The Governor’s Guide to Public Health Preparedness


Executive Summary

Beginning on their first day in office, governors must prepare for emergencies of all types and, along with providing for the public’s safety, governors must also think about protecting the public’s health. Although the types of hazards that affect states vary widely, almost all carry a public health consequence that must be specifically and intentionally addressed by formally-trained specialists. The opioid epidemic has precipitated a hepatitis A outbreak, catastrophic hurricanes have caused widespread post-traumatic stress, and persistent wildfires have aggravated asthmatics across the American West. As these linkages become more well understood, governors must strive to better incorporate the discipline of public health into their emergency preparedness and response strategies.

While infectious diseases like Zika and Ebola present an obvious danger to public health, it is important to recognize that natural and human-made disasters create similar threats. Earthquakes, heat waves, flooding and terrorist attacks can cause cascading interruptions in the availability of medication, shelter, sanitation and access to medical care, thereby eroding community health. Consider the power outages created by the 2019 wildfire crisis in California: while the outages may not have posed a direct risk to the health of the general public, they endangered those dependent on dialysis facilities and electrically powered medical devices. Major disasters can also cause short- and long-term mental and behavioral health risks, including the proliferation of depression, anxiety disorders and even suicide. Because of these risks, governors, homeland security advisors and emergency managers must integrate
public health considerations into their comprehensive approach to preparedness, response, and recovery.

For many government officials and emergency responders, public health preparedness may be an unfamiliar or technically challenging area. This guide serves as a primer on the subject, detailing current strategies, available resources and existing partnerships that may help policymakers bridge the gap between the disciplines of public safety and public health. By doing so, governors can develop a stronger cooperative network for emergency response and provide their states with a safe and healthy future.