Although emergency preparedness and response may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about services that San Juan Basin Public Health provides, it is a crucial one.
When disasters strike in Southwest Colorado, food, water and air quality can be impacted, as well as access to health care services. Regional emergencies can also include disease outbreaks, such as influenza or salmonella. The SJBPH Emergency Preparedness and Response team is an active part of the response to these and other emergencies.
In Colorado, local public health agencies are required to provide seven Core Public Health Services (as indicated in the Public Health Act of 2008), one of which is Emergency Preparedness and Response. According to Colorado law: All public health agencies are required to prepare and respond to emergencies with a public health or environmental health implication in coordination with local, state and federal agencies and public and private sector partners. Some of the required activities of providing this service include: participating in preparedness planning, training and exercises; serving as the public health lead during emergencies; maintaining an emergency communications strategy to communicate with local communities during emergencies; coordinating with county emergency management and health care partners; promoting community preparedness by communicating steps to take before, during and after a disaster.
The Emergency Preparedness and Response program at SJBPH consists of regional and local staff who serve Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties as well as the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, to build community resilience through emergency preparedness. The program ensures that residents have access to necessities during emergencies, and to the resources and information they need to prepare for, withstand, adapt and recover from emergencies.
The SJBPH EPR program accomplishes this work through partnerships in the community. As a member of the Southwest Colorado Healthcare Coalition, SJBPH collaborates with health care organizations, providers, public health agencies, emergency managers, emergency medical services and community partners, all working together to enhance regional preparedness and response capabilities.
SJBPH believes that everyone should have the ability to adequately prepare for emergencies regardless of their circumstances, and so created the Equity in Emergency Program to increase access to emergency preparedness and promote increased resiliency in an emergency for all people in La Plata and Archuleta counties. EEP activities include developing and distributing inclusive emergency preparedness plans in the counties and outreach to vulnerable populations in Archuleta and La Plata counties with the goal that all community members will be prepared for and have increased resiliency for emergencies.
While response to incidents is one aspect of the work of the EPR program, SJBPH staff members are also focused on planning, training and communicating with residents to ensure the agency and the communities we serve are prepared for emergencies.
The Community Health Assessment conducted by SJBPH in 2018 highlighted that fewer than half of respondents in Archuleta and La Plata counties have participated in most recommended preparedness activities. Moving forward, SJBPH will be working to close this preparedness gap in the communities we serve by providing trainings and workshops, continuing to collaborate with our regional partners and identifying public health hazards in our region to improve the way we respond to hazards.
Developing a family emergency plan before an emergency and practicing the plan is important. These plans should include:
An evacuation plan for you and your family members, including pets. Where will you go if an evacuation is necessary? Identify potential shelters and evacuation routes.An emergency kit. What you will need if you have to evacuate or take shelter in your home for extended periods. SJBPH has checklists available on our website.A communication plan. How you will communicate with your family if you are separated or if you are unable to use cellphones? Identify an out-of-town person who can serve as a central point of contact.A plan for receiving alerts. How you will receive emergency alerts and warnings? Both Archuleta and La Plata counties use emergency notification services that you can sign up for. Emergencies can be stressful. Take charge and make being prepared more manageable. Develop a plan, create an emergency kit, know how you will receive alerts and warnings and plan for how you will communicate with family and friends.
For more information, visit SJBPH’s website at sjbpublichealth.org/epr/, or www.ready.gov, a website focused on emergency preparedness for individuals. To be notified of upcoming preparedness trainings, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lori Zazzaro is the Southwest Colorado Emergency Preparedness and Response coordinator at San Juan Basin Public Health.