Introduction: Emergency Management
Emergency Management includes: Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response, Recovery.
Preparedness and response in emergency situations are crucial parts of emergency management. The key factor that needs to be taken into account when serving the population during the hard times that our county is experiencing now is the cooperation. This paper aims at discussing the role of public health professionals in emergency preparedness and response that will allow the listeners to expand the knowledge on public health and disasters.
However, before addressing this issue, it is important to revisit the basics. According to researchers, “public health and emergency management have long histories of engagement in disasters and complex emergencies” (Rose et al., 2017, p. 126). Typically, emergency management contains five steps: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
Preparedness and Response in Health Care
This part concentrates on the two elements – preparedness and response. In recent years, the increasing number of natural and environmental disasters, as well as war conflicts and pandemics has “reinforced the importance of strengthening public health systems to better protect communities and populations” (Rose et al., 2017, p. 126). For health professionals, preparedness activities are centered on training staff, planning, and improving emergency response capabilities. Actions carried out immediately before, during, and after a disaster occurred, are aimed at providing care and shelter and ensuring safety by evaluating risks of environmental dangers, epidemics, and mental health complications. Moreover, apart from medical issues, health care professionals might aid other emergency services in necessary actions and initiatives.
Public Health Nurse – Preparedness
Talking about particular roles of healthcare professionals, it is important to start with public health nurses and their functions in emergency preparedness and response. The critical role of nurses during disasters is emphasized by professionals all over the world (Labrague et al., 2017). While the actual disaster nurse readiness can be considered as a problem, there are certain responsibilities that nurses are expected to perform.
For the preparedness stage, nurses are advised to assure capacity to respond to disasters, which involves evaluating the amount of hospital beds, personnel numbers, medical and technical resources. Moreover, senior nursing personnel could help in developing plans on providing care to different categories of patients as well as conducting trainings, drills, and exercises.
Public Health Nurse – Response
At the response stage, the role of public health nurses includes various important functions. In particular, these include assisting doctors in treating patients, assessing the state of victims and patients, delivering first aid and medication, as well as monitoring mental health needs both in patients and responders.
For senior nurses, it is recommended to be in charge of allocating beds and other resources according to the existing emergency protocols and make sure that they are implemented by other members of staff. Moreover, establishing safety and implementing basic infection control can also be included in the nurses’ responsibility list.
Environmental Health Specialist – Preparedness
While the nurses’ responsibilities are mostly impacted by the direct contact with patients and victims of emergencies, the role of environmental health specialist is more strategic. During the preparedness stage, the environmental health specialist is responsible for inspecting facilities for compliance with environmental, health, and safety regulations, and assessing potential risks (World Health Organization, n.d.). In fact, it is the role of the environmental health specialist to be the link between different organizations and institutions to develop a systemic approach to emergency management. Moreover, these specialists are responsible for raising awareness and educating public to help them with withstanding an emergency situation.
Environmental Health Specialist – Response
During the response phase, the main responsibility of the environmental health specialist is to ensure the responders, victims, and hospital personnel’s safety and health. This role becomes crucial as the disaster increases the potential risks. Moreover, the environmental health specialist is also in charge of ensuring the implementation of safety plans and protocols and making sure that identified potential threats are thoroughly monitored and handled. In the particular case of the county’s earthquake, for instance, it is crucial to ensure that the damage to buildings and infrastructure does not lead to additional chemical hazards or radiologic incidents. Furthermore, in this process the environmental health specialist is expected to work closely with other emergency response agencies, including such care professionals as epidemiologists.
Epidemiologist – Preparedness
The epidemiologist’s function is quite close to the role of environmental health specialist. However, the role of epidemiologist during emergency response is concentrated around the public health and risks of disease outbreaks. The preparedness stage involves assessing “the short- and long-term adverse health effects of disasters to help guide emergency response and recovery efforts and predict consequences of future disasters” (Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, 2019, para. 1). To do this, it is essential for the epidemiological team to monitor rates of illnesses, depending on the season, to be prepared for emergencies at any time. Then, potential risks should be identified and linked to possible disasters. Finally, based upon the findings, emergency protocols need to be developed.
Epidemiologist – Response
The damage to buildings and infrastructure can potentially impact the sanitation of water, which can cause risks of illnesses. Therefore, the epidemiologist’ participation is essential during the emergency management process. During the response stage, the epidemiologist ensures that the developed strategies are implemented with a focus on monitoring rates of illness, drinking water and food quality, analyzing reports from responders, and identifying potential outbreaks. Moreover, the main responsibility is the direct response to the cases of outbreaks. In the given situation of the earthquake disaster, accompanied by the influenza, it is important to ensure the implementation of protocols aimed at containing the disease and prevent it from spreading.
