Monday, February 24, 2014

Student research: preparing for pandemic in Georgia communities

Written by Amelia Watson, a UGA sophomore and Carl Vinson Institute of Government Student Fellow. She is pursuing a bachelor's of environmental health science and a master's in public health.

This semester as a Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, I am planning to research how prepared Georgia's communities are for different types of health disasters and explore the relationships between different parts of the preparedness community.

On the first day of my fellowship I was filled with nervous butterflies, but this feeling subsided after meeting with my amazing mentor, Stacy Jones, the Institute's associate director of governmental training, education and development. As we discussed which research projects I could tackle, we began to hone in on the topic of pandemic preparedness at the community level in Georgia.

In March 2013, Congress reauthorized the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act to affirm the important of pandemic preparedness throughout the country. This law, complementing the original legislation adopted in 2006, seeks to further strengthen national health security by authorizing grants for preparedness capacity programs at the state, local and hospital levels. These grants emphasize participation in disaster exercises and building partnerships within local, state and federal authorities.

The amount of time between disaster identification and response is critical to the health of the community in many ways. I will be researching how communities in Georgia are preparing in accordance with this.

The Pandemic Preparedness Act gives new flexibility to the state health departments for how they spend resources during a disaster; states can temporarily reassign federally funded personnel to urgent events like a pandemic, even if their normal job is not related to the emergency. The Georgia Department of Public Health is preparing by partnering with both public and private sectors to ensure Georgia's citizens are taken care of during a health emergency. In addition, Georgia's court system and the Georgia Department of Education have released documents on what they would do in the midst of a pandemic.

Coordinating efforts is very important, as is maintaining critical relationships during a health emergency. Training for this type of emergency is crucial because miscommunication and the lack of proper planning could be disastrous for Georgia communities. I look forward to working on this project, as well as the rest of my semester at the Institute of Government.

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