Ten Years of Preparedness
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and subsequent anthrax mailings, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control established the Office of Public Health Preparedness to improve emergency response. With financial support from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, DHEC built program capabilities to plan for emergencies, conduct disease investigations, communicate with the state's health providers, communities and public, and train for emergency situations. Although the preparedness efforts have been far-reaching, a few major projects have led the way.
Mass casualty response plans were prepared at the state and regional level to improve public health and hospital emergency response to disasters. These plans are included in the state's Emergency Operations Plan. DHEC serves as the lead agency for coordination of emergency health services and containment of hazardous materials. Staff from the agency support numerous other emergency functions including sheltering, health services for people needing emotional support, and communicating lifesaving information to the people across the state. This planning has resulted in stronger relationships and collaborations with numerous agencies including the Emergency Management Division, the State Law Enforcement Division, the S.C. Hospital Association and many response partners.
Nearly half of the funding received since the program's inception has funded the creation of teams to investigate disease outbreaks. These people rush to the "ground zero" of any outbreak of illness whether the illness is caused by a suspicious “white powder” or a more common, everyday bug like food-borne diseases or tuberculosis. These "disease detectives" are able to help determine the cause of the outbreak and ways to slow or stop the spread of additional illnesses.
The state's public health laboratory has grown in capabilities under the preparedness program. The lab tests for biological viruses and bacteria, and certain chemical substances, and provides training to hospital and law enforcement lab personnel. The biological lab is able to provide backup services for the CDC's lab in Atlanta, and the chemical lab is one of only 10 in the nation able to identify chemical warfare agents.
The agency's ability to communicate with the state's healthcare community was enhanced greatly through the expansion of the Health Alert Network. This web-based tool alerts healthcare providers of emerging trends in illness identification and treatment, as well as provides a link to information and educational opportunities that can help them diagnose illness more readily.
During any public health emergency, the agency's ability to quickly communicate with the public and media is essential. In these times, the agency strives to provide accurate protective information. The preparedness program has enabled the agency to develop information to help people prepare for potential emergency situations whether they are accidental, intentional or naturally occurring.
As we remember the events of 2001, it is important to realize that no one can predict future health emergencies in South Carolina. But through the use of federal and state funding, DHEC has been better prepared to respond to emergencies and everyday situations that impact the health of our state's citizens and environment.
For additional information, contact: (803) 898-3708