Virtual Resource Center for Public Health Emergency Preparedness

Public Health in the States

States have a unique role in public health emergency management. They develop policies and authorities that govern strategy and activities for public health emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities. Recent incidents, including the national significant Ebola, Zika and Hepatitis C outbreaks, as well as more localized emergencies such as water supply contamination and measles re-emergence, have highlighted the challenges that states face when responding to public health emergencies. NGA is partnering with the CDC to assist states in understanding and developing the legal, political and regulatory frameworks that enable effective management of public health emergencies.

This virtual resource center was developed as a repository for state-focused resources pertaining to public health emergency preparedness policy. The resources are targeted at state leaders in the fields of public health, emergency management and administration, although due to the cross-disciplinary nature of public health emergency preparedness, a broader audience may find these tools useful. Resources are grouped into four major sections:

  • Lessons Learned: advice for states from other states, rooted in real-life experiences in policy development for public health emergency preparedness.
  • Promising Practices: a collection of ideas and activities that have been implemented and evaluated to varying degrees that have the potential to positively impact states in their pursuit of effective policy on public health emergency preparedness.
  • State Examples: In 2018, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Solutions) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted a public health preparedness workshop for governors’ senior staff, legislators and other state officials from six states. The purpose of the workshop was to develop policy approaches and strategic implementation plans that support effective preparedness for and response to public health emergencies. Teams from Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and West Virginia were competitively selected as the first year’s cohort. Projects ranged from ensuring that public health is represented within the state fusion center to developing a playbook for legal authorities during a public health emergency. Resources from those projects are hosted here.
  • External Links: Additional documents, webinars and useful information from vetted sources that address additional policy topics such as isolation and quarantine practices and risk communication.


Four States and One Territory
Have Been Chosen 

Minnesota, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Washington and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands were selected to participate in a National Governors Association workshop hosted in Phoenix, Arizona. There, they had the opportunity to develop strategic action plans to implement during public health emergencies.  

About the Workshop

The NGA workshop was an opportunity for governors, legislators and key state staff to gain greater awareness of policy solutions to mitigate the consequences of public health emergencies. During the workshop, state teams had access to national experts through virtual meetings and regular conference calls with NGA staff and partner organizations. The workshop took place on June 25-26 

This project is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Please contact Carl Amritt or Kate Schoemer for more information.

Webinar Series on Legal Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies

NGA is excited to announce the launch of a webinar series on Legal Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies. This four-part series is hosted in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Bar Association and aims to provide a more in-depth look into the common legal challenges posed by public health emergencies. The webinars will feature subject-matter experts and spotlight states and localities’ responses to public health emergencies.

Webinar #1
Rough Waters: Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery for Hurricanes and Floods
Legal preparedness expert Gregory Sunshine of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will moderate the first webinar focusing on the impacts of flooding and hurricanes on communities and the use of emergency powers by states to respond to these emergencies. As the responses to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Florence have demonstrated, responding to a hurricane-related emergency requires coordinated action from all government responders. This webinar will feature perspectives on disaster impact and resilience, legal preparedness and response to flooding in the Midwest, and discuss the results of a legal epidemiology analysis of state executive orders and proclamations issued in response to hurricanes throughout the United States since Jan. 1, 2006.

Date: Sept. 26, 2019
Time: 2–3:30 p.m. EST
Register here.

Below please find future webinar topics and dates. Additional details for each session can be found on the registration page for each link.

Webinar #2
Emergency Management Assistance Compact: Legal Considerations in 90 Minutes
The second webinar will be led by representatives from states participating in Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), who will explain the mechanisms and requirements states can use to request and supply aid under EMAC. During the second half of the webinar, they will discuss liability protections for volunteers acting as “agents of the state” and identify states who have extended protection to volunteers responding in emergencies.

Date: Oct. 17, 2019
Time: 2–3:30 p.m. EST
Register here.

Webinar #3
Ebola and Beyond: Legal Preparedness for Outbreaks
The third webinar will examine challenges public health professionals and responders are facing during the Ebola response, as well as current legal provisions and concepts and how to apply them to future infectious disease emergency response planning. In addition, as studies show vulnerable populations are the most significantly impacted when disasters strike, this webinar will highlight protection of vulnerable populations for the next communicable disease outbreak of public health concern.
Date: Nov. 21, 2019
Time: 2-3:30 p.m. EST
Register here.

Webinar #4
Information Sharing 101: Protecting Public Health Data
The fourth webinar in the series will focus on providing an overview of the legal authorities to collect, use, share and protect information in a public health emergency. Experts will also discuss constitutional considerations with sharing medical information and applicable federal and state statutes.

Date: Dec. 12, 2019
Time: 2–3:30 p.m. EST
Register here.

This effort is being led by the NGA’s Homeland Security and Public Safety Division. Recordings of the webinars will be posted online following the webinar. For more information, please contact: Carl Amritt, senior policy analyst, Homeland Security and Public Safety,, 202-624-5318

2018 Public Health Preparedness and Response Workshop for State and Territorial Gubernatorial and Legislative Leadership

Governors and state legislators play a critical role in the success of any major public health response. Legislators make laws that can facilitate (or inhibit) a successful response. And governors make decisions that can result in lives saved or lives lost. With multiple threats (environmental, emerging infectious disease, terrorism, etc.)  states may activate their state emergency operations centers with increasing frequency to address minor incidents and complex emergency crises that impact health. Therefore, it is imperative that public officials are become familiar with public health emergencies and confront policy challenges that may impede a successful response.

