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Emergency Preparedness at the Local Level

posted on Tue, Dec 14 2010 10:15 am by Jalayne Arias

Emergency Preparedness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared the week of December 5-11, 2010 as “National Influenza Vaccination Week.” CDC’s preparations for the upcoming flu season (likely to peak in January or February)[1] follows the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic in which public health practitioners and officials recognized the need to prepare fully for potential public health emergencies.

Emergency preparedness efforts by federal, tribal, state and local government officials (as well as health care entities) are imperative to responding to a public health emergency.  During a public health emergency, city and county officials may find themselves operating on the front lines. They regularly serve as the direct link between individuals and entities seeking assistance and the state, tribal or federal government that have resources to provide assistance. For example, the distribution of strategic national stockpile supplies during an emergency often flow from the federal government, to the state and then to local officials who are responsible for allocating the goods through closed or open points of distribution.

Following the 2009/2010 H1N1 pandemic, counties, cities and representative organizations have begun to analyze their preparedness and response efforts, including their legal preparedness. Law can be an important tool to accomplish or facilitate emergency response efforts (e.g., ordering school closures, allocating resources, authorizing mass vaccinations). Law underlies key findings and topics in numerous emergency planning reports, projects and reviews, including the National Association of County and City Officials (NACCHO) H1N1 Policy Workshop Report.

The Network for Public Health Law is currently addressing a number of legal preparedness issues faced by public and private sector actors. Recently, the Network’s Western Region hosted the Webinar, “Liability Risks and Protections for Volunteer Health Practitioners in Emergencies” to address liability risks and protections related to the deployment and use of volunteer health practitioners.

Additionally, the Network is currently responding to legal technical assistance requests relating to closed points of distribution and multiple requests for policy guidance from public officials at federal, state and local levels on their emergency laws.

For example, the Western Region is leading an effort with other Network colleagues with support from NACCHO to build a legal preparedness curriculum and table top exercise to better train local officials and practitioners. These tools will be based on several core components relevant to the preparation, response and recovery efforts at the local level. This project, set to be completed in May 2011, responds to a need for enhanced emergency preparedness training on the frontlines.

This information was developed by Jalayne Arias, deputy director, at the Network for Public Health Law – Western Region at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Frequently Asked Questions: 2010-2011 Flu Season, available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/1011season.htm.

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