Creating a regional pediatric disaster preparedness network

The South Central Center for Public Health Preparedness (SCCPHP) is collaborating with the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Mississippi State Department of Health, and more than 40 agencies and institutions to establish a regional pediatric disaster preparedness network across 5 states, including Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This voluntary pediatric response network functions within the larger emergency response system.

The Network, formally called the Southeastern Regional Pediatric Disaster Surge Network, began in 2005 as founding partners acknowledged the limited amount of public health resources, lack of sufficient pediatric facilities, and high rates of poverty in the region. Partners also recognized the unique physical, mental health, and psychological needs of children during an emergency. The purpose of the Network is to provide pediatric care and mutual aid in the event of an emergency or disaster. For example, in the case of a major bus accident, tornado, respiratory illness epidemic, or bioterrorism attack, Network partners commit to assisting to the best of their ability within and across state lines.

As the Network is a voluntary network of public health departments, hospitals, health care providers, emergency response officials, and volunteers, it was important to identify one agency to facilitate and maintain the Network on a daily basis. SCCPHP assumed this role and has led partners through a three phase process, which is still continuing today.

During Phase 1, partners focused on sharing information and identifying issues that needed to be addressed during network development. Issues included defining the appropriate region, identifying stakeholders, standardizing terminology, updating supply inventory, and addressing professional licensing and health insurance issues across state borders. The Phase 1 process consisted of meetings to address these issues and brainstorm additional participants to invite to the next phase.

Phase 2 focused on setting mutual goals and developing the Network structure. Starting in early 2009, seven workshops were held to formalize network coordination mechanisms including, but not limited to, network activation, financial procedures, roles and responsibilities of partners, credentialing of medical staff/personnel, and points of contact. Using the data gathered during Phase 1 and the initial Phase 2 workshops, the SCCPHP drafted a Network Handbook. During this process, three work groups formed to address elements of the handbook between workshops; the Handbook Editing Committee, the Common Systems and Acronyms Task Force, and the Resource Typing Task Force. One lesson learned was that the work groups helped create ownership of the Network, which moved the Network forward faster and increased commitment among the partners.

Phase 3 planning was initiated once MOUs were signed, with a focus on the effectiveness of the Network through exercises, drills, and evaluation. Currently, the Network conducts quarterly drills to verify the Network’s primary point-of-contact list and completes at least two annual exercises that are Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) compliant. Drills and exercises are crucial in measuring the effectiveness of the Network and identifying gaps; however, the real test of the Network’s effectiveness will come in the wake of a true emergency or disaster.

Although intrastate networks are logistically easier to establish, multistate, multijurisdictional networks are a practical way to maximize resources when responding to disasters and emergencies.

Details on figures:
Figure 1: Phases of network formation, network activity, and high-reliability network building blocks used in planning and developing the Southeastern Regional Pediatric Disaster Surge Network (The Three Phase model is adapted from: Alter, C & Hage, J .1993, Organizations working together. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.)
Figure 2: Critical issues identified in the planning and development of the Southeastern Regional Pediatric Disaster Surge Network
Figure 3: Levels of Network Engagement Chart

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