Washoe County Health District
Public Health Preparedness in Washoe County
Whether it be in response to severe weather, floods, earthquakes, or terrorist threat, immediate and adequate public health preparation is critical to saving lives and protecting against future health-related problems. Washoe County Health District (Health District) is committed to providing our community with a wide variety of response elements which can be activated in any number of disaster scenarios, including those caused by terrorism. The following is background information about the Washoe County Health District’s Public Health Preparedness Program and Epidemiology Program.
Public Health Preparedness (PHP) Program:
The following programmatic activities and resources assist in ensuring the Health District and community are better prepared to respond to a disaster:
- POD (Point of Dispensing) Planning: The Health District is continuously planning for the dispensing of preventive medications or vaccination to large numbers of people in our community in a short period of time. If an emergency occurs, such as a biological attack, numerous sites throughout Washoe County have been identified to act as POD locations. These PODs will accommodate large numbers of citizens to rapidly and efficiently receive preventive medications or vaccine.
- Medical Reserve Corps (MRC): A Medical Reserve Corps functions as a community-based staffing supplement to existing local emergency and public health resources. The Health District is in the process of recruiting both clinical (20 percent) and non-clinical (80 percent) volunteers, who then are trained to augment the healthcare and public health workforce, thereby improving local ability to absorb a sudden increase in demand for situational healthcare services, such as providing staffing for PODs.
- Exercising of Plans: The Health District routinely participates in as well as designs readiness exercises using a variety of health related scenarios to examine the effectiveness of emergency planning. Using the evaluation results of these exercises, emergency plans are continuously revised according to identified gaps. The Health District designs and executes a large influenza vaccine POD exercise annually, providing flu vaccine to large numbers of citizens free of charge. This annual exercise not only benefits the Health District staff by providing training and exercise, but benefits the community as well.
- Training in Incident Command System (ICS) and National Incident Management System (NIMS): Both ICS and NIMS provide common operational and communication structures for emergency response nationwide to maximize efficiency, organization and communication within and among various agencies and jurisdictions. The provision, tracking and documentation of ongoing ICS and NIMS training for Health District staff continue to be a priority spearheaded by the PHP team.
- Involvement of Community Leaders and Citizens in Planning: The Health District has made a concerted effort to involve community leaders and citizens in planning efforts. Additionally, the advance forging of partnerships and provision of public health preparedness education to these groups will be beneficial regardless of which type of event should strike our community.
- Health Alert Network (HAN): This communication tool allows for rapid notification and mobilization of public health professionals during an emergency.
- Department Operations Center: The PHP program has developed an on-site Department Operations Center, which is used to coordinate the Health District’s response to significant public health threats.
- WebEOC: WebEOC is a crisis information management system that aids Health District and emergency management personnel in communication with each other about secure real-time information. This allows for quick decision-making.
- Emergency Communication – AM Radio Station: During a public health emergency, up-to-date health preparedness information will be available on the radio at 1150 AM. Under license from the Federal Communications Commission, this limited-range station will carry pertinent public health emergency information which may include repeated instructions, news updates, or live broadcasts intended to better protect our population. 1150 AM is a portable/mobile unit that can be transported to areas needing transmission of public health notices that can propagate to a radius of 5 miles from the transmitter/antenna system in all directions (approx. 75 square miles). Through specific-area message encoding technology, AM 1150 also can be programmed to automatically receive and re-transmit national emergency and weather alerts to specific areas.
For questions regarding the PHP program, please contact Jeff Whitesides at: JWhitesides@washoecounty.us
Epidemiology (Disease Investigation) Program:
Through education, surveillance and emergency response capability for public health emergencies, the Epidemiology program empowers the Health District and its community partners in successfully responding to situations. Epidemiology staff regularly uses the following resources:
- Surveillance Systems: The Health District’s Epidemiology program is a leader in Nevada with implementation of syndromic surveillance, providing real-time or near real-time information about disease symptom trends and clusters. Staff uses five surveillance systems to speed up the recognition and management of significant, local disease outbreaks. These systems utilize data that do not contain personal or identifying information.
- First Watch: Real-time reports from the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA) based on patient's symptoms. Provides analysis of ambulance run data by both time (temporal) and location (spatial), categorized by syndrome.
- National Retail Data Monitor (NRDM): Provides information from various local pharmacies on over the counter (OTC) medication purchases. Purchases are categorized by major type and analyzed temporally and geographically for significant changes.
- EpiCenter Disease Surveillance: Records chief medical complaints from local patient emergency department visits. Chief complaints are categorized by major syndromes and analyzed temporally and geographically for significant changes.
- Sentinel Flu Surveillance: Designated healthcare providers are actively queried each week as to the total number of patient visits and number of patients who presented with an influenza-like illness (ILI). During the flu season (October – May), weekly reports on ILI activity can be accessed at the Influenza Surveillance, Prevention & Control page.
- School Absenteeism: The Health District obtains data on school medical absenteeism from the Washoe County School District which is analyzed for detecting attendance trends that could be associated with community-wide disease outbreaks.
- Laboratory-Based Disease Reporting: As technology improves, so does the Health District’s ability to recognize and respond to disease outbreaks. By closely working with the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory, the Health District now has access to research technologies such as PFGE (Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis) as well as the nationwide PulseNet database. PFGE is commonly considered the gold standard in epidemiological studies sub typing pathogenic organisms. PulseNet participants perform DNA “fingerprinting” by PFGE and enter the results into an electronic database of DNA fingerprints (PulseNet). PulseNet plays a vital role in surveillance for and the investigation of food borne illness outbreaks that were previously difficult to detect. Now their causes can be identified in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. This is important in allowing public health staff to begin investigations early, increasing the likelihood that a cause can be determined. This is also important in protecting the public in a county with a population of over 400,000 residents and 6 million visitors annually.
- Interdivisional Outbreak Response Team: Disease outbreaks, investigations and outreach to protect the general public from becoming ill require the teamwork of professionals from multiple public health specialties. The Interdivisional Outbreak Response Team uses epidemiologists, environmentalists, public health nurses, disease investigators, public information officers, lab technicians, office support specialists, and medical consultants to investigate the origins of outbreaks and prevent them from spreading. The team works whenever and wherever needed to halt the dangerous spread of infectious disease, sometimes collaborating with health officials in Nevada and neighboring states in investigations outside the Washoe County Health District.
- Epidemic Information Exchange (Epi-X): This web-based communication solutions provide rapid and secure information exchange between local and national public health professionals. Epi-X supports postings and discussions about disease outbreaks and other public health events with the potential of involving multiple jurisdictions.
- Epi-News: The Health District publishes and distributes local data on infectious and chronic diseases in the Epi-News. View current and past Epi-News at the Epi-News page.
For questions regarding the Epidemiology program, please contact the Epidemiology program.