention division manager.
It is not enough to write plans to address public health concerns. This program works with the departments medical and administrative staff to develop and exercise these response capabilities.
In the event of a serious occurrence of a communicable disease, the City must be prepared to execute functions not normally required during events typically coordinated by other disciplines, such as law enforcement and fire service. These include disease surveillance and investigation; mass prophylaxis for those exposed; isolation and quarantine; mass patient care and even mass fatalities.
By activating the Communicable Disease Outbreak and Bioterrorism Plan for events as simple as conducting flu clinics for Kansas City residents, the Emergency Preparedness staff has an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t work during low stress incidents. Following Hurricane Katrina, the Health Department assisted evacuees by offering immunizations and activating the Medical Reserve Corps to provide medical assessments and referrals. These are all components of the plan and lessons learned from the partial activation will be translated into revisions to the plan.
It is important to remember that many disciplines will have a role in events as serious as a bioterrorism event and that it will not be contained within the city limits of Kansas City; nor will any communicable disease outbreak.
Emergency Preparedness staff maintains ongoing working relationships with public health agencies in neighboring jurisdictions and other government agencies. They participate in several committees and subcommittees that meet at least monthly to plan and coordinate responses to public health emergencies. An example is the Regional Homeland Security Coordination Committee and its numerous subcommittees. This group provides bi-state multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional support, leadership and coordination, and maximizes public and private resources.
Another vital function of the program is the development of community partnerships with the private sector to enhance the departments ability to respond to large-scale events. The Kansas City Cross-Jurisdictional Partnership is an evolving group of public health directors, technical experts, private sector health insurance plans and businesses. The groups primary purpose is to improve preparedness collaboration among local public health agencies, private health insurance plans and employers in a large, multi-jurisdictional community that crosses state boundaries.
The Public Health Ambassador Volunteer Corps works to recruit residents from neighborhood associations and churches to join the Health Department to serve as volunteers. They are taught how to keep themselves safe and healthy and to impart this same information to people in their circle of influence, such as their family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and faith family. This effort supports the Community Health Improvement Plan Primary Prevention Goal, which is to keep the community informed and engaged in the prevention of the development of chronic disease as well as responding appropriately to public health emergencies. These residents will perform a critical role during public health outbreaks and crises, as well as during health information campaigns designed to keep the community healthy.
Through these and countless other activities, the program strives to ensure the health and safety of Kansas City’s residents and visitors. Plans evolve to meet the increasing challenges of these changing times.