On Public Health Security - May 2013

Read about our partnership with the American Red Cross and the recent visit by its President and CEO, Gail McGovern.

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May 2013

On Public Health Security

Providing a Gateway to National Public Health Security Partnerships

Dr. Ali S. Khan

Dear Partners,

Last month I had the distinct pleasure of hosting Gail McGovern, President and CEO of the American Red Cross.  Leading an organization like the American Red Cross—with 30,000 employees, 500,000 volunteers, and $3.2 billion in revenues—requires a leader who is able to work strategically with a broad array of stakeholders and partners.  Since taking her position in 2008, Ms. McGovern has successfully overseen responses to several high-profile disasters including the Haiti earthquake, Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.  Additionally, she has initiated steps to transform and streamline the organization. Two key strategies of her leadership have been to promote innovation and achieve operational efficiencies (which also represent two of my priorities for the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response).

To understand the significance of her leadership, let me first put into perspective the magnitude of work performed by the American Red Cross, which shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families.

Dr.Khan and Gail McGovern

The Red Cross is an important partner of CDC, and one of the few non-governmental agencies identified by name as a support agency in the National Response Framework (NRF). Along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross co-leads the Mass Care function in ESF #6.  Even today, more than 6 months after Hurricane Sandy stormed ashore, the Red Cross continues to respond to those who have been affected. To date, the Red Cross has provided more than 81,000 overnight stays, 17 million meals and snacks, 7 million relief items, and 17,000 disaster workers (90% of whom are volunteers), to the survivors of Hurricane Sandy, which is the biggest Red Cross domestic response operation in the past five years.

Ms. McGovern’s key strategy of innovation can be seen among the unique partnerships the Red Cross has cultivated during her tenure. Three immediately stand out as having far reaching implications for the agency’s ability to respond to disasters.

  • In November 2012, the Red Cross announced a new partnership with The Weather Channel to promote weather safety and preparedness and to support the disaster relief work of the Red Cross, reinforcing a shared mission to keep the public safe and informed.
  • In October 2012, the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) announced the launch of a new Global Disaster Preparedness Center. It is a globally focused reference resource designed to support learning and knowledge sharing for disaster preparedness practitioners.
  • In March 2012, the Red Cross and Dell launched a Digital Operations Center, the first social media-based operation devoted to humanitarian relief, which monitors social media during disasters. This enables them to anticipate disaster needs and rapidly direct assistance.

The Red Cross not only inspired us through their innovative partnerships with the private sector, but during Ms. McGovern’s visit, we discussed mutual areas for improved operational efficiencies. Among the topics we discussed were opportunities to improve our disease detection and outbreak response in Red Cross shelters following disasters; how to best serve people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations during disasters; the global campaign to eradicate measles and using new technology to make that possible; blood safety issues and leveraging the Red Cross blood donor workforce during emergencies; and the use of social media and crowdsourcing to improve preparedness response and recovery.

Dr. Ali S. Khan watching Gail McGovern speak to CDC staff

In Ms. McGovern’s remarks, she highlighted the passion the Red Cross staff and volunteers bring to their work, which reminds me of our own public health workforce and how response begins and ends at the community level during a public health emergency. The investment we have all made in public health preparedness is going towards staff and resources for every day threats whether it is a surge in seasonal flu cases in New York City, or larger threats like the deadly new SARS-like coronavirus, the new avian influenza H7N9 virus circulating in China, or the global campaign to eradicate polio.  Like the Red Cross volunteers who are passionate and mission driven, I am lucky to work with folks everyday who bring enthusiasm and dedication to public health preparedness and response.  During tight fiscal times, I am committed to identifying best practices that will drive innovation and achieve operational efficiencies so our workforce continues to have the tools it needs to get the job done.

Thank you,

Ali S. Khan, MD MPH
Assistant Surgeon General (retired) & Director
Office of Public Health Preparedness & Response
DHHS/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CDC’s FY13 Operating Plan

At the end of April, CDC released the agency's operating plan for the remainder of FY 2013, which also includes the impact of sequestration. CDC’s budget is close to $600 million below FY 2012.

CDC to Fund Research to Aid Recovery from Hurricane Sandy

In early May, CDC released a new Request for Application (CDC- RFA-TP-13-001) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Health Preparedness and Response Research to Aid Recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  This RFA identifies three priority recovery research areas: 1) Mold mitigation and related health issues; 2) Characterization of the morbidity, and mortality among the at-risk and general populations impacted by Hurricane Sandy; and 3) Evaluation of the public health system response.  The application deadline is June 6, 2013.

Also in May, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (RFA-OH-13-002) NIOSH Cooperative Agreement Research to Aid Recovery from Hurricane Sandy. This Funding Opportunity Announcement provides funds from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-02) to address two priority areas to aid recovery from the public health impact of Hurricane Sandy, 1) conduct training in mold mitigation and health-related research, and 2) conduct assessments of health hazards and outcomes among response and recovery workers and volunteers responding to Super-storm Sandy. The application deadline is June 28, 2013.

CDC is collaborating with the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) on both of these important initiatives to inform long-term recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  Outcomes from the funded research will also contribute to Departmental and CDC efforts to enhance science-based evidence for preparedness and response practice.

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