As we take time to celebrate National Preparedness Month and our collective achievements to improve public health preparedness and response, we also honor those killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. For many of us who work in the field of preparedness and response, these attacks were a somber reminder of how important the work we do day in and day out is to protect our nation’s health security. While we cannot prevent every disaster or terrorist attack, we can work to ensure our communities and businesses are resilient and able to respond and recover from all disasters.
One important way CDC works to help our staff and partners on the front lines responding to public health emergencies is through our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The EOC is the conduit for the work conducted by the CDC Emergency Management Program, which is run by the PHPR Division of Emergency Operations (DEO). During emergencies, the EOC is CDC’s command center for centralizing and coordinating public health response activities and providing resources to state, local, and international partners. On this special occasion, I’ve chosen to highlight the scope of emergencies DEO has managed since the inception of the EOC; describe the phenomenal day-to-day support the CDC-wide EOC staff members provide to partners both internal and external to our agency; and highlight some of the exciting work we have engaged in with international partners.
10 Years of Preparing and Managing Responses to Public Health Emergencies
From 2003 to 2013, the EOC has been activated to respond to over 50 public health emergency incidents or events, including the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, and numerous hurricanes. In 2013 alone, the EOC has activated to respond to H7N9 flu, the MERS coronavirus, a multi-state cyclospora outbreak, and the longer-term polio eradication campaign. Activating the EOC only occurs when there is a public health emergency or planned event that is best handled in a centralized manner through an incident manager who can bring together staff from across CDC to help. During these emergencies, the EOC provides a physical and virtual place for CDC subject matter experts, the EOC emergency management professionals, and a wide array of partners to manage a response in an organized manner. Having this facility – initially built in partnership with the CDC Foundation – over the last 10 years has enabled CDC and its partners to respond to these emergencies with greater awareness and impact to keep America safe.
Extraordinary Day-to-Day Support Provided to Partners Internal and External to CDC
The EOC activations represent some of the most challenging public health emergencies that CDC responds to. However, there is work going on each and every day by CDC’s Emergency Management Program to help CDC and our partners prevent, protect, mitigate, respond, and recover before, during, and after emergencies. Below are some highlights of accomplishments:
- Triaged an average of over 20,000 calls annually from 2004-2012 from the EOC 24/7 number (770.488.7100), which is available for local, state, and federal agencies as well as healthcare providers to call and be linked to CDC subject matter experts;
- Coordinated or substantively participated in 30 full scale or tabletop exercises and drills from 2003-2012;
- Provided emergency travel coordination for over 300 CDC subject matter experts from the various centers and offices from within the agency in the past year – allowing them to get to the front lines of public health threats both at home and abroad; and
- Managed multiple channels that deliver emergency information to the public and target public health professionals such as CDC’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Website, the Health Alert Network, Epi-X, the Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity and Registry (COCA), and non-governmental organizations and government partner channels.
Enhancing Global Capability to Respond to Public Health Emergencies
One of the key priorities of our Emergency Management Program is to build capacity and capability internationally. As we all are aware, public health threats know no borders. When other countries have strong emergency operations centers with the staff, infrastructure, and systems in place to manage a successful public health response, the ability to mitigate public health threats is strengthened. Recently, the expertise that we use in our own EOC has been leveraged to support efforts by CDC’s Center for Global Health (CGH) to strengthen and/or establish emergency operations centers internationally. The CDC Emergency Management Program has supported efforts in countries such as China, Kenya, India, Jordan, and Guatemala. The type of assistance provided has ranged from evaluating EOC capacity and needs to providing emergency management training and exercises. Our work with international partners is continuing to grow – we are now working closely with Vietnam and Uganda to enhance their emergency management programs.
Congratulations on 10 Years of Great Work
All of us at CDC are very proud of our EOC, and I can’t say that without giving recognition to the people behind the facility. Phil Navin, the Director of the DEO, and his team of dedicated emergency management specialists have made our Emergency Management Program and the EOC a successful model for other countries and organizations to replicate. My thanks to them, all of the CDC subject matter experts, and partners from outside our agency that have come together over the past 10 years to make it a success.