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PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS: MOBILIZING STATE BY STATE

Section 2: Snapshots of Public Health Preparedness in States and Directly Funded Localities:Pennsylvania

Related Website: Pennsylvania Department of Public Health

Pennsylvania Responds to a Case of Anthrax
Joint investigation capacity promotes rapid and coordinated emergency response.

Pennsylvania FlagIn February 2006, a New York City resident fell seriously ill while visiting Pennsylvania and was quickly rushed to a hospital. When the bioterrorism agent Bacillus anthracis, or anthrax, was suspected, the hospital laboratory contacted public health officials to transport a blood sample to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DoH) laboratory that confirmed the presence of anthrax bacteria. Despite the fact that it was a holiday, the PA DoH lab quickly tested the specimen and provided the necessary information to the appropriate officials, including officials in New York City and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the cooperative agreement is valuable because it has provided critically needed funding to purchase equipment and services such as the Learning Management System, personal protective equipment, as well as funded space renovations and equipment for an expanded high security laboratory and training laboratory.

This response benefited from cooperative agreement funding because it allowed for additional epidemiologic and laboratory capacity at the PA DoH. In addition, forensic epidemiology training developed and promoted by CDC and the U.S. Department of Justice enhanced the joint forensic epidemiological investigation effort between public health and law enforcement partners. To respond to the incident, PA DoH used handheld communication devices and employed the Health Alert Network to advise health care providers of emergencies, strengthen relationships with law enforcement officials and other responders in different jurisdictions, and risk communications.

Snapshot of Public Health Preparedness

Below are activities conducted byPennsylvania in the area of public health preparedness. They support CDC preparedness goals in the areas of detection and reporting, control, and improvement; crosscutting activities help prepare for all stages of an event. These data are not comprehensive and do not cover all preparedness activities.

Disease Detection and Investigation

The sooner public health professionals can detect diseases or other health threats and investigate their causes and effects in the community, the more quickly they can minimize population exposure.

Table. Disease Detection and Investigation Activities in Pennsylvania

Category of Activities Specific Activity Response
Detect & Report Could receive and investigate urgent disease reports 24/7/3651 Yes
  • Primary method for receiving urgent disease reports*2
Telephone
Linked state and local health personnel to share information about disease outbreaks across state lines (through the CDC Epi-X system)3 Yes
Conducted year-round surveillance for seasonal influenza4 Yes

* Telephone, fax, and electronic reporting are all viable options for urgent disease reporting, as long as the public health department has someone assigned to receive the reports 24/7/365.

1 CDC, DSLR; 2005

2 CDC, DSLR; 2006

3 CDC, Epi-X; 2007

4 HHS, OIG; 2007

Public Health Laboratories

Public health laboratories test and confirm agents that can threaten health. For example, advanced DNA “fingerprinting” techniques and subsequent reporting to the CDC database (PulseNet) are critical to recognize nationwide outbreaks from bacteria that can cause severe illness, such as E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes.

Table. Public Health Laboratory Activities in Pennsylvania

Category of Activities Specific Activity Response
Detect & Report Number ofPennsylvania laboratories in the Laboratory Response Network1 1
Rapidly identified E. coli O157:H7 using advanced DNA “fingerprinting” techniques (PFGE):2
  • Number of samples received (partial year, 9/06 – 2/07)
60
  • Percentage of test results submitted to CDC database (PulseNet) within 4 days
83%
Rapidly identified Listeria monocytogenes using advanced DNA “fingerprinting” techniques (PFGE):2
  • Number of samples received (partial year, 9/06 – 2/07)

4

  • Percentage of test results submitted to CDC database (PulseNet) within 4 days
100%
Had a laboratory information management system that could create, send, and receive messages3 (8/05 – 8/06) Yes
  • System complied with CDC information technology standards (PHIN)3 (8/05 – 8/06)
Yes
Had a rapid method to send urgent messages to frontline laboratories that perform initial screening of clinical specimens3 (8/05 – 8/06) Yes
Crosscutting Conducted bioterrorism exercise that met CDC criteria4 (8/05 – 8/06) Yes
Conducted exercise to test chemical readiness that met CDC criteria4 (8/05 – 8/06) Yes

1 CDC, DBPR; 2007

2 CDC, DSLR; 2007

3 APHL, Public Health Laboratory Issues in Brief: Bioterrorism Capacity; May 2007

4 CDC, DSLR; 2006

 

Response

Planning provides a framework for how a public health department will respond during an emergency. The plans can be tested through external reviews, exercises, and real events. After-action reports assess what worked well during an exercise or real event and how the department can improve.

Category of Activities Specific Activity Response

Table. Response Activities in Pennsylvania

Control Developed a public health response plan, including pandemic influenza response, crisis and emergency risk communication, and Strategic National Stockpile (SNS)1, 2 Yes
Nebraska SNS plan reviewed by CDC2 Yes
  • Score on CDC technical assistance review (1-100)
60
Number ofPennsylvania cities in the Cities Readiness Initiative3 2
Crosscutting Developed roles and responsibilities for a multi-jurisdictional response (ICS) with:1 (8/05 – 8/06)
  • Hospitals
Yes
  • Local/regional emergency management agencies
Yes
  • Federal emergency management agencies
Yes
Public health department staff participated in training to support cooperative agreement activities4 Yes
Public health laboratories conducted training for first responders5 (8/05 – 8/06) Yes
Activated public health emergency operations center as part of a drill, exercise, or real event*†6 (partial year, 9/06 – 2/07) No
Conducted a drill or exercise for key response partners to test communications when power and land lines were unavailable†6 (partial year, 9/06 – 2/07) No
Improve Finalized at least one after-action report with an improvement plan following an exercise or real event†6 (partial year, 9/06 – 2/07) Yes

* Activation means rapidly staffing all eight core ICS functional roles in the public health emergency operations center with one person per position. This capability is critical to maintain in case of large-scale or complex incidents, even though not every incident requires full staffing of the ICS.

† States were expected to perform these activities from 9/1/2006 to 8/30/2007. These data represent results from the first half of this period only.

1 CDC, DSLR; 2006

2 CDC, DSNS; 2007

3 CDC, DSNS CRI; 2007

4 CDC, DSLR; 1999-2005

5 APHL, Chemical Terrorism Preparedness; May 2007

6 CDC, DSLR; 2007

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