HHS offers tools to promote local pandemic preparedness

Dec 4, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a toolkit to help community leaders educate their constituents about steps they can take to prepare for an influenza pandemic.

Titled "Take the Lead: Working Together to Prepare Now," the 21-item toolkit is aimed at groups such as churches and business, healthcare, and civic organizations. The package of materials, posted on the HHS' pandemic planning Web site Dec 1, includes several components that groups can adapt to meet their needs, including talking points, checklists, fact sheets, sample e-mails, and sample newsletter articles.

The toolkit includes a template that groups can use to publicize campaigns to stockpile food as a community pandemic preparation activity. The package also includes ideas about incentives leaders can use to motivate community members to attend pandemic planning information meetings and related activities.

"Government alone can't prepare the nation for pandemic flu; this challenge requires your help," HHS says in its online introduction to the toolkit. "As a leader in your community, you can playa powerful role in encouraging your employees, patients, and members and others whom you represent to prepare by providing information and guidance and by preparing yourself."

The toolkit is an outgrowth of earlier HHS efforts to engage community leaders' help in preparing the nation for an influenza pandemic. In May the agency hosted a 5-week blog series that was designed to engage community leaders in online discussions about personal preparedness. In June, HHS held a leadership forum in Washington, DC, that drew about 100 leaders from various sectors.

Toolkit materials reflect the input from community leaders, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HHS said on the Web site.

Greg Dworkin, MD, founding editor of the Flu Wiki Web site and chief of pediatric pulmonology at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Conn., told CIDRAP News the materials have been well received. "Interestingly, long-time flu preppers have already used them to discuss the idea with relatives and others who respond to the HHS stamp of legitimacy," he said.

Dworkin was one of 13 experts who led the HHS blog discussions and also took part in the agency's leadership summit.

He said the gap between what public health experts know and what the public knows about pandemic planning is still very large, and more work is needed, particularly on community mitigation efforts that may be needed in a severe pandemic, such as school closures and student dismissals.

One component that seems to be missing from the HHS toolkit is a plan for distributing it to community leaders who are well positioned to use the materials, Dworkin said. "As of right now, they are available online, but who knows about them? How will community leaders, school boards, and others learn about their existence?" he asked.

Stephanie Marshall, HHS director of pandemic communications, told CIDRAP News via e-mail that the agency launched a "trade advertising campaign" for the toolkit on Dec 1, the same day the materials were posted on the government's pandemic planning Web site. She said the ads appear on the toolkit Web site.

HHS has identified nine communities that it will target with more intensive communication efforts regarding pandemic planning, Marshall said, adding that the agency hopes to introduce that campaign early next year.

See also:

Jun 14 CIDRAP News story "HHS hears community leaders' ideas on pandemic readiness"

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