NGA Center Studies Public Health Role In Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. - An issue brief recently published by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), State Strategies for Fully Integrating Public Health into Homeland Security, offers recommendations for integrating public health into homeland security.

For the past 50 years, public health was often considered a less than integral part of disaster and emergency response. As emergency management and homeland security evolved, public health officials frequently found themselves at the periphery of preparedness and response efforts. According to the issue brief, these individuals were further hindered by a public health culture sometimes at odds with decision-making approaches favored by other first response agencies, and a public health infrastructure that has lagged behind other response agencies in terms of involvement.

The 2001 anthrax attacks and the emerging threat of bioterrorism have changed this perception. With expertise not found in other disciplines?unique authorities including quarantine, isolation, and drug distribution?and surveillance systems that provide important intelligence about infectious diseases, states have come to realize that they can ill afford to leave public health out of disaster response plans. The result is a search for new ways to integrate public health into emergency response and homeland security at all levels of government.

The issue brief provides the following strategies for better integrating public health into homeland security:

  • Include public health fully in the state homeland security governance system;
  • Include public health in homeland security planning;
  • Incorporate public health in state and local exercise and training activities; and
  • Include public health in homeland security intelligence and analysis.

"Public health plays a critical role in preparing for and responding to disasters," said John Thomasian, Director of the NGA Center. "We must fully incorporate the lifesaving benefits and expertise provided by the public health community into our homeland security and emergency systems."

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