Local Public Health Preparedness Improved Since September 11, but Challenges Remain According to NACCHO Study

WASHINGTON -- One year after the tragedies of Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax outbreaks, local public health agencies (LPHAs) report making significant progress in their bioterrorism preparedness. LPHAs play a critical role in overall community emergency readiness. They are improving their readiness for bioterrorism, as well as other public health threats and emergencies, with such activities as staged emergency drills, acquisition of new skills, increased community collaboration, and improved technology. Despite this progress, however, the nation is not uniformly prepared and challenges remain. An Issue Brief released today by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) details these findings.

The brief highlights anecdotes collected from 342 local health officials in 44 states. When asked two open-ended questions: 1) How is your community better prepared than on September 11, 2001, and 2) What challenges remain, their varied responses reflect the diverse communities in which they serve ranging from less than 25,000 to nearly a million people.

The most frequent outcomes include:

* Development of working relationships with other first responders in the

community, such as doctors, hospitals, police and fire departments.

Said one local health official from the state of Florida: "Before 9/11,

we didn't know our partners. Now we are on their Nextel list." While

communities have begun collaborating, all first responders must

understand their own roles and the roles of other agencies in an

emergency.

* Development and implementation of trainings and exercises. Whereas

almost one-half of respondents indicated either that they had completed

some bioterrorism training or would offer such training in the near

future, others cited finding the time to develop and implement

trainings a challenge.

* One quarter of responding agencies have improved their technology and

equipment and now have such items as high-speed Internet access,

disease surveillance systems, upgraded computers, and wireless

communications equipment.

* Many stated that their current staff size is insufficient to enable

them to dedicate new time to planning, education, and coordination for

bioterrorism preparedness while also maintaining levels of effort in

other areas.

* The need for sustainable funding was mentioned often. Many respondents

have been reluctant to add permanent staff due to lack of ongoing

funding, and others were experiencing budget cuts imposed by states and

localities. In addition, a few respondents indicated that they are no

farther ahead in bioterrorism preparedness and may actually be farther

behind because of increasing drains on public health resources.

"This anecdotal information demonstrates the progress and challenges that lie ahead for LPHAs as they prepare for acts of bioterrorism," said Patrick M. Libbey, executive director of NACCHO. "While it is clear that the nation is near the beginning of a large, multi-year task to achieve uniform national preparedness, the time and dollars spent on this will serve multiple purposes. Sustained investment in national resources for bioterrorism preparedness is critical because it will yield dividends in better public health protection for every community."

The Issue Brief is available on NACCHO's Web site at http://archive.naccho.org/documents/Brief-9-11-Oct28-2002.pdf . For more information on NACCHO, please visit http://www.naccho.org/ .

NACCHO is the national organization representing local public health agencies. NACCHO works to support efforts that protect and improve the health of all people and all communities by promoting national policy, developing resources and programs, seeking health equity and supporting effective local public health practice and systems.

Source: PRNewswire

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