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Disaster preparedness

Disaster preparedness is an area of study in public health that instructs the public on how to prepare for disasters, both man-made and natural. The emphasis is on developing proactive approaches to public health and disasters as opposed to a general reactive approach. Disaster preparedness can work on a local, state, national or even global scale, with different organizations working together to ensure public safety and well being.

What is deemed as an emergency or disaster?

A situation becomes an emergency or disaster when the magnitude of health consequences has the potential to overwhelm a community in a situation not routinely encountered.


  • Bioterrorism
  • Chemical emergencies
  • Radiation emergencies
  • Mass casualties
  • Disasters and severe weather
  • Outbreaks and incidents

What constitutes preparedness?

A recent article (CITE) suggests preparedness requires a community to have a planned and coordinated rapid-response capability. This includes:

  • Health risk assessment. Identify the hazards and vulnerabilities (e.g., community health assessment, populations at risk, high-hazard industries, physical structures of importance) that will form the basis of planning.
  • Legal climate. Identify and address issues concerning legal authority and liability barriers to effectively monitor, prevent or respond to a public health emergency.
  • Roles and responsibilities. Clearly define, assign and test responsibilities in all sectors, at all levels of government and with all individuals, and ensure each group’s integration.
  • Incident command system. Develop, test and improve decision making and response capability using an integrated incident command system (ICS) at all response levels.
  • Public engagement. Educate, engage and mobilize the public so people can be full and active participants in public health emergency preparedness.
  • Epidemiology functions. Maintain and improve the systems to monitor, detect and investigate potential hazards, particularly those that are environmental, radiological, toxic or infectious.
  • Laboratory functions. Maintain and improve the systems to test for potential hazards, particularly those that are environmental, radiological, toxic or infectious.
  • Countermeasures and mitigation strategies. Develop, test and improve community mitigation strategies (e.g., isolation and quarantine, social distancing) and countermeasure distribution strategies when appropriate.
  • Mass healthcare. Develop, test and improve the capability to provide mass healthcare services.
  • Public information and communication. Develop, practice and improve the capability to rapidly provide accurate and credible information to the public in culturally appropriate ways.
  • Robust supply chain. Identify critical resources for public health emergency response and practice and improve the ability to deliver these resources throughout the supply chain.


Expert and fully staffed workforce:

  • Operations-ready workers and volunteers. Develop and maintain a public health and healthcare workforce with the skills and capabilities to perform optimally in a public health emergency.
  • Leadership. Train, recruit and develop public health leaders to mobilize resources, engage the community, develop interagency relationships and communicate with the public.


Accountability and quality improvement:

  • Testing operational capabilities. Practice, review, report on and improve public health emergency preparedness by regularly using real public health events, supplemented with drills and exercises when appropriate.
  • Performance management. Implement a performance management and accountability system.


Financial tracking:

  • Develop, test and improve charge capture, accounting and other financial systems to track resources and ensure adequate and timely reimbursement.