Getting ready for Ebola

College of Public Health institute charged with preparing Georgia for disaster.

The College of Public Health’s Institute for Disaster Management was recently awarded $756,000 in new federal funding to design and direct new Ebola emergency response initiatives for the Georgia health care system.

Since 2006, the Institute for Disaster Management has been contracted by the Georgia Department of Public Health to manage the state’s health care community preparedness program by designing and implementing disaster exercises for hospitals, nursing homes and other health care organizations across the state. The new grant increases the institute’s total budget for the upcoming fiscal year to $1,260,000 and further expands the college’s disaster preparedness role within the state of Georgia.

“Georgia, a major entry point for people coming into the U.S. from Africa, has really been doing very well in screening and monitoring potential Ebola patients, but we still have to be diligent about understanding who we are treating, what screening/triage mechanisms are implemented and transferring them to appropriate definitive care sites,” said Curt Harris, an assistant professor of health policy and management and the institute’s associate director.

“This new program will be essential in getting our hospitals and emergency medical services on the same page about recognizing symptomology and implementing infection control measures for Ebola.”

Georgia is divided geographically into 14 health care coalitions, each a collaborative network of hospitals, public health departments, law enforcement, local businesses, emergency management agencies and other health care organizations organized to respond to mass casualty and catastrophic events in a given region.

The number of stakeholders in each region varies. In some regions, the institute may work with as few as eight hospitals while in others the number of participating institutions approaches 50.

“The vast majority of what we do is centered around what is referred to as a hazard vulnerability analysis. This annual report identifies the top hazards that may affect demand for a health care facility’s services or its ability to provide those services,” Harris said.

The institute uses two types of exercises to better prepare health care institutions and surrounding communities for potential disaster scenarios. The first type—discussion-based “tabletop” exercises—provide decision makers from the health care community and community leaders an opportunity to sit at a table and discuss plans, policies and procedures that relate to specific disaster scenarios listed under the hazard vulnerability analysis. The second type—operations-based or “full-scale” exercises—is a “boots on the ground” simulation of these disaster scenarios that tests the abilities of various agencies to operationalize their plans, policies and procedures in a no-fault environment. Communication and coordination procedures between the various agencies are also tested.

Each year, the college facilitates a tabletop and a full-scale exercise in each of three to four regions across Georgia. The institute’s new funding will support its faculty, staff and students as they lead additional tabletop exercises on Ebola preparedness for each of the 14 coalitions in the state.

Originally published on Discover UGA.

Posted June 1, 2015.