Tuesday, April 1, 2003
This week, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson released a summary of the county's Bioterrorism and Public Health Emergency Plan. This plan serves as a strategic guideline for government and community organizations in the event of a public health crisis.
Security considerations prevent the full plan from being shared publicly. However, the summary, which is available on the county Division of Public Health Web site at www.aclink.org/publichealth, provides a general outline of the overall strategies key agencies would employ in a health emergency.
The plan was created last December by the county Public Health Emergency Preparedness Task Force as part of its overall effort to prepare for emergencies. The Task Force was established by Levinson in 2001 and consists of representatives from medical, public health, law enforcement and emergency response agencies. Freeholder Chairman Kirk Conover serves as chairperson.
"We appreciate the cooperation of all those local organizations that helped create this important plan," commented Levinson. "Together, we are committed to protecting county residents and managing any emergency that may threaten public health."
According to county officials, the strength of this plan lies in its integrated approach. "This plan is truly a collaborative project that combines the skills and resources of various county agencies into a comprehensive effort to protect public health," explained Atlantic County Health Officer Tracye McArdle. "By working together, we will ensure an immediate and effective response to all public health emergencies."
Levinson recently met with representatives from the county's Department of Public Safety, Office of Emergency Preparedness, Prosecutor's Office, Sheriff's Office and the courts to discuss their ability to respond and assist with the coordination of resources in the event of a crisis. The County Executive said he was pleased with the county's response capabilities and was confident that the county was effectively prepared.
The executive summary outlines key roles and responsibilities identifies in the full plan that area agencies will focus on during a public health emergency. Although some of these functions pertain strictly to emergency scenarios, many activities are routinely addressed through the county's ongoing public health programs. For example, in addition to offering clinical services and health education, the County Division of Public Health already works with local health care providers to track disease outbreaks and investigate sources of environmental contamination. The Division also provides up-to-the-minute health alerts and reports to the local medical community through a sophisticated new information technology network.
As county officials proved recently, this collaborative approach is effective in non-emergency situations as well as in crisis conditions. In the past weeks, county public health, emergency management and administrative personnel worked together with area hospitals to vaccinate public health and hospital smallpox response teams. This program ensured that a local team of vaccinated medical personnel is ready to respond to a bioterrorist threat by vaccinating others, investigating an outbreak and treating patients.
Other important elements of the plan detailed in the executive summary include guidelines for managing an emergency incident, caring for individuals who are injured or ill, creating safe environments through testing and decontamination procedures and providing information and education to the public.
Although the initial plan has been completed, the Task Force will continue its work by creating periodic updates, reviewing new information and implementing initiatives to respond to and plan for emergencies. "As new threats emerge and new scientific information becomes available, we will modify our plans to ensure that we can effectively protect local residents," explained Atlantic County Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Vince Jones.
For more information about the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Task Force, the Bioterrorism & Public Health Emergency Plan or the Atlantic County Division of Public Health, call 609-645-5935