A public health emergency is an event that can cause harm to a person’s health or to the health of a community. These events can happen at any time, anywhere and include
- Outbreaks, such as COVID-19, Zika, and flu
- Accidental releases of industrial chemicals that can harm people’s lungs, skin, and overall health
- Intentional acts with biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear agents
- Natural disasters, such as tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Center for Preparedness and Response (CPR) is America’s public health defense hub. Our staff work alongside our CDC peers, other federal partners, and state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments to continuously monitor for risks to the health of communities and the nation. When a concern is identified, we put decades of public health emergency expertise to work to get the right experts and resources in place to address the emergency and protect the health of Americans and people around the globe.
While a public health emergency can happen at any moment, building and sustaining a workforce with the right knowledge and skills takes time and commitment. CPR staff work at CDC offices and in health departments to guide communities and the nation through a public health crisis. We also help fund health departments, so they are prepared and able to lead a local response to an emergency. Additionally, we foster research and innovation in how to best prepare for and respond to public health emergencies.
Our Mission: Advancing the nation’s preparedness and response for public health emergencies and threats.
Our Vision: A prepared and resilient nation able to prevent, mitigate, and respond to all public health threats.
A skilled and well-trained public health workforce is America’s safety net when a public health emergency strikes. Having experienced staff in communities, at CDC, and around the globe leads to faster responses at the first signs of a threat.
Who We Are
Our staff work behind the scenes at CDC and on the front lines in communities. We are:
CPR conducts internal CDC preparedness and planning activities and helps public health departments and laboratory staff prepare for health threats. One way we do this is by providing readiness reviews that look at state and local preparedness plans, including a community’s ability to give out medicines and medical supplies during a response.
CPR builds trusted relationships and local, national, and global networks. Our Career Epidemiology Field Officers and Preparedness Field Assignees work in public health departments. These experts keep CDC and states connected, which is a key piece of building and sustaining an effective health workforce. CPR works with internal and external partners to integrate CDC science into preparedness and response planning. Through the U.S. National Authority for Containment of Poliovirus, CPR prepares for future containment of polioviruses and plans to prevent reintroduction in communities.
CPR runs CDC’s Emergency Operations Center, where highly trained experts coordinate resources, information, and crisis and emergency risk communication. EOC staff respond 365 days a year, 24 hours a day to calls from the public, health departments, medical professionals, hospitals, and other groups.
CPR prepares the public health workforce to be ready and able to respond to any situation. We assess every emergency response to determine what worked well and what needs to change going forward. Using the lessons learned, CPR conducts trainings and provides technical assistance to health departments. CPR experts publish peer-reviewed articles to share information with public health workers worldwide. CPR supports research to advance knowledge and best practices in preparedness, response, and recovery.
Along with partners at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CPR oversees the Federal Select Agent Programexternal icon to ensure that important work in the U.S. with potentially dangerous and deadly pathogens and toxins is conducted as safely and securely as possible.
Before a crisis happens, we help public health prepare. We provide funding and training for a sustainable, strong public health workforce.
When disaster strikes, we respond with guidance and assistance. We provide communication messages, resources, and staff with the necessary expertise for the job.
When the emergency passes, we help communities recover, evaluate, and adapt to improve for the future.
What We Do
We are the central coordinating body for CDC