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Ref: Steps to take to help communities prepare for disaster and pandemic

Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog

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Building Community Resiliency: A Key Step in Preparedness

To identify one of our greatest challenges in pandemic preparedness, we don’t have to delve deeply into history. Let’s go back two years to Hurricane Katrina.

As the storm approached the Gulf Coast, millions of people prepared as well as they could or knew how. Many evacuated. Some hunkered down to shelter in place. Others did little to prepare and hoped to ride it out. But as we learned, those most greatly affected by this catastrophe were the ones least able to sustain it — those who were low-income, young, elderly and chronically ill among others.

This very recent tragedy laid bare one of our greatest challenges in preparing for the next health emergency, whether it’s a hurricane or flu pandemic. How do we — health, business, faith and community leaders — best help the most vulnerable and those living in underserved communities prepare? We work to build resilient communities.

In a disaster, a resilient community should be able to mitigate the risks to individuals, families and the community as a whole from preventable, serious health threats. Its goal should be to go from chaos to controlled disorder and then to recovery. But how do we start to build resilient communities?

We first begin with planning. We must engage the entire community in local emergency and pandemic planning, including food banks and soup kitchens and the clients they serve, religious congregations and schools. The goal should be to identify and proactively reach out to all community stakeholders. Some activities include developing individual and family plans, business continuity plans and school emergency plans and assessing the surge capacity of the health system.
We need to educate the community and build awareness within the community of the need and steps to prepare. We should build awareness of the plan, engage the community in drills and reach out to the local media. These activities may require developing materials in multiple languages and establishing culturally appropriate mechanisms for distribution.
We need to work to empower the individual or family to prepare. This may include helping individuals develop a family plan or learn first aid. Many living in underserved communities don’t have health insurance, don’t have a medical “home” or primary care physician and don’t have health records or a personal health history. Immunizations are often not up-to-date. Many are not health literate. We need to help them resolve these problems.
We need to strengthen the community’s capacity to respond by strengthening first responders such as
EMS and police and fire departments, and the capacity of the public health system to provide disease identification and tracking services and to deliver potable water, food and basic sanitation among other services.
We also need to support communities’ capacity to recover. This may require addressing housing needs, conducting environmental assessments and mitigation, rebuilding the health infrastructure and ensuring the delivery of mental health services.
While catastrophic, Hurricane Katrina was a relatively localized event. A flu pandemic will likely be far more widespread and pose greater challenges to vulnerable populations and to the government’s response. By building resilient communities as a part of our preparedness approach, we can better minimize the impact pandemic flu will have on all of us.

Posted June 4, 2007 at 10:39 pm in Week 2: My Role as a Leader

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