Thursday, February 12, 2009

Does Emergency Preparedness Make Sense?

Yesterday, I spent eight hours with folks from the Centers for Disease Control, learning about how to communicate with the public and the media during public health emergencies. While this stuff can indeed be pretty dry, I must say I was quite impressed with the way the CDC puts these trainings together. The presenters kept it lively and interactive, and group exercises broke up the day nicely.

Although these trainings do indeed seem to focus on potential scenarios involving anthrax or other terrorist activity (something which I see as highly unlikely), having public health officials who know how to communicate with the public doesn't seem like such a bad idea, really.

While people don't generally want to think or talk about preparing for unknown dangers which may or may not happen some time in the future, I'm beginning to get a sense of the larger picture and how the government is striving to create a coordinated system in which metropolitan areas, small towns, and even rural areas are accounted for in emergency preparedness.

Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent in order to create the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the Cities Readiness Initiative, and other very complex and, ultimately costly, programs. Many people would question whether this money would have been more well spent on creating jobs, improving infrastructure, green technologies and other important issues of the day. From my perspective, this would be an excellent question to pose, however the emergency preparedness train is fully out of the station since 9/11/01, and there's simply no way to reign this one in, for better or for worse.

So, taxpayers of America, be advised that, yes, there are huge warehouses of medications at strategic points throughout the country, ready to bring antibiotics and antivirals to your town in case they're needed in a hurry. There are also thousands of people like myself constantly undergoing training in order to be able to bring those medications to you in a real emergency.

Taking into consideration the likelihood of a terrorist attack, an influenza pandemic, or another scenario in which these assets would indeed be deployed, one might be led to wonder why so much money has been sunk into these efforts of preparing for that which may never occur.

These are good questions to ask and valid points to consider. The fact is, however, that the behometh of emergency preparedness is a beast with a life (and a budget) of its own, and even though I sometimes question the amount of money being set aside for such efforts at a time of economic turmoil, as a public health official I must fulfill my mandated mission of taking these tasks seriously as I increase my knowledge of such a new and complicated world.
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