How to Plan for Campus Health Emergencies

Here are some of the lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic scare that campus officials can apply to future planning and response processes.

Health Services led the response with communications releases, treatment of ill students and the vaccination campaign. Emergency preparedness, police, human resources, housing and numerous other departments provided the supporting roles. Health Services was the main source of information for campus leaders and also the main communicator to the students, faculty and staff.

One example, and probably the most prominent, was the utilization of incident command during the vaccination process. Health Services operated as the incident commander and delegated logistical and operational tasks to the appropriate divisions. ICS provided the organizational structure and management components needed to effectively operate vaccine clinics and serve several thousand people in a short period of time.

Through the incident command structure, Health Services was able to communicate to outside stakeholders its goals and objectives, how the organization was going to accomplish these goals and what resources were needed. Filling in the gaps and holes became a lot easier.

Success Depends on Collaboration, Flexibility

As events unfold and operations expand, it is beneficial to assess what you have done and share some of the things that went right.  Some of the keys to success with tackling H1N1 and other potential pandemics include:

  • Understanding the potential consequences of the threat.
  • Addressing the situation early.
  • Gathering decision makers, and meeting frequently.
  • Having a flexible plan.
  • Constantly communicating with your target audience. Educate the public.
  • Collaboration and coordination between departments and agencies.

Using the Planning “P” and other incident command tools is common practice for emergency planners and responders, but is most common when working on traditional emergencies such as natural disasters, accidents, and even terrorism related matters. Campuses’ recent experience with H1N1, however, demonstrate that the Planning “P” can also be applied to pandemics.

H1N1 will be replaced with another public health crisis in the future. When that happens, it will be important for planners and responders to meet the threat in a manner that is flexible and adaptive. The Planning “P” will give them such a tool without having to spend valuable time coming up with an alternative system to get the ball rolling.

Andy Altizer is the director of emergency preparedness and Jennifer Mattingly is the emergency preparedness coordinator at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  The authors would like to thank Emory University’s Dr. Alexander Isakov for his thoughtful review of this manuscript.

View the Planning “P” model.

Andy Altizer is the director of emergency preparedness and Jennifer Mattingly is the emergency preparedness coordinator at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  The authors would like to thank Emory University’s Dr. Alexander Isakov for his thoughtful review of this manuscript.

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Get Ready for Cold and Flu Season

By Peter Sheldon

Developing an effective flu prevention program includes both education and proper surface disinfection. The most effective way to prevent the spread of germs is through frequent hand-washing (usually about 30 seconds of dedicated scrubbing). Healthcare professionals are already well-equipped to handle this kind of education – but schools and campuses don’t always have the appropriate measures in place to remind students and residents.

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