ASTHO Looks Toward the Future of Health Security at 2018 Preparedness Summit

April 26, 2018|10:08 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

On April 16-20, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) convened a wide array of partners in Atlanta and hosted the 2018 Preparedness Summit, “Strengthening National Health Security: Mastering Ordinary Responses, Building Resilience for Extraordinary Events.” Throughout the week, public health preparedness partners and stakeholders discussed a variety of topics, including last year’s devastating wildfire and hurricane seasons, as well nuclear preparedness in the face of escalating geopolitical tensions. The summit also offered an opportunity for attendees to share new research, tools, and resources, with the aim of enhancing the nation’s capabilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other emergencies.

The summit kicked off with a performance by the Atlanta Music Project, a group of young artists whose mission is to empower underserved youth through music. The opening plenary, “Extraordinary Events of 2017: State, Local and Territorial Perspectives on Hurricane and Wildfire Response,” discussed 2017’s unprecedented storm and wildfire seasons, the costliest year on record for natural disasters in the United States, with a price tag of at least $306 billion.

Representatives from affected state, local, and territorial health departments shared experiences with response efforts, including Michelle Davis (SHO-USVI) who detailed the impacts of back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes on the U.S. Virgin Islands, including lack of power, mass evacuations, and devastated hospitals. Davis reflected on the experience, looking back on what worked well, including preparedness plans, health and safety communication, and collaboration with federal partners. Davis acknowledged areas for improvement, including increased training for health department staff, bolstered community outreach, and additional infrastructure for EMS and Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) equipment.

The summit’s next plenary, “Strengthening Health Security: Visions for a Prepared and Resilient Nation,” focused on priorities of new leadership within federal agencies responsible for public health preparedness, including a new vision for responding to and preparing for devastating hurricanes and wildfires, mass casualty and fatality incidents resulting from active shooters, as well as influenza and other emerging threats.

Umair Shah, executive director of NACCHO, moderated the session and reflected on response and evacuation following Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Key highlights included a presentation from Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, who outlined his agency’s purpose, mission, and priorities, including a focus on building readiness for 21st century threats by providing strong leadership, bolstering public health security capacity, enhancing regional disaster health response systems, and improving medical countermeasures enterprises.

Later in the afternoon, Alex Seifert, ASTHO’s senior analyst of preparedness, moderated a learning session regarding responses taken by U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands following North Korean nuclear threats. Presenters included preparedness directors from Guam, Hawaii, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, who shared response activities following last year’s threats, as well as longer-term nuclear preparedness programs.

The summit concluded with a morning plenary, “A Troubling Gap: Why Cyber Security Matters to Public Health Emergency Response.” Discussion centered on the role of cyber security in public health preparedness, particularly as it relates to potential cyber threats and their ability to cripple healthcare infrastructure. Stephen Curren, director of the division of resilience within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, moderated discussion, which engaged the audience in a series of interactive scenarios aimed at identifying potential cyber threats, tactical strategies, and current priority areas in preparedness resilience and recovery.

As states and communities continue to face unexpected emergencies, ASTHO aims to help its members and public health professionals strengthen preparedness and response plans. This year’s Preparedness Summit offered an opportunity to look back on lessons learned and experiences from 2017 in hopes of better identifying, responding to, and recovering from future events. ASTHO thanks NACCHO and its public health preparedness partners for a wonderful event and looks forward to next year’s summit in St. Louis, MO.