Public Health Emergency Planning
Due to the relatively high potential for natural events (ice and thunder storms, tornadoes, floods, fires) to create public health emergencies, preparation and planning for such events is key. In addition, other human-caused 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 capabilities. Furthermore, there is always the potential of a new or novel virus that could create a pandemic or worldwide epidemic.
While it is 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 local and state partners to be as prepared as possible; and to know how to call in help from our partners when and if the need arises. Help might not arrive quickly so it is also imperative that individuals and families be informed and prepared for emergencies and to take action if needed.
In order to address emergencies we are most likely to 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 Lancaster County Emergency Management. In most real world emergencies, the Department supports the Lancaster County Emergency Manager, who is charged with finding the resources to respond to natural disasters and emergency events. In emergencies, staff from all responding agencies operate in an Incident Command System that responders are trained to follow. LLCHD will only take the lead in response to a pandemic (worldwide epidemic) or if there ia a need for mass clinics to address a novel virus or a biological attack, such as a 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 persons at risk.
Preparing for public health emergencies requires having ourselves and our partners ready to respond to likely events. We train and exercise with Lancaster County Emergency Management, the healthcare community, Lincoln Fire and Rescue, Lincoln Public Schools, the American Red Cross, volunteer agencies, Lincoln Electric System, 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 respond in an emergency. There are also a number of organized volunteers and trained professionals, such as Urban Search and Rescue and the American Red Cross that are available in a natural disaster or human-caused catastrophe.