US Slightly More Prepared for Public Health Emergencies

Megan Brooks

April 24, 2017

The ability of the United States to manage community health emergencies improved slightly in the past year, but deep regional inequities remain.

That is according to the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), released April 20.

The index tracks the nation's progress in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters and other emergencies at both a state and national level. It uses more than 130 different measures, such as hazard planning in public schools, monitoring of food and water safety, wireless 911 capabilities, influenza vaccination rates, and numbers of paramedics and hospitals. The data are used to calculate a composite score that provides a comprehensive picture of health security and preparedness.

The 2017 index gives the United States a score a 6.8 on a 10-point scale for preparedness, which is a 1.5% improvement over the past year, and a 6.3% improvement from 2013, the year the index began.

Closing the Gap

"Improving health security and preparedness is important for all communities across the country. In our highly mobile country, national emergency preparedness depends on having high levels of protection in every state, city, and region," Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, chief science officer and a vice president at RWJF, said in a news release. "These data highlight where strengths and gaps in preparedness lie, and can inform approaches to improve health security throughout America."

Although nearly two thirds of states improved in their ability to respond to health emergencies, significant inequities in preparedness still exist across the nation: a gap of 32% separates the top-performing state of Vermont (score 7.8 out of 10) from the lowest-performing state of Alaska (score 5.9).

A total of 18 states achieved preparedness levels that far exceeded the national average in 2016, while 20 states were significantly below the national average. A total of 33 states increased their overall preparedness levels between 2015 and 2016; 14 had no change, and four states declined.

Generally, and as in past years, states in the Deep South and the Mountain West regions lagged behind Northeast and Pacific Coast states.

"Equal protection remains an elusive goal in health security, as rural and low-resource regions have fewer and weaker protections in place. Closing the gaps in preparedness among states and regions remains a national priority," Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, who heads a team of researchers at the University of Kentucky in developing the index, said in the release.

"Health security and preparedness have wide-ranging impact in our communities," added Stephen C. Redd, MD, director, Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "The Index can help us see where investments are producing returns, and where more work is needed to build public health emergency response capacity."

This year, the nation improved in five of six key topic areas:

Topic 2017 National Average Improvement (Decline) Since 2013
Can mobilize/manage resources during a health incident 8.2 2.5%
Can collect/analyze data to spot possible threats before they arise 7.9 9.7%
Can mitigate harm from biologic, chemical, or nuclear threats 7.0 7.7%
Can prevent health effects from environmental or occupational hazards 7.0 (1.4%)
How communities mobilize people to work together during a crisis 5.8 16.0%
The state of healthcare systems during everyday life and emergencies 5.3 3.9%

Source: 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index

 

Full results of the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index are available online.

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