ASTHO Speaks to CDC’s Stephen Redd as Atlanta Prepares for Super Bowl LIII

January 31, 2019|4:11 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Stephen Redd is CDC's Deputy Director for Public Health Service and Implementation Science and director of the Center for Preparedness and Response. He served as CDC’s acting principal deputy director from January to March 2018. Prior to this, Redd served as director of CDC’s Influenza Coordination Unit. During the H1N1 pandemic, he served as Incident Commander for the nearly yearlong response. Redd is a Rear Admiral and Assistant Surgeon General in the United States Public Health Service.

With Atlanta, home to CDC and ASTHO’s regional office, hosting Super Bowl LIII, ASTHO spoke with Redd about his career in preparedness, how CDC supports state and territorial preparedness and response activities, and what the state of Georgia is doing to ensure health and safety during this year’s big game.

How did your career in public health preparedness begin?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. When I came to CDC, the outbreak investigations I participated in were emergency responses, including Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and pneumococcal disease in people with HIV infection. But the first big emergency I participated in was the anthrax attack in 2001. I was part of the team in New Jersey and set up the surveillance system in hospitals to detect cases.

Atlanta, home to CDC and ASTHO's regional office, is hosting this year's Super Bowl. How does CDC support states like Georgia preparing to host large events like this?

The Super Bowl is designated as a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Security Special Event. DHS uses this term to identify a limited number of high-profile events which require extra preparation due to their significance. As you can imagine, the work involves numerous federal, state, and local agencies collaborating, including law enforcement, emergency management, and public health. It takes many months for all the pieces to come together for an event like the Super Bowl.

With this year’s game in Atlanta, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Fulton County Health District are leading the health and medical preparedness efforts. CDC supports state efforts to prepare through the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) program. The PHEP program is the largest single funding award from CDC to state health departments; the PHEP program prepares the nation for emergencies such as disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks at mass gathering events.

With PHEP resources, the Fulton County preparedness program has developed new and updated National Special Security Event plans, held extensive trainings, and established or participated in multiple emergency preparedness exercises. This vigorous training and exercise schedule benefits the health department in the long term as well by requiring the state to (1) review and update plans, policies, and procedures, (2) assure that information-sharing protocols with law enforcement work, (3) reaffirm long-standing partnerships.

For example, the health department worked with Atlanta Fire and Rescue and others to establish points of dispensing (PODs). These are used to rapidly distribute life-saving medicines and supplies to the public in an emergency. During the event, the state health department’s primary responsibility is to help staff the Fulton County Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The Fulton County EOC will be the headquarters for organizing all preparedness and response activities. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, epidemiologists will track reported illnesses and symptoms to detect and contain potential outbreaks quickly. Environmental health staff will monitor food vendors and potential foodborne outbreaks.

The last time Atlanta hosted a sporting event on this scale was the 1996 Summer Olympics, which were tragically marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. How has preparedness changed since then, especially in the wake of 9/11?

Work to prepare specifically for large-scale public health emergencies was virtually nonexistent before 9/11. At the time of the 9/11 attack, no health department had POD capabilities and only 20 percent could mobilize their staff during an emergency. Today, all state health departments haves plans to deploy PODs and almost all can mobilize staff within 60 minutes to establish the command and control structure for a response. Public health officials are now fully integrated into emergency responses. This means faster, more effective responses to public health threats, and fewer people ill or dead in emergencies.

What leadership qualities or resources do you believe health officials need to effectively coordinate statewide preparedness activities?

The job of a leader responsible for preparing for an emergency is to set priorities and communicate those to the team. This includes listening and learning and adjusting priorities when that’s appropriate. Without clarity on priorities, planning and response efforts cannot be sufficiently focused to be as effective as they have to be. These qualities are as important at the local level as they are at the state and federal level. Of course, communicating with the team you’re responsible for is only part of the picture. In any large emergency, local, state, and federal teams must work together. It’s enormously helpful to have practiced together or exercised before the actual event. That practice helps identify weak points and allows for correction before the response is real.

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