Mental Health Provider – Preparedness
Mental health is a part of every emergency response. Emergency situations are a factor that can significantly impact the mental health and well-being of affected individuals and communities. However, despite the recent scholarship and activism, “Most communities only develop the ability to implement … disaster response elements after they find themselves affected by a disaster” (Ruzek, 2020, para. 3). Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to the first preparedness measures which include developing training programs aimed at improving the overall community’s resilience, as well as health care professionals. Moreover, it is important to work on protocols for mental health providers and their emergency response duties. These should include not only caring for victims of emergencies but continued treating of existing patients.
Mental Health Provider – Response
During the response stage, the mental health provider’s responsibilities revolve around providing psychological first aid to victims and respondents, crisis counseling and implementing formal treatment, if needed. It is important to emphasize that the mental health care should be focused not only on members of public but on health workers themselves and other participants of emergency management team. The reasons include “the extra workload and psychological distress they face, the fact that they are often targets in conflict situations, and the risk of exposure to deadly infections because of the lack of proper personal protective equipment” (World Health Organization, 2018, p. 7). The timely mental health counseling could potentially make the emergency response more effective.
Medical Reserve Corps – Preparedness
Medical reserve corps is a network of local groups of voluteers. They include “medical and public health professionals, as well as other community members without healthcare backgrounds” (Medical Reserve Corps, 2020). These volunteers are engaged to improve emergency response capabilities, provide trainings, develop emergency protocols, and build community resilience. However, due to the voluntarily character of engagement and other factors, organization of the preparedness stage might be challenging. Therefore, it is necessary to establish strong cooperation with the official institutions responsible for handling emergencies, which comprise not only of health care professionals, but community centers and emergency management agency. It is advised to ensure this cooperation so that the preparedness stage as well as the response itself was as effective as possible for medical reserve corps.
Medical Reserve Corps – Response
At the response stage, medical reserve corps can be used for different functions, depending on the level of their preparedness and background. The responsibilities range from assessing the state of victims to providing care and helping nurses in basic procedures. Moreover, they could also assist in monitoring mental health needs and offering psychological support for victims of emergencies. However, these responsibilities should be carefully coordinated and supervised. The efficiency of Medical Reserve corps involvement depends on the level of organization and prior training acquired by the volunteers. Nevertheless, the role of medical reserve volunteers is vital, and in a particular case of the county’s earthquake, the volunteer help might be useful in battling influenza epidemics.
Other Health Care Professionals Involved
The list of health care professionals is not limited by the specialists that have been mentioned above. Emergency preparedness and response activities certainly involve doctors, medical students, interns and residents, health care administrators, and health care authorities. The representatives of the first two groups are mainly responsible for treating victims of emergencies and other patients and following existing emergency protocols. Health care administrators and authorities’ roles include implementation of emergency management procedures. Moreover, they also ensure the sufficient level of resources and are responsible for overall safety, emergency communication, and potential outcomes. Overall, it can be stated that health care professionals play a crucial role in emergency preparedness and response.
The given paper managed to provide a brief overview of responsibilities that health care personnel has during emergencies. It also demonstrated the essential character of the role of public health professionals in emergency preparedness and response. As was demonstrated in the presentation, the appropriate preparedness and response is ensured by different members of health care personnel, ranging from nurses to volunteers. Their functions include, apart from providing treatment and care, risk assessment, resources allocation, disease prevention, and ensuring community resilience. This factor should be understood and acknowledged to make the strategy of overcoming challenges associated with emergency situations as effective as possible. It will allow to serve the public in difficult times and help in overcoming various challenges that disasters might present.
Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. (2019). Disaster Epidemiology. Web.
Labrague, L.J., Hammad, K., Gloe, D.S., McEnroe-Petitte, D.M., Fronda, D.C., Obidat, A. A., Leocadio, M.C., Cayaban, A. R., & Mirafuentes, E.C. (2017). Disaster preparedness among nurses: A systematic review of literature. International Council of Nurses, 65(1), 41-53. Web.
Medical Reserve Corps. (2020). About the medical reserve corps. Web.
Rose, D. A., Murthy, S., Brooks, J., & Bryant, J. (2017). The evolution of public health emergency management as a field of practice. American Journal of Public Health, 107(S2), 126-133. Web.
Ruzek, J. I. (2020). Disaster response, mental health, and community resilience. Psychiatric Times. Web.
World Health Organization. (2018). Primary health care and health emergencies. Web.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Environmental health in emergencies. Preparedness. Web.