On Public Health Security - October 2017 - Emergency Preparedness & Vulnerable Populations: Planning for those Most at Risk

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October 2017

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doctor Stephen C. Redd, MD

Dear Partners,


At-risk and vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, persons with disabilities, persons with low incomes, and pregnant women, are groups of people who may not have access to standard resources provided in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery operations. When I served as the incident commander for the 2009 H1N1 outbreak response, I quickly learned the importance of considering vulnerable populations in the early stages of the planning process to ensure their needs were met. For H1N1, this meant providing guidance for specific groups at high risk for influenza complications, such as people 65 years and older, pregnant women, and children under 5 years old. Likewise, with each of the devastating hurricanes that made landfall this year—Harvey, Irma, and Maria—vulnerable populations were and continue to be at a much higher risk of injury, disease, and death.

While every response is different, the importance of planning for and responding to the needs of vulnerable populations is consistent. At CDC, we have taken important steps to address the needs of vulnerable populations in our emergency preparedness and response activities.

Vulnerable Populations Officer

The Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) has a dedicated Vulnerable Populations Officer, Amy Funk Wolkin, DrPH, who sits in our Office of Science and Public Health Practice. Dr. Wolkin’s research experience, particularly with the health impacts of extreme weather events, allows her to apply scientific expertise to vulnerable population emergency preparedness and response activities. Dr. Wolkin leads the CDC-wide Vulnerable Populations Community of Practice, a network of CDC experts and other staff who are interested in helping vulnerable populations before emergencies strike by sharing best practices from across the agency. She also provides vulnerable population trainings, as she did for a select group of United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Rapid Deployment Force 3 (RDF-3) officers. RDF-3 includes many officers who deployed or could potentially deploy for Hurricane Harvey, Irma, and/or Maria.

Emergency Operations Center and Vulnerable Populations

In our Emergency Operations Center (EOC) we have an At-Risk Task Force to engage strategically with agency experts, health departments, federal partners, non-governmental organizations, and others to advocate for and respond to the needs of vulnerable populations. The At-Risk Task Force is led by CDC’s Vulnerable Populations Officer and includes staff from across the agency with expertise in children’s health, maternal and infant health, mental health, and medical countermeasures.

As part of CDC’s 2017 hurricane response, the At-Risk Task Force worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide cleanup and mold safety content for use in American Sign Language videos. The At-Risk Task Force also collaborated on maps that highlighted areas with populations at risk due to economic and social factors in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia and helped get health protection information to those areas.

Medical Countermeasures for Vulnerable Populations

Vulnerable populations often have specific requirements for care and treatment in emergencies. The Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) manages the development and stockpiling of medical countermeasures for all U.S. populations, including vulnerable populations. Staff from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) support the PHEMCE review of available countermeasures. Procurement of products developed and licensed for use in vulnerable populations is prioritized. In addition, SNS staff ensure that all medical countermeasures considered for the SNS are evaluated for appropriate use in vulnerable populations and that appropriate sizes of medical supplies and equipment are included for all ages. SNS also works with CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) colleagues to provide authorizations and instructions, based on the best available science, for the emergency use of stockpiled products that have not been approved for use in vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable Populations Research

Last year, OPHPR invested $8 million in research projects, with 75% of those funds supporting research focusing on vulnerable populations and emergencies. One of these projects, conducted in collaboration with Drexel University, will help determine how best to reach families with children, youth with special health care needs, and persons with autism spectrum disorders during emergencies, including their preferred channels, formats, and information sources. The project also looks at how health care and service providers communicate with these families before and during public health emergencies. Based on the research findings, Drexel and CDC will create communication tools, messages, and guidance documents to support public health emergency planning for these groups.

As we learn more, and continue to work closely with our partners, we will be able to more effectively identify and prioritize the needs of vulnerable populations during emergencies. If you are interested in collaborating with us on vulnerable populations work or sharing information about your work in this area, please email us at phprpartners@cdc.gov.


Thank you,

Stephen C. Redd, MD
Director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Upcoming Events

Register now for the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) Annual Meeting & Expo November 4th-8th in Atlanta, Georgia.

Register now for the Association of Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Professionals (AHEPP) 2017 Annual Conference, November 7th-9th in Dallas, Texas.

Attend the 65th Annual International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) Conference and EMEX, November 10th-15th in Long Beach, California.

Attend the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) 2017 Annual Meeting December 10th-14th in Arlington, Virginia.

Additional Resources

A recent National Association for County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) article discusses “Six Compelling Reasons to Include People with Disabilities at the Emergency Planning Table.”

A recent CDC press release announces a new CDC campaign, Rx Awareness, to help states fight the prescription opioid epidemic.

A recent CDC press release announces that CDC deactivated the Emergency Operations Center for the Zika response on September 29, 2017. Although the Emergency Operations Center has deactivated for the Zika response, the threat of Zika has not lessened in importance and people are still at risk for infection. For more information on Zika, visit the CDC Zika page 

An upcoming Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity (COCA) call on October 26th is aimed at primary care physicians and provides guidance on supporting children’s mental health needs during hurricane recovery.

Visit CDC’s recently updated webpage on “Coping with a Disaster of Traumatic Event.”

A recent CDC press release announces a supplement to CDC’s Emerging Infectious Disease journal on global health security. The first article is entitled, “US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its Partners’ Contributions to Global Health Security.”

A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) article entitled “Update: Influenza Activity – United States and Worldwide, May 21-September 23 2017” summarizes influenza activity worldwide during this time period.

CDC has recently released a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for Cooperative Agreement for Emergency Response: Public Health Crisis Response. This NOFO process is designed to increase the speed at which CDC can fund jurisdictions for domestic emergency preparedness and response using an open, continuous announcement.

centers for disease control and prevention - office of public health preparedness and response

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