Preparing for Emergencies: A Legal PerspectivePosted on by
Whether it’s taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle, preventing diseases, or preparing for an emergency or natural disaster, public law is an important tool to promote and protect public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP) develops legal tools and provides technical assistance to public health colleagues and policymakers to help keep their communities safer and healthier.
Emergency preparedness is one of the most important topics PHLP covers. Most emergency response systems are based on laws that regulate when and how state, tribal, local, territorial, and federal entities can engage in an emergency response. The legal nuances are often complicated and easy to miss. PHLP offers resources and training to empower state, tribal, local, and territorial communities to better understand, prepare, and respond to public health emergencies. Together, public health and public health law can protect people from harm and help communities better prepare for disasters.
For the past 16 years, PHLP has helped public health practitioners respond quickly—and with the right legal resources—in times of crisis. PHLP’s work can be divided into two main areas: PHLP’s research initiative and the program’s workforce development activities. Through its research initiative, PHLP conducts legal research using legal epidemiology research principles. PHLP’s research looks at various critical issues to interpret how the law plays a role in diseases and injuries affecting the entire country, and examines specific topics in state and local jurisdictions.
PHLP’s training helps health officials learn what they need to know to prepare for an emergency and what the law allows. In 2015, staff went on a legal preparedness “roadshow,” training more than 500 people in 11 different states in just a few short months. This training showed participants how to recognize legal issues that arise during public health emergencies, offered tools for planning and implementing effective law-based strategies during an emergency, and provided an opportunity to exercise their knowledge through a fictional response scenario.
PHLP also offers emergency response support for specific emergencies. During a public health emergency, such as the Ebola epidemic, PHLP helps partners use the law to stay ahead of quickly evolving situations. After the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States on October 11, 2014, enhanced entry screening was implemented in five airports, which is allowed by law to protect Americans’ health. The enhanced entry screening was implemented to help identify and monitor travelers from countries with Ebola outbreaks who could have been exposed to the disease or who had signs or symptoms of Ebola.
Stakeholders were concerned that variations in how each state monitored and controlled the movement of travelers from countries with Ebola outbreaks could cause confusion, so PHLP staff published the State Ebola Screening and Monitoring Policies on its website so travelers could access them in one easy location. This information helped people who were considering working in West Africa understand what the requirements might be after they returned home. Similar to what was done during the Ebola outbreak, the program recently published an analysis of emergency declarations and orders related to the West Nile virus as part of CDC’s response to the 2016 Zika outbreak.
PHLP helps public health partners across America answer legal questions on many emergency preparedness and response topics. Through legal research, trainings, and publishing of the latest information, PHLP is always ready to help their partners understand how to use law to protect the health and safety of the public. People interested in learning more about PHLP can visit PHLP’s website. For regular updates on public health law topics, including legal preparedness, subscribe to CDC’s Public Health Law News.
Link to TedMed Video: http://www.cdc.gov/phlp/videos/tedmed-ebola.html