Lessons Public Health Professionals Learned From Past Disasters


  • Terri Rebmann,

    1. Ph.D., R.N., C.I.C., is Associate Director for Curricular Affairs, Institute for Biosecurity, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri
    2. Assistant Professor, School of Public Health, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri
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  • Ruth Carrico,

    1. Ph.D., R.N., C.I.C., is Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences and Center for Health Hazards Preparedness, School of Public Health and Information Sciences, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky
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  • Judith F. English

    1. R.N., M.S.N., C.I.C., is Head, Infection Control Division, Infectious Diseases Department, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.
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Terri Rebmann, 3545 Lafayette Avenue, Suite 361, St. Louis, MO 63104. E-mail: rebmannt@slu.edu


ABSTRACT Objectives: Delineate the lessons that public health professionals learned during past disasters and information/resources found to be lacking during past disasters.

Design/sample: Qualitative research consisting of 32 participants who attended the 2006 Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Conference and participated in 1 of 3 focus groups.

Measurements: Focus group sessions were audiotaped; tapes were transcribed verbatim. Content analysis included identifying, coding, and categorizing participants' responses. Major themes were identified and categorized.

Results: Disasters can result in public health crises if infection prevention/control interventions are not implemented rapidly and appropriately. Gaps in past public health disaster response include infection prevention/control in mass casualty incidents, public education, internal and external communication, mental health, physical plant, and partnerships with outside agencies. Participants emphasized the need to provide consistent messages to the public, communicate between agencies, and provide public education on disaster preparedness. These tasks can be challenging during infectious disease emergencies when recommendations change. Effective communication is necessary to maintain public trust. Infection control issues in shelters, such as hand hygiene products/facilities, sanitation, outbreaks of unusual infectious diseases, overcrowded conditions, and poor environmental decontamination, were identified as critical to prevent secondary disease transmission.

Conclusion: Public health and infection control nurses must partner and continue to address gaps in disaster planning.