PHIN Communication and Alerting
Many public health events affect more than one jurisdiction and can require public health organizations at the local, state, and federal level to communicate and work effectively with each other. Alerts may need to be issued from a local health department, a state health department, or from CDC and delivered to people and organizations in many state and local jurisdictions. Some uniformity of alert message structure, vocabulary, semantics, and process is critical to the clarity and accuracy of exchanged information and to preventing miscommunication across multiple organizations, especially during emergencies and time-critical events. PCA therefore establishes standards for how alert information is conveyed to human recipients, alert attributes and vocabularies, and correspondence of alert attributes to system behaviors and human processes. PCA addresses certain issues related to alerting across jurisdictional boundaries. PCA also articulates necessary functional capabilities, such as support for multiple device types (phone, fax, email, pagers, text message), ability to confirm and retry delivery, ability to target recipients based on their attributes, ability to authenticate recipients before delivery, and integration with public health directories for consistent, uniform management of people, roles, organizations, organization types and jurisdictions.
It is important to differentiate PCA standards from programmatic activities such as Health Alert Network (HAN) that actually issue alerts. PCA is a specification of standards and capabilities needed for effective and consistent public health communications. HAN is a program with responsibility for sending and managing health alerts, and so unlike PCA involves staffing, physical systems, business processes, etc. An organization can opt to bring its HAN system into compliance with PCA standards, as is indeed the intent across most of the country. However, other programmatic activities involving alerting may also opt to comply with PCA standards.
Public health organizations can achieve PHIN-compliant alerting capability through various combinations of automated systems and manual processes, and/or through shared use of a system operated by another organization. Based upon the Congressional mandate for integrating public health preparedness with the private sector and NGOs, the PCA requirements are interpreted to mean that hospitals, laboratories, clinicians, emergency management agencies, and other non-public health entities are among those who may need to be alerted during an event.