Pursuing Project Public Health Ready (PPHR) While Facing Many Local Diversities

Submitted By

Sarah Winn
Florida Department of Health in Duval County, Florida
March 27, 2015

Florida Department of Health in Duval County (DOH-Duval County) pursued Project Public Health Ready (PPHR) in hopes of better preparing the county to plan for, respond to and recover from public health emergencies. Emergency preparedness planning in Duval County is no easy charge. The Consolidated City of Jacksonville/Duval County is a rapidly growing metropolitan area in Northeast Florida, with approximately 850,000 people. Planning challenges stem from the large geographical region that the county covers. The sheer size of the region causes health department resources and partner organizations to be widely dispersed throughout the district. In addition to the work load created by supporting such a large county, the health department is also challenged by repeated threats of hurricanes with associated hazards of wind damage, surge and flooding. While face to face meetings with the department’s planning team are critical to ensure effective communication and constant information flow during a hurricane response, organizing them is difficult when staff are stretched so thinly over such a large region.

Despite these local challenges, Duval undertook a PPHR application. Following PPHR’s state supported model, Duval County coordinated with Florida’s state lead to collaborate on approaches and strategies for completing the PPHR application as well as jointly chose a planning team. Duval further consulted response partners that completed PPHR in previous years for examples of developed plans, annexes, appendices, and attachments. Using the PPHR criteria, plans were edited to provide standardized language; identify the who, what, where, and when of response and recovery; provide a layout of the multi-year training and exercise plan; and establish a process for evaluating all exercises and responses to actual events. The planning team, led by senior planner Sarah Winn, met one to two times per month until completion and submission of the application

In the thick of the PPHR application development, Duval County faced a unique hurdle. Not only was the health department responding to tropical storms, but staff were also responding to a tuberculosis cluster amongst its homeless community which caused Duval to implement an incident command structure for nine months. In the midst of two vastly different emergencies and the PPHR application development process, DOH-Duval County used the application development as a means to create unity and coordination amongst the previously dispersed health department.

The combined public health emergencies and PPHR endeavor not only provided an opportunity for the health department to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies but it also served as a team building exercise where DOH staff learned the importance of perseverance and team work.

The PPHR process not only prompted the DOH-Duval County to create effective emergency preparedness plans for responding to public health threats, but also it helped identify trained staff to support these emergency preparedness activities and improved their ability to work as a team to successfully handle an emergency. Because of their demonstrated ability to plan for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies, DOH-Duval County was awarded Project Public Health Ready recognition status during the fall 2014 review cycle.

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