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Database Drills Public Health

STATE AND LOCAL PUBLIC HEALTH departments interested in enhancing their preparedness for public health emergencies, such as might be precipitated by a terrorist attack or natural disaster, have a new tool available to them. The Public Health Preparedness Database, developed by the RAND Corporation and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, is a searchable database of exercises and drills that can be adapted for use by any agency desiring to test its capabilities.

The database is part of a larger initiative to evaluate public health preparedness and educate officials on methods for improvement. RAND has also produced studies that evaluate public health preparedness, test public health disease reporting systems, and create best practices for public health officials.

Exercises from a variety of organizations around the country were evaluated for use in the database. “We really tried to cast the widest net possible,” says Lisa Shugarman, a health policy researcher at RAND.

That list was then culled to winnow out all but the most useful examples of how to respond appropriately. To be included in the database, each exercise had to meet 14 criteria, such as having clearly stated goals, and being easy to replicate. Exercises also had to be generally rated as good or excellent overall to be part of the database.

Although the database was originally going to focus mostly on exercises addressing how to respond to biological agents and infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as plague, smallpox, and West Nile virus, its scope has been expanded to include information on chemicals and natural disasters.

To access the database, users go to the Web site, where they choose between a drill, orientation, tabletop exercise, functional exercise, or full-scale exercise. They are then asked what they would like to drill for, including biological and chemical agents, infectious diseases, or natural disasters.

Once the user hits the search button, all exercises matching the user-defined criteria are displayed. The user clicks on the exercise for more information, which includes a description of the goals and objectives, a detailed outline of the resources necessary to re-create the drill, and a contact number for the agency where the drill originated. After-action reports and other potentially sensitive information are not included.