About Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program
Do you know what to do in the event of a public health emergency? The changing world we live in has created a great need for people to learn how to become prepared for such events as a natural disaster, a global disease, and even a terrorist attack. In recent years, the threat of bio-terrorism against the United States has not only increased, but has become a reality for all Americans following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster that killed over 1,800 people in seven states and impacted the country's national preparedness and emergency response. Our society has also become very mobile, which means that a disease originating in one state may be transferred to many other states in a single day. The Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program is dedicated to ensuring a coordinated, timely, and effective response to a bioterrorist event, natural disaster, or other public health emergency in Sussex County.
The Public Health Emergency Preparedness Team is committed to enhancing the County's preparedness and response to public health emergencies. The program is funded by the federal government through the Local Core Capacity for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and performs various preparedness activities in accordance with federal and state requirements. Those activities include communications, planning, and surveillance in preparation for response to public health emergencies. The Division of Health continually assists the team with acquiring equipment designed to enhance Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP), including HAZMAT and communications equipment.
The Sussex County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program is a part of the NJ Local Information Network Communications Systems (LINCS), a system of public health professionals and electronic public health information that enhances the identification and containment of diseases and hazardous conditions that threaten the public's health. Built on personal computer and Internet technologies, LINCS is a network of twenty two strategically positioned local health departments located throughout the state, the New Jersey Department of Health, and public/private organizations working at the community level to protect the public's health. The Sussex LINCS Agency Site works in collaboration with Newton Medical Center; Sussex County Division of Emergency Management; Sussex County Law Enforcement; and the New Jersey Department of Health to become increasingly equipped to respond in the event a terrorist attack should occur, and to prepare for bioterrorism, outbreaks of infectious disease and other public health emergencies.
The State of New Jersey Department of Health has assigned a part- time Health Planner, responsible for assisting the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Team with all health emergency preparedness planning activities in the county. The team works with the planner, in addition to other State, County, and Local agencies, to test components of emergency preparedness plans through participation in local and statewide drills and exercises. These drills/exercises are designed to test, evaluate and enhance our ability to protect the public in the event of a health emergency or terrorist attack. After evaluation of the exercises/drills, the team is able to determine if any revisions must be made to plans prior to the occurrence of an actual emergency, as well as, the capability of our public health workforce.
Another component to both communications and planning is the Sussex County Domestic Preparedness Task Force (DPTF), a diverse group of county professionals representing emergency management (OEM), local and county health departments, law enforcement, hospitals, mental health providers and local businesses. The DPTF meets monthly to share preparedness activities, enhance communications and plan for upcoming exercises. A member from the Public Health Preparedness Team serves as a co-chair for this task force.
"Syndromic surveillance" is another activity performed by the team. This term applies to surveillance using health-related data that precede diagnosis and signal a sufficient probability of a case or an outbreak to warrant further public health response. Syndromic surveillance has been used to target investigation of potential cases and the team uses this method for detecting outbreaks associated with bioterrorism. The Public Health Preparedness Team also monitors visits and admissions to local hospitals, reports on Influenza Like Illness (ILI) at local institutions, and reports certain communicable disease cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The PHENS Coordinator works to establish, expand and ensure effective communications among public health professionals, healthcare organizations, law enforcement agencies, clinicians, school officials, public officials, emergency responders and businesses through the development of the Community Health Alert and Information Network (CHAIN). By strengthening information access among local and community partners, the PHENS Coordinator can assure rapid notification of public health events or information that may impact the health of the community. Trained in the use of communication technology, the PHENS Coordinator can receive and transmit information to the CHAIN 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, regardless of location.
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) coordinator is charged with recruiting, training and retaining volunteers to respond in a Public Health emergency. MRC volunteers would help augment the Sussex County Department of Health's response to a public health emergency. Both medical and non medical volunteers are currently needed. For more information call 973-579-0370 or visit the MRC pages on the Sussex County web site.
The LINCS Public Health Nurse works with other emergency response agencies to ensure that emergency plans are fully developed to the operational level, including standard operating procedures for distribution of emergency medical supplies in the LINCS agency area. The LINCS Public Health Nurse also works with local Public Health Nurses and hospital infection control to ensure a coordinated response to a communicable disease or food borne outbreak and to ensure that all parties understand the reportable communicable disease regulations and the notification and response protocols.
The Health Educator/Risk Communicator (HERC) is responsible for the design and delivery of county-wide bioterrorism/public health emergency-related training, distance learning coordination, training needs assessment and curriculum design and development for bioterrorism and other public health emergency preparedness related issues. The HERC collaborates with multiple stakeholders from public health, law enforcement, medical personnel, first responders, emergency managers and others to design, develop, and deliver training programs for various focus areas. Additionally, the HERC is actively involved in designing flyers, brochures; coordination, use and maintenance of educational equipment; providing course updates for public health and emergency preparedness training; and coordinating trainings with other professional organizations related to public safety and education. Risk Communication techniques are utilized to provide information that allows individuals, or entire communities, to make the best possible decisions about their well-being during emergencies. Additionally, the Risk Communicator works with the media through print, radio and television to encourage the public to choose the best possible actions or behaviors before, during and after health emergencies, thus minimizing health risks and encouraging a rapid recovery.
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of disease and/or injuries in a population. The Regional Epidemiologist is responsible for developing enhancing and maintaining 24/7 surveillance, detection and epidemiologic investigative response to potential bioterrorism incidents, other infectious disease outbreaks and other public health threats and emergencies. The Epidemiologist communicates with our public health partners in the County and neighboring regions to assist in disease tracking/trending, outbreak control, epidemic response plans, policy development, process analysis, and review of emergency preparedness response plans and programs.