Earlier this year, I profiled community resilience as one of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response’s (PHPR) top priorities for 2014. Resilient communities are the result of partnerships between government, the private sector, civil society, and citizens. Trusted organizations that touch many aspects of our everyday lives are an essential ingredient to reaching the most people, and creating strong networks that promote resilience.
For this month’s newsletter, I want to highlight one of our community partners: the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA). The Y-USA has programs that reach more than 21 million people in 10,000 communities. Last month I had the honor of hosting Neal Denton, Senior Vice President and Chief Government Affairs Officer of Y-USA, during his visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Neal was joined by Katie Adamson, Senior Director of Health Partnerships and Policy for Y-USA. Typically, when people think about Y-USA, they envision summer camps and gyms. But Y-USA also plays a key role in responding to disasters and helping build strong communities that can withstand emergencies. During Hurricane Sandy, for example, Y-USA provided temporary housing for response workers along with showers, childcare, and counseling to communities recovering from the disaster.
Connecting Youth Development with Resilience
In addition to disaster response assistance, I was excited to learn about the areas in which PHPR and Y-USA are both fostering resilience among at-risk populations before disaster strikes. For example, PHPR supports the well-being and development of young people by creating youth-friendly preparedness materials, such as the Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic educator resources for kids 12 and up and Ready Wrigley for little ones. Ready Wrigley is CDC’s Preparedness Pup who teaches children how to prepare for a variety of events, including hurricanes, earthquakes and winter weather. Similarly, Y-USA highlighted 55 new pilot programs for child safety at Ys across the nation. We are now exploring opportunities to further link Y-USA’s focus on youth with our own community resilience initiatives.
Connecting Vulnerable Populations with Resilience
PHPR also promotes resilience among vulnerable populations, such as older adults and those living with chronic diseases, by developing toolkits and guidance targeted to these populations. The Y is already a trusted resource for these populations through their healthy living initiatives. I see potential to integrate PHPR’s preparedness and resilience activities within Y-USA’s healthy living programs. Integrating our efforts into the everyday activities of a trusted community group expands the reach of our preparedness message and helps communities develop strong ties. Collaborative efforts among government and groups like the Y embody the “Whole Community” approach championed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Discovering Untapped Resources
Y-USA has a number of materials and resources that remain unknown to local, state, and federal disaster response officials. My hope is to continue building public health readiness by including Y-USA’s largely untapped renowned staff and volunteer training resources in these efforts.
I am always impressed at the parallels between the PHPR mission and that of community-based organizations. We all are working towards a safer, healthier population, just with slightly different approaches. The examples that I mention above are a few ways in which Y-USA and PHPR can partner to ensure the government and individual communities work together before, during, and after emergencies. By building partnerships with organizations such as Y-USA, we can accomplish more to help the very communities in which we all live, learn, and work. I am committed to identifying best practices that will drive community resilience so our nation will continue to have the tools we need to live healthier and more secure lives.
Ali S. Khan, MD, MPH
Assistant Surgeon General (retired) & Director
Office of Public Health Preparedness & Response
DHHS/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention