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Reflections on a Pandemic

Posted on June 9, 2020 at 12:25 AM

Having spent the last 18 years of my career preparing for a pandemic at the various levels and organizations, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on where we were, where we are now, and what did we learn. This series will encompass my experiences in a major metro area on the east coast as well as my work in the Midwest.

I began my work in public health and medical preparedness in 2002, when we realized after the 9/11 attacks that we were woefully unprepared as a nation for a public health emergency of any kind. The Anthrax attacks of that year proved to us that we were vulnerable to a bioterrorism attack and did not have the systems or infrastructure in place to respond to be able to save the lives of our American citizens.

Our initial focus was on preparing for a bioterrorist attack, as this was the current hot button and area of concern. Grants were written, moneys allocated, and guidelines provided to develop public health emergency response plans at regional and state levels. What became readily apparent in my home state in the Midwest, was that we did not have plans in place or preparedness for any type of emergency where public health would need to respond, be it a natural disaster or a bioterrorist attack. So while the initial moneys focused on bioterrorism, some forward thinking planners and administrators took the opportunity to develop systems for response that would work in any type of emergency that impacted the health of the public. This shift in mindset was not an easy one.

Our technical challenges at that time seem almost comical today. The advances in technology have allowed us to do things we only dreamed of at that time. Communication is, and always has been, the most challenging part of any emergency. Simple things such as communication to all of the healthcare providers in the community and efficient ways to do that were some initial challenges. Today these challenges have evolved to not, is there a system that can help me to communicate, but to which system do I choose, how is this system integrated into the community/state systems, administration of the system, and buy in of key stakeholders to support the system and provide the desired data and information when it is truly needed.

In our next article, we will look at the administrative challenges faced when preparing for this pandemic.

 

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