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The Public Health Emergency Law Competency Model

Version 1.0

Background

“Competency” in public health law is defined as the level at which public health practitioners have the skills “to access and understand the relevant laws and to actually apply them to given health issues.” Achieving such competency in public health emergency law is critical [PDF 425KB] to a public health
practitioner’s ability to prepare for and respond to all-hazards
public emergencies effectively.

Given the importance of public health law to effective public health emergency preparedness, and recognizing this critical gap in existing emergency preparedness competencies, CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response asked CDC’s Public Health Law Program (PHLP) to develop a set of competencies in public health emergency law for mid-tier public health professionals. In response, PHLP staff attorneys developed the Public Health Emergency Law Competency Model Version 1.0 (PHEL Competencies) [PDF 316KB].

To develop the PHEL Competencies, PHLP staff

  • Used a deliberative process that built on existing frameworks for competency-based public health emergency curricula
  • Reviewed and analyzed existing statements of competencies, performance benchmarks, and other related standards for public health work force development in public health emergency preparedness and in general public health practice
  • Communicated with public health practitioners, public health emergency professionals, academics, public health lawyers across state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) jurisdictions, and ASPH education specialists.

For more on the history and methodology used to develop the PHEL Competencies, see Legal Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies: A Model for Minimum Competencies for Mid-Tier Public Health Professionals [PDF 362KB].

Using the PHEL Competencies 

Ideally, the PHEL Competencies will be used to advance the inclusion of law-based content in all public health emergency training, resources, and tools. This would ensure that more state and local mid-tier public health professionals could improve competency in this critical area. For example,

  • STLT preparedness coordinators and other public health professionals can use these competencies when they update or revise related job descriptions
  • Mid-tier public health professionals can use this model as a self-assessment tool
  • Preparedness coordinators can bring the competencies to their department’s legal advisors’ attention to start discussions about which specific federal or STLT laws might be implicated by each competency, and to identify ways to ensure relevant professionals are provided opportunities to increase their knowledge, skills, and abilities in public health emergency law

The Public Health Emergency Law Competency Model Version 1.0

The Public Health Emergency Law Competency Model Version 1.0 [PDF 316KB]


Domain 1: Systems Preparedness and Response

“Systems preparedness and response” refers to how the state, tribal, local, and territorial public health and safety agencies systematically engage in public health emergency preparedness and response efforts. These efforts include drafting plans and agreements, coordinating with other agencies and jurisdictions, and interacting with stakeholders and the general public. 

1.1.Act within the scope of federal, state, tribal, and local statutory and regulatory authority during emergencies and through state and/or federal declarations of emergency.
1.2.Communicate legal authority and procedures to emergency response partners, such as other public health agencies, health agencies, or government agencies during planning, drills, and actual emergencies.
1.3.Identify limits to legal knowledge, skill, and authority and identify key system resources, including legal advisors, for referring matters that exceed those limits.
1.4.Integrate legal information into the exercise of professional public health judgment within the larger public health response.


Domain 2:  Management and Protection of Property and Supplies 

“Management and protection of property and supplies” refers to the steps public health emergency preparedness and response officials can take to manage supplies that may be used to mitigate the effects of a disaster. Such management may include restricting the use of certain materials, preventing price gouging, or coordinating the distribution of needed supplies.

2.1.Implement the use of relevant legal information, tools, procedures, and remedies, including injunctions, closing orders, and abatement orders.
2.2.Identify how and under what circumstances legal searches, seizures, and destruction of property or material can take place for public health purposes.
2.3.Describe the legal authorities related to the distribution and dispensation of medical supplies and the effect of a state and/or federal emergency or public health declaration on those authorities.


Domain 3: Management and Protection of Persons 

“Management and protection of persons” refers to those public health emergency response activities that directly affect the rights of individuals. In any situation where individual liberties may be affected, officials should pay special attention to the policies and procedures that have been established to ensure personal rights are restricted to the smallest extent possible when balanced against the need to protect the public.

3.1.Implement the use of relevant legal information, tools, procedures, and remedies related to social distancing, including evacuation, quarantine and isolation orders, closure of public places, and curfews.
3.2.Recognize the sources of potential civil and criminal liability of public health personnel and consider due process issues before taking legal action.

For more information about the PHEL Competencies project or PHLP’s efforts in public health emergency law, please contact Gregory Sunshine, JD, Legal Analyst, at gsunshine@cdc.gov.

 

Key Definitions

Competencies are observable and measurable knowledge, abilities, skills, and behaviors that must be applied to achieve results aligned with the goals of the organization

Legal preparedness is an integral part of comprehensive preparedness for emerging public health threats and all-hazards emergencies. It has been characterized as a subset of public health preparedness and is defined as the “attainment by a public health system . . . of legal benchmarks essential to the preparedness of the public health system.”  The four core elements of public health legal preparedness are   

  1. Laws—legal authorities based in science and on contemporary principles of jurisprudence
  2. Competencies—professionals who know their operating legal framework and how to apply law to public health goals
  3. Coordination—to implement law-based actions across jurisdictions and sectors
  4. Information—on public health emergency law best practices and promising policies  

The PHEL Competency Model Version 1.0 focuses on the third element: competencies, and offers a set of core standards that aim to ensure that mid-tier public health professionals both understand the legal framework and can skillfully apply legal authorities to public health emergency preparedness and response activities.  

A mid-tier public health professional is either a) an individual with five years of experience and an MPH equivalent or higher degree in public health or b) an individual who does not have an MPH or related degree, but has at least ten years of experience working in the public health field. In general, aside from years of experience and education, these workers may be responsible for

  • Program support, coordination, development, implementation, management and/or evaluation, supervision
  • Establishment and maintenance of community relations
  • Argument prevention
  • Policy issue recommendations.

As such, the broad capabilities presented herein generally apply to public health practitioners with program management and/or supervisory responsibilities.

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