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FOR RELEASE: September 8, 2006
CONTACT: Larry Weatherford
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Are We Better Prepared?
Oklahoma’s Public Health Preparedness Five Years after 9/11

As Oklahoma and the nation reflect on the five-year anniversary of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks on the nation in 2001, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is continuing to develop its capacities as a first responder in catastrophic health emergencies.

“As the state’s lead health agency, we have grown significantly since 9/11 in our ability to respond in the event of a public health crisis,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Crutcher. “We continue to enhance terrorism preparedness and response efforts, working closely with Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Tulsa Health Department, and our first-response partners in emergency management, homeland security, and local public safety agencies.”

Crutcher identified creation of the Terrorism Preparedness and Response Service within the OSDH, passage of the state Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, and continued preparedness exercises held in collaboration with state and local partners, as benchmarks to measure preparedness progress in Oklahoma.

It is not unusual for the public health community to respond to public health emergencies such as outbreaks of infectious diseases or dealing with the human results of acts of nature. The 1995 bombing of the federal Murrah Building in Oklahoma City proved that Oklahoma could also respond to the challenges of terrorism.

“Even so, the events of 2001 identified gaps in the nation’s public health system that federal, state and local public health workers have vigilantly labored to improve,” Crutcher emphasized.

In the past five years, terrorism preparedness funds awarded to the OSDH from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been used to upgrade infectious disease surveillance and investigation and improve disease reporting between health departments, hospitals and health care providers; enhance hospital readiness to deal with mass casualty events; expand public health laboratory capacities; and improve communications capabilities.

In just the last year, the OSDH’s ability to address public health from the perspective of a first responder is confirmed in the following examples:

  • Development of a state management plan for pandemic influenza; hosted a statewide pandemic influenza summit as well as five regional summits and a summit focusing on Oklahoma’s Native American Tribes.
  • Conducted a full-scale exercise to demonstrate ability in the event of a public health catastrophe to distribute medications and supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile; upon completion of the exercise the CDC rated Oklahoma at the highest level of preparedness for mass treatment of the population.
  • Conducted exercises in 14 local communities to demonstrate ability to provide vaccination or medicines to mass populations quickly in the event of a public health crisis.
  • Established an incident command system and deployed volunteers from the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps to respond to our neighboring states where lives were disrupted by the Gulf Coast hurricanes. Working with numerous partners, the OSDH coordinated medical operations at Camp Gruber in northeastern Oklahoma, where approximately 1,589 hurricane evacuees were housed. Oklahoma’s Medical Reserve Corps now serves as a national model for statewide coordinated medical volunteer efforts.

“Collectively, these measures have improved our capacity to respond to a public health crisis event that may be naturally occurring or man-made,” Crutcher noted. “While we may never be able to be prepared for all that can happen, we can work toward being as prepared as our science, technologies and manpower support will allow.”

 

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