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CDC Promotes Partnerships in Emergency Response

Published: April 3, 2009

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On March 18, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) three business cooperative agreement grantees, the National Business Coalition on Health, the National Business Group on Health, and the National Safety Council visited the agency to present information on their partnerships and how they help to promote health, prevent disease, and reduce injury. Together, these grantees have the potential to impact millions of lives in the workforce, including employers, employees, and their dependents (i.e. children, parents, older adults, at risk populations).

Each year, the public faces potential health threats, from pandemic influenza, to hurricanes, to bioterrorism. CDC's ability to disseminate communication messages during all hazards emergency response may be easier with some new emergency communication tools. The National Center for Health Marketing's (NCHM) Division of Partnerships and Strategic Alliances (DPSA) collaborated with one of CDC's business cooperative agreement grantees, the National Safety Council (NSC), to create the Emergency Alert Network (EAN). EAN is a new e-mail- and voice-based system built on the Send Word Now platform and funded through DPSA's cooperative agreement with NSC.

The Emergency Alert Network

EAN has the capacity to reach more than 17,000 businesses with CDC-cleared information in the event of a public health emergency. Collectively, these businesses have the potential to reach 8 million employees and their dependents. The EAN database contains all critical infrastructure sectors, including agriculture, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, large- and small-retail establishments, schools, healthcare, banking, and insurance.

The NSC database will also be expanding to include coalition representatives of the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH), another CDC business cooperative agreement grantee, which represents 10,000 employers and 25 million employees and their dependents. During emergencies, businesses are a key component of the partnership strategy and help reach a wide audience, including employees, their dependents, other business partners, and the general public.

"During emergencies, it's important for CDC to partner with a variety of organizations and institutions, such as businesses, to disseminate emergent health information and resources to protect the public's health," said Marsha Vanderford, director of CDC's Emergency Communication System (ECS). By accessing NSC's and NBCH's memberships, CDC can efficiently and effectively provide emergency health information to a broad business base.

EAN Activated for Hurricane Ike

CDC's ECS was activated during Hurricane Ike to lead CDC's communication response activities, including the distribution of health protection information to the public and stakeholders before, during, and after the hurricane. The Partners' Desk within ECS consists of a team of staff whose primary role is to disseminate and coordinate CDC's public health emergency messages between CDC and external private and public partners. The Partners' Desk reached out to NSC to discuss using EAN to disseminate health protection messages to prevent carbon monoxide poisonings in affected areas. These can occur with the incorrect use of fuel burning devices, such as generators or camping stoves, often used in post-hurricane or other power outage situations. Two messages were developed to address this public health concern.

The first message was a test message to all EAN members. Prior to the hurricane, they were informed that EAN would be tested to assess whether the correct processes were in place to disseminate a message and receive responses back from the EAN membership. Exactly 17,993 businesses received the test message, which advised proper generator use to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

To contact these 17,993 members, about 34,805 contact points were used (19,551 phone calls and 15,254 e-mail and text messages). EAN's notification technology allowed contacts in the database to prioritize (cascade) the order in which calls were placed; in addition, the cascade feature stopped calling a contact once a call was answered. Out of the 17,993 business members, 96 percent were successfully contacted either by telephone or e-mail. Furthermore, 4,815 members replied with a "1" to confirm receipt of the test message.

After sending the test message, NSC conducted an electronic survey with all EAN participants. The majority of respondents agreed that EAN was a useful communication tool in preparing for and staying informed during public health emergencies, and wanted to remain members of EAN. About 62 percent experienced no problems in receiving the test message.

As part of this overall effort, members of the insurance industry engaged in conversations with CDC and NSC to determine how effective they would be in distributing information. The members were confident that their field representatives would be in an ideal position to distribute information on carbon monoxide poisoning and discuss how to prevent it as they checked customers' homes for damage. Based on this information, a second message was sent out after the test message targeting companies in the insurance industry. The message was sent to 431 insurance companies via e-mail and text message.

Preparing for Future Emergencies

"EAN is an efficient tool that provides timely, relevant, and action-oriented information to a broad base of businesses, and ultimately increases CDC's ability to help reduce injuries, prevent disease, and save lives," said Wendy Heaps, DPSA Business Sector liaison to NSC.

Many lessons were learned during the process of activating EAN for Hurricane Ike, such as the need for pre-event message bundling, segmenting messages to different sectors, understanding the limitations of the communication channels, and ensuring message recipients are educated on the message-response feature. CDC and NSC will continue to develop EAN's capabilities and increase its database to include an even wider base of businesses.

Another emergency communication tool is the Partner Communication Network (PCN). The PCN will allow CDC to disseminate emergent health information to sector-based partners including business, faith-and community-based, education, sports and entertainment, and public health. The PCN will expand the use of CDC's e-mail update system (GovDelivery) and ensure sector-based partners have timely access to emergency communication information.

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