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Recommendations from START-sponsored Working Group on Community Engagement in Health Emergency Planning

The Working Group (WG) on Community Engagement in Health Emergency Planning was an advisory body convened by the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2006. The purpose of the group was to counsel government leaders and public health and safety professionals on the value and feasibility of active collaborations with citizens and civil society institutions in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from an extreme health event. The WG was led by START researcher Monica Schoch-Spana.

Members included decision makers at local and national levels of government; public health officials who have responded to high-profile events; heads of community-based partnerships for public health and/or disaster mitigation; and subject matter experts in civic engagement, community development, risk communication, public health preparedness, disaster management, health disparities, and infectious diseases.

Informing the WG's deliberations and final recommendations were members' experiences and professional judgment as well as evidence obtained by the review of relevant literatures including social and behavioral research into hazards, disasters, and epidemics; the theory and practice of public participation and deliberative democracy; and medical and public health management of extreme events including pandemic influenza.

Major Findings

  • Members of the public are first responders and outbreak managers, too.
  • Stockpiling in case of an emergency is both too much and too little to ask of Americans.
  • "Citizen" preparedness must look outside the individual home to the civic infrastructure.
  • The civic infrastructure has much to offer before, during, and after an event.
  • Adept crisis managers engage community partners prior to an event, and not just hone their media skills.
  • Certain ingredients are necessary for genuine community engagement.
  • The community needs strong health and safety institutions with which to partner.

The full report, entitled Community Engagement: Leadership Tool for Catastrophic Health Events, is published in the journal Bioterrorism and Biosecurity.

WG research and deliberations were funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), grant number N00140510629, and The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, award number 2004-6-13. Subject matter experts affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention participated in the WG. However, any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations in the WG report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Sloan Foundation, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.