Officials ready for disasters

Published 1:55 am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Beaufort County Health Department’s mission is to protect the public’s health, and that means going beyond providing immunizations, inspecting restaurants and lodging establishments and spraying for mosquitoes.
When emergencies may affect the public’s health, Beaufort County Health Department staff members get involved. The purpose of the department’s emergency preparedness and response efforts are developed to support the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System. The department’s preparedness program works to enhance all-hazards strategic planning and direction, coordination and assessment, surveillance and detection capacities, risk communication and health-information dissemination, telecommunications capabilities, and education, transition and training.
The department employs one preparedness coordinator to assure it has up-to-date all-hazards emergency plans for any public health threat. Threats may be natural disasters such as hurricanes, ice storms, tornadoes, disease outbreaks or chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear exposures. Written plans for these events are in place to ensure the safety and health of the public, and the development of these plans involves coordinating and collaborating with other local, regional and state agencies, medical providers, schools and the public at large. These plans benefit everyone by having resources and roles defined before an event happens, as well as assure staff and partners are kept up to date on new information and trainings per national guidelines, according to the department.
Some of the plans that must be developed and kept up to date include the Strategic National Stockpile, pandemic influenza, suspicious substances, respirator use and continuity of operations plans. These plans are exercised throughout the year. Plan development, continual updating and proper training for staff and partners on these plans is necessary to have a prepared county, according to the department.
Through these plans the department is linked with other county agencies, emergency management, law enforcement, EMS, fire, Red Cross, hospitals and businesses to protect the public. The department’s preparedness coordinator actively participates with the county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee.
As a specific example, the department’s preparedness program planning was essential during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.  Implementation of the Strategic National Stockpile plans were used to receive, store and distribute Strategic National Stockpile assets (personal protective equipment and antivirals); distribute ever-changing prevention education to media/community/medical community; coordinate vaccine distribution across jurisdictions; assist in coordination of mass vaccination clinics; test crisis communication plans; and to utilize the local Epi-Team to conduct epidemiological investigations. This involved the medical community, law enforcement and state and regional collaboration.
The all-hazards emergency plans include the before, during and after preparations for hurricanes. Department staff assist in the Emergency Operations Center, staff shelters and provide health protection in the aftermath from flooding and lack of power in the areas of sanitation, safe food service, immunizations and vector control.
Keeping these preparedness plans up to date, assuring training is completed and plans are exercised are key to helping to protect the health of the public. Tips to prepare for emergencies may be found on the department’s website: