Zika Schmika

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or, “Take the (grant) Money and Run (an exercise)”
 
Zika has killed at least one person so far in the US. In 2013, we lost 55,227 to flu and Pneumonia. So why bother running an exercise on Zika? Because a Zika exercise will let you test many plans, policies, and procedures useful in any public health emergency.
 
Those plans, policies, and procedures include:
  • How to recognize and declare a public health emergency
  • How to establish incident command and maintain it over a long period
  • How to provide accurate, actionable information to the public in a timely manner
  • How to mitigate against the spread of a disease
  • How to coordinate with other Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) to ensure the continued protection of the public against all hazards

Think beyond the scenario

An exercise scenario (in this case, the outbreak of Zika), is just a piece of plausible fiction that enables all exercise participants to focus on a particular problem in order to test their plans, policies, and procedures. If you only focused on one scenario, you’d get very good at dealing with that scenario, but you wouldn’t develop the broad-based skill sets you’ll need to combat other events.
 
Think of your favorite sports team, preparing for a game against its arch-rival. They run the plays they think will be most effective against that rival, and they practice a defense against the opponent’s greatest strengths. Now, forget that analogy, because a public health emergency is unlike an organized sporting event:
  • The other side (the outbreak) doesn’t announce the schedule.
  • The other side doesn’t agree to limit the number of players on the field or even the size of the playing field.
  • There are no time-outs or referees.
  • There are few videos to watch of your opponent in previous games.
Instead, focus on building and testing those broad-based skill sets, such as those listed above, that will empower your agency to improve their performance among many types of “opponents” or incidents.
 
So, whether it’s the disease du jour (Zika this year) or Ebola (last year) or Avian flu (2009) or Yellow Fever (the next disaster in Africa), or sexually transmitted diseases, or heroin overdoses, the basic skill sets we need to master are basically the same.
 
If someone’s offering to give you the opportunity to practice your skill sets, take the money and run an exercise. Look at the After-Action Reports and Improvement Plans from prior incidents and exercises, determine what skill sets (capabilities) you need to test, select the plans, procedures, and policies that you would use to execute those skills and run an exercise.
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Topics: Flu, Zika

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