A ready nation starts at home

September was National Preparedness Month. The goal is to have a nation ready for inclement weather, national or man-made disasters and biological or chemical threats. How can you prepare a nation the size of the United States of America? A nation becomes prepared by educating and informing people, and preparing one community at a time. In an effort to prepare our community, the Marquette County emergency management coordinator oversees and observes mandated school lock-down drills and conducts preparedness exercises with emergency response agencies, businesses and other facilities such as the airport and local mining companies. They also are a part of the Weather Service’s new Weather Ready Nation Ambassador Initiative, whose goal is to build a nation that is ready, responsive and resilient to the impact of extreme weather and water events. That starts with us.
In the public health venue, the Marquette County Health Department has been diligent in preparing our community for public health events such as pandemic influenza or other biological events. Public health plays a supportive role in other disasters such as flooding or wildfire, but in the event of a novel influenza, Public Health would take the lead in saving lives and mitigating the spread of infectious disease.1410_health_logo
Years ago, MCHD spearheaded a hand washing campaign, which subsequently was picked up by area preschools and K-12 grades. This simple and basic personal hygiene habit—washing your hands for twenty seconds—significantly reduces the spread of communicable disease, such as the common cold and influenza. Age appropriate preparedness information in a fun format is provided for select grades throughout Marquette County school districts. The goal is not to create an atmosphere of fear. The emergency preparedness coordinator firmly believes an educated population does not panic. Our slogan is “Don’t be Scared! Be Prepared!”
A population given the tools to prepare and navigate a disaster will prepare before a disaster, and make thoughtful decisions during a disaster. The majority of individuals will not panic, as is often portrayed in Hollywood. In fact, research indicates the majority of individuals faced with a disaster situation switch into “survival” mode. Panic does not begin for another twenty-four hours—and need not ever set in—if enough information is provided in a timely manner. For government officials, it is important during any kind of disaster to be in the public’s eye, providing as much information as possible well within that first twenty-four-hour time period, as well as to continue to provide timely and truthful information.
The basics for any household are to have enough food and water stockpiled for a minimum of three days (we recommend three weeks) for every person under your roof. If the power goes out, do you have a backup plan? Do you have a generator or renewable energy source? Or can you live without a power source? Do you have elderly neighbors who may need to be checked on? If you have persons under your roof with special medication needs or need medication refrigerated, can you accommodate that for at least three days? Standard advice is to try to be as self-reliant as possible for at least three days. Do not depend upon the government for immediate help. Remember, people working for you in a governmental capacity also have been affected by the disaster. If the disaster is local, there will be greater resources to draw upon. If the disaster is national in scope (such as pandemic), government assistance will be limited to what has been established at the local level.
As part of MCHD’s plan in preparing our community, a full scale exercise was conducted on September 25 to test our established Closed Point of Distribution system. What does that mean exactly? First, some background information: all local health jurisdictions are mandated by federal law to be able to provide prophylaxis (preventative medications) or personal protection equipment (if there is no prophylaxis available) to all affected residents within the prescribed jurisdiction within forty-eight hours of a public health disaster declaration.1410_health_drill
With limited staffing, it would be impossible to meet this legal mandate without engaged community partners. Over the past two years, the MCHD emergency preparedness coordinator has pursued specific locations conducive to becoming Closed Point of Distribution sites. A closed POD site is an agency or organization which has agreed to provide prophylaxis or  personal protection equipment to employees, employee’s immediate family members and patients where applicable, such as a long-term care facility. This has the potential of removing a significant burden from the local public health jurisdiction. There are closed POD community partners in place to cover sixty percent of Marquette County residents. The goal is to raise that figure to eighty percent over the next two years.
This is a win-win situation for public and private entities, and is ultimately a big benefit for the average “John Q. Public” and small businesses. Studies indicate the #1 reason an employee may not report to work during a public health threat is because of concern for his or her family. If employees can be assured they and their families will be taken care of, organizations will have a better chance of continuing operations during a public health threat.
On September 25, MCHD participated in a regional strategic national stockpile exercise. For this exercise, a public health emergency was declared September 24, and supplies were requested to be delivered via the Civil Air Patrol the following day. MCHD sent identified, trained staff to the airport to receive, inventory and repackage supplies for closed POD community partners participating in the exercise. Staff from the Office of Public Health Preparedness of the Michigan Department of Community Health was present to observe and evaluate the process. Each community partner, after picking up supplies, was then responsible for exercising its internal distribution plan. At the end of the day, everyone gathered to discuss what worked well, and what needs improvement.
By engaging in these types of activities through community collaboration, we prepare our community for potential public health disasters. Through education, preparation, exercising and evaluation, lives are saved and disaster affects are mitigated.
Thank you to participating community partners: Marquette County Emergency Management, Sawyer International Airport, Marquette County Sheriff Department, Jacobetti Home for Veterans, Norlite Nursing Center, Eastwood Long Term Care, Marquette County Medical Care Facility, Marquette County Government and Gwinn Public School District.

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