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Preparing for the Next Public Health Emergency

Unlike other public health emergencies in recent history, COVID-19 affected every community and spurred extensive discussion and research regarding critical health topics. The emergence of the global threat highlighted the importance of information sharing and lessons learned to better prepare for the next major incident. It also raised awareness about the key role public health plays in tracking disease outbreaks and gathering statistics related to infection rates, including monitoring health outcomes and the effectiveness of medical countermeasures such as vaccinations. However, public health is not just about pandemics but also about a wide range of threats that can affect the health and well-being of communities.

The first week of April each year marks National Public Health Week in the United States and serves as a reminder of public health’s crucial role in prevention. By gathering information about current and past events, practitioners and researchers help communities plan for preparedness, response, and recovery activities related to major incidents such as floods, hurricanes, foodborne illnesses, drinking water contamination, air pollutants, and other hazards and threats. The aim is to prevent future risks, hazards, and threats.

In this April edition of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, practitioners share ways to prepare for the next public health emergency. This issue begins with a true story that could have had devastating effects but thankfully did not. Building awareness about this and other scenarios can help prevent similar threatening events from happening again. Other authors recommend investments in resources, training, and people, which can have returns on those investments that far outweigh the initial costs. For example, one significant public health challenge involves mental health and well-being. When responding to a disaster, emergency response personnel are particularly susceptible to stress and burnout.

In addition to public health issues, emergency preparedness and response professionals have been talking this month about protecting critical infrastructure against vulnerabilities like those recently exposed. For example, a ship lost power in Baltimore, Maryland, and took out a major transportation artery. A few weeks later, a severed fiber wire reduced interoperability and left millions across four states without access to vital 911 resources for up to several hours. Whether intentional or unintentional, disasters can happen. The authors in this journal offer suggestions for how to prevent them or at least mitigate their effects on communities.

Catherine L. Feinman

Catherine L. Feinman, M.A., joined Domestic Preparedness in January 2010. She has more than 35 years of publishing experience and currently serves as editor of the Domestic Preparedness Journal, DomesticPreparedness.com, and The Weekly Brief. She works with writers and other contributors to build and create new content that is relevant to the emergency preparedness, response, and recovery communities. She received a bachelor’s degree in International Business from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management from American Military University.

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