Disasters are challenging emergencies that occur with varying severity and require more than the basic and routine resources and procedures. They can be natural or man-made and often occur unexpectedly. There is also increasing threats of emerging disasters throughout the world. Due to this, it is vital to be prepared prior to occurrence of disasters in order to mitigate their destructive and disruptive nature.
Common disasters include earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, bioterrorism, drought, and disease epidemics and are capable of causing injuries, mental health issues, deaths, destruction of properties, disruption of social, economic and routine activities.
Some countries seems to have been caught off-guard by COVID-19 pandemic with no or inadequate disaster preparedness and which, as a result are struggling to contain the pandemic with their reactive approach. It is therefore important to be prepared before a disaster strikes by doing the following:
- Developing working relationship with partner agencies e.g. health professionals (public health/medical/behavioural), law enforcement, volunteer organizations, private businesses, academic institutions, media, etc.
- Establishing mutual-aid agreements and memorandum of understanding with relevant partner organizations.
- Developing operational plans, guidelines and protocols needed to respond to emergencies.
- Conducting public health system capacity assessment.
- Training and certifying health professionals in safety and health practices.
- Participating in the planning, designing, and conducting exercises to assess and evaluate public health preparedness and response capabilities. This can take the form of table-top simulation scenario exercises, drills or field exercises.
- Conducting after-action reviews to identify areas of improvement and take appropriate follow-up action through corrective action planning.
A good plan should address the following functions and prevention services:
- Epidemiological services
- Sanitation/hygiene services
- Identification of environmental hazards
- Assessment of health and medical needs
- Identification of affected individuals
- Laboratory services
- Communication/information sharing
- Safety and health of responders
- Coordination and management of volunteer and donations
- Special population needs and assistance
- Mass trauma/ mass fatalities/ mortuary services
- Mental/behavioral health care and social services
- Food and water safety
- Continuity of public health programs, services, and infrastructure
- Long-term community recovery.
It is worth noting that after COVID-19, there will be other emerging public health threats and we cannot sit back after it wanes. This should be a lesson and stepping stone to effectively plan and prepare when another disaster strikes.
Remember, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. Benjamin Franklin
Landesman, LY (2001). Public Health Management of Disasters: The Practice Guide. American Public Health Association, 2001
Lechat, MF. (1979). “Disasters and Public Health.” Bulletin of the World Health Organization 57(1): 11-17.
This report was compiled by Thuku Njenga, MPH, MHA