Public Health plans for the worst

By Emily Bialkowski

Caledonia Argus


More often than desired, the Houston County Public Health Department has assisted in county emergencies thanks to a great deal of planning and preparation.

In 2007, 2008 and 2013 Public Health assisted with the flood response. In 2009 the department addressed the H1N1 outbreak. In 2011 there was a flu vaccine shortage. The list of emergencies is a bit daunting when compiled, but each situation has been addressed with professionalism and order thanks to proper planning.

The Public Health Department receives a Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant each year to develop and sustain public health emergency preparedness, in addition to response capabilities for terrorism, pandemic influenza and other public health emergencies.

The topic was reviewed and presented to the Houston County Board Sept. 16 by Public Health Director Deb Rock and Heather Myhre, public health educator.

Myhre said, “Examples of the things we need to be thinking about and try to be prepared for can be weather related, man-made disasters, disease outbreaks and/or biological emergencies.”

Houston County uses the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in its emergency plans so it may coordinate with emergency services all over the nation if needed.

The goal of NIMS is to:

• Designate a “boss” in any given emergency

• Increase communication

• Decrease chaos

• Make decisions fast

“This is how the federal government guides us at the local level,” Myhre said.

A public health emergency can include anything from large numbers of ill and possibly deceased individuals, the spread of disease, a hazardous material spill, food quality, water quality, mental health issues and many other large scale disasters.

To limit the impact of such problems, Public Health gets involved in several key projects, including pandemic flu planning, crisis and risk communications, preparedness exercises and mass vaccine dispensing agreements, to name a few.

In addition, Public Health wants families in the county to develop emergency preparedness plans and put together an emergency kit.

“We need to be prepared so we can support our communities,” Myhre said.

Information on forming a personal emergency plan is available at the Houston County Public Health office at 611 Vista Drive, Suite #1, Caledonia, 507-725-5810. Or, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emergency planning website at