Public Health Emergency Planning
Because there's is a relatively high potential for natural events (ice and thunder storms, tornadoes, floods, fires) to create public health emergencies it's important for us to prepare and plan for such events. In addition, other man-made events (chemical spills, airline crashes, and derailments) and terrorist threats could also create a public health emergency or mass casualty event with a surge of patients that could overwhelm our hospital and public health resource capacities. Furthermore, there is always the potential of a new or novel virus that could create a pandemic or worldwide epidemic.
While it's impossible to be ready for truly disastrous events and for our available local resources to be enough to respond to every event, staff members from the division work with many local and state partners to be as prepared as possible for smaller-scale events; and also know how to call in help from our federal partners when and if the need arises. Help might not arrive quickly so it's also imperative that individuals and families be informed and prepared for emergencies and have a plan they can put into action if needed.
In order to address the most likely emergencies we'll face as a community, the Department has prepared a Public Health Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that is coordinated with the Lancaster County Emergency Operations Plan (LEOP) prepared by the Lancaster County Emergency Manager. In most real world emergencies, the Department supports the Lancaster County Emergency Manager, who is charged with finding the resources to respond to most natural disasters and emergency events. In emergencies, staffs from all responding agencies operate in an Incident Command System that responders are trained to follow. The only time that the LLCHD will take the lead in response is in the case of a pandemic (worldwide epidemic) or there's need for mass clinics to address a novel virus or a biological attack, such as a terrorist's release of anthrax or plague in the community. In these scenarios we would also work with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (NDHHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would likely ask for resources from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to provide antibiotics and other drugs to the those persons at risk.
Preparing for public health emergencies requires having ourselves and our partners ready to respond to likely events. Therefore, we train and exercise with emergency management, Lincoln's hospitals, the medical community, Lincoln Fire and Rescue (EMS), Lincoln Public Schools, the local chapter of the American Red Cross, volunteer agencies, the Lincoln Electric System, the Lincoln Water System and a host of other responders and service providers. The mix of partners depends upon the type of event. However, we routinely plan and prepare with hospitals, long term care facilities and physicians as they are the partners we coordinate with the most during public health emergencies.
Another aspect of preparation is to recruit people with an interest and knowledge to be helpful volunteers in an emergency. There are a number of organized volunteers, and trained professionals such as the Urban Search and Rescue unit and Red Cross volunteers, that are available in a natural disaster or man-made catastrophe. One group that the Department sponsors is the Southeast Nebraska Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), which meets monthly to plan and train. In addition to MRC volunteers and professionals who sign up to serve if there's a need for their assistance, we know that perhaps thousands of untrained volunteers will rush to help and therefore emergency management and volunteer agencies are prepared to set up Emergency Volunteer Centers to reduce the potential chaos.