Survey Suggests Natural Disaster Teams are Better Prepared

A new, multi-state survey indicates that natural disaster teams at public health facilities across the country are better prepared for a major national disaster like Hurricane Katrina, with respondents pointing to improvements in communications, collaboration, planning and coordination.

“We are significantly better prepared because of the redundant communication capabilities we now have in place,” said LaJean Volmer of the South Dakota Department of Health.

The survey, which was administered by Global Secure, a provider of emergency preparedness and response systems, found that 77 percent of surveyed state public health departments are “significantly” or “somewhat better” prepared to respond to major emergencies. These results suggest that the catastrophes of 2005 are not likely to be repeated if a similar natural disaster strikes again.

The survey also found that 67 percent of respondents acknowledged that a valuable lesson learned through experience, such as witnessing the Hurricane Katrina disaster, is the need for advance planning. The breakdown in communication and collaboration during Katrina, whether in providing medical support, allocating resources or helping evacuees, was largely to blame for the resulting catastrophe.

“What really is key is understanding that planning in isolation does not produce a quality product,” said Cindy Gleason of the Washington State Department of Health Office of Risk and Emergency Management. “Planning with other agencies puts you in a better readiness state, rather than just an awareness state.”

Survey respondents also indicated the need for strong leadership and regular drills. Approximately 60 percent of surveyed state health departments reported they have established new, regular exercises and drills for first responders.

“The site of a disaster is not the place for responders to be exchanging business cards,” said Craig Bandes, CEO of Global Secure. “These relationships must be established and tested long before the event. Our survey indicates that progress has been made, and that pre-crisis communication and preparation at the state and local levels has improved dramatically across the country.”

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