Public Health Nurse

Emergency Preparedness and Public health nursing

Americans today expect governmental public health agencies to take action to limit the extent of death and disability within the population after the event of a public health emergency, such as a bioterrorism attack, a naturally occurring epidemic, or a natural disaster.  In order to provide an efficient and effective public health response within the community after such a disaster, proper emergency planning must be devised and utilized.

In response to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks of fall 2001, the federal government increased public health funding for state and local governments to enhance preparedness for such emergencies.  The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 provided an infusion of almost $1 billion specifically to improve state and local level public health capabilities and hospital preparedness.  This money has been used to fund offices of emergency preparedness and centers for public health preparedness in health departments all over the U.S.

“Public health preparedness capabilities involve both activities directed at preventing possible public health emergencies and activities directed at planning to ensure an adequate response if an emergency occurs” (Salinsky, 2002).

Public health preparedness activities include:

  • Environmental health measures such as regulating and monitoring health and safety standards concerning food production, water quality, and insect and animal control.
  • Appropriate planning activities which consists of:
    • Formulating action protocols in case of a emergency or disaster situation
    • Simulating emergency events to exercise the use of the action protocols, evaluate the response, and make improvements in the emergency plan.
    • Develop and implement educational and training classes for the public and private-sector personnel to ensure responders are competent regarding the emergency plan
    • Form and maintain relationships with partner organizations and resources to improve coordination and capabilities within the community (Salinksy, 2002).

If a public health emergency were to occur, the Office of Emergency Coordination must be able to respond.

Public health response capabilities include:

  • Epidemiological activities such as detection of a disease outbreak by utilizing surveillance systems, collecting and analyzing reports of disease, initiating health alerts and communicating with response partners.
  • Implementing necessary public health interventions such as quarantine or isolation in order to limit the spread of disease.
  • Assuring the affected public receives appropriate medical treatment and prophylaxis.  Responsibilities may include coordination and distribution of antibiotics, antidotes, or vaccines, and educating health care providers about disease threats and appropriate clinical interventions to apply.
  • Decontaminating the site and developing and instituting control measures in order to prevent a secondary public health emergency (Salinsky, 2002).

Emergency Preparedness at DeKalb County Board of Health

The mission of the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) in the DeKalb County Board of Health is as stated below:

“The continued goal of the OEP is to move our agency toward a state preparedness in which we have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources needed to respond whether it be as the lead agency or as a support to one of our sister agencies. This goal is accomplished through the facilitation of the planning, training, and exercising cycle.”

DeKalb County OEP’s roles and responsibilities are:

  • Develops and maintains a comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)
  • Develops assessment and evaluation strategies for Emergency Preparedness activities and takes necessary action to bring the activity into compliance with government regulations, procedures, standards, and systems.
  • Integrates the Board of Health’s EOP with local, regional, state, and federal agencies and coordinates activities, resources, and the flow of information about public health preparedness planning and exercises.
  • Provides education and consultation services to other county departments, community groups, news media and the lay public on Emergency Preparedness.
  • Serves as the primary point of contactfor Board of Health emergency planningand response activities.
  • Facilitates partnerships with local, metro, state, and federal agencies, and various private partners, to develop comprehensive risk based, preparedness plans and protocols for emergency response.

The Public Health Nurse Role in Emergency Preparedness

The roles of a public health nurse after a natural disaster or bioterrorism event are essential to the successful outcome and rehabilitation of the community.  In the past, nurses have been utilized in emergency shelters for first-aid skills, medication administration, and implementation of organized systems to track individuals and disease occurrence.  However, as more emphasis is being placed on population-based public health and disaster/emergency preparedness, more opportunities for nurses to apply their skills in these areas are emerging.