To better support state governments in ensuring readiness for public health emergencies, National Governors Association Solution: Center for Best Practices (NGA Solutions) has partnered with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Center for Preparedness and Response to support the design and implementation of promising practices, policies and procedures to address policy challenges in public health preparedness and response.

In 2018, NGA Solutions and the CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response hosted a public health preparedness workshop for governors’ senior staff, legislators and other state officials from six states. The purpose of the workshop was to develop policy approaches and strategic implementation plans that support effective preparedness for and response to public health emergencies. As part of this cohort, states received technical assistance from the NGA Center to strengthen their ability to handle a broad range of public health emergencies.

Teams from Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and West Virginia were competitively selected as the first year’s cohort. Projects ranged from ensuring that public health is represented within the state fusion center to developing a playbook for legal authorities during a public health emergency.

These projects are made possible through a grant from: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Promising Practices 


Declaring a public health emergency can require significant legal review. Conducting that legal analysis in advance enables a state to more nimbly respond to an emergency.


Convening a multi-disciplinary team to discuss needs for public health preparedness is crucial to establishing a comprehensive plan for policy changes.


To enhance coordination during a response, ensure the state health official has significant insight into public health preparedness and a strong working relationship.


Strengthening understanding within the state legislature of public health preparedness and emergency response is an important step for enhancing the state policy framework around public health preparedness and addressing any legislative needs.


Assigning a public health analyst to the fusion center allows for the homeland security, emergency management and public health sectors to conduct their work using a common operating platform that can enhance public health preparedness.


Involving the governor’s office helps create momentum and obtain buy-in around strategic public health preparedness planning to create effective policy change.

Lessons Learned 


In a public health emergency, be first, be right, be credible, express empathy, promote action and show respect.


 Legal reviews of public health emergency authorities should be tested—through processes like exercises or tabletops—in order to ensure that the state is prepared when an emergency occurs.


Due to the wide spectrum of state, local, and regional personnel necessary for a response, a multi-disciplinary approach is necessary for public health preparedness and planning.


Implementing long-term improvements to public health preparedness policies can be challenging in the midst of an emergency response.

States’ Plans to Enhance Public Health and Emergency Response


Arizona pursued an enhanced emergency readiness posture by creating a specific public health preparedness “playbook” for the governor’s office. The playbook was inspired by the state’s experience declaring a public health emergency for the opioid crisis from June 5, 2017 to May 29, 2018, which required a significant preliminary legal review. The purpose of the playbook is to streamline state authorities and provide examples demonstrating how public health emergency declarations enabled additional capabilities to guide executive decision-making during crises. The Arizona team also conducted a tabletop with senior staff to test the playbook using a pandemic influenza scenario and refined its contents for real-world implementation.


Hawaii pursued enhanced statewide integration of information on various aspects of public health preparedness and response planning. The state’s participation in the NGA/CDC workshop helped solidify crucial relationships during the Kilauea volcanic eruptions to enhance the capacity and integration of Emergency Support Functions #8 and #10 . During the response, the Hawaii Department of Health reorganized its emergency preparedness program to report directly to the state health official, a chief objective of the state’s strategic action plan formulated at the NGA/CDC workshop. Hawaii also conducted outreach to law enforcement across the state to engage them in updating and strengthening Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) security plans.

Hawaii Department of Health Organization Chart


Illinois pursued enhanced public health preparedness coordination and created a series of dedicated working groups to enhance public health preparedness across the state, including working groups focusing on plan deconfliction, public information officer for risk communications, and crisis standards of care. The communications working group is developing templates and trigger points in order to enhance the state’s ability to communicate more quickly in an emergency. Plans are also being enhanced to integrate the Joint Information Center (JIC) concept into public health operational plans. Exercises will then be utilized to test those plans. Through this project, Illinois is creating its first legislative caucus around emergency management, which will regularly bring important public health preparedness challenges to key decision-makers in the state. Additionally, Illinois is collaborating with legislators to provide them additional knowledge on key preparedness issues with the assistance of a legislative champion who participated in the workshop.


New Jersey pursued enhanced information sharing through several strategies. The state created the Healthcare and Public Health subcommittee on its gubernatorial Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, which mirrors the federal National Security Council at the state level. Through this body, state leaders are better able to integrate healthcare and public health preparedness planning with homeland security, emergency management and law enforcement throughout the state. New Jersey also selected a public health analyst to staff the state fusion center to provide a common operating procedure for both public health and intelligence professionals. This was achieved through a joint process to complete initial hiring and drafting a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize information-sharing components of the position. New Jersey continues to reinvigorate its regional medical coordination centers (RMCCs) in emergency management processes through sustained engagement from the state, at both the local and regional levels.


Oregon pursued an enhanced emergency readiness posture through stronger communication with the state legislature, judiciary and executives. A prolonged water contamination crisis in the state capital highlighted Oregon’s need for action around public health preparedness and external communication l soon after the workshop. The Oregon team conducted a legislative briefing and prepared an accompanying packet while refining its risk communications in light of the emergency. Despite the response, the team has completed a refresh of its judicial bench book on public health emergencies to ensure a broad understanding of public-health emergency authorities in the judiciary. The Oregon Governor’s Disaster Cabinet also conducted a large-scale exercise focusing on a public health emergency. Oregon absorbed its lessons learned on public risk messaging from the water contamination crisis into its implementation of the state’s action plan and is examining how this crisis might inform responses to other unregulated contaminants.


West Virginiais working to draft legislation that would create a specific public health emergency declaration authority for the governor. West Virginia continues to propagate this idea throughout state government with the ultimate aim of enhancing the governor’s powers to respond to public health emergencies and solidifying them in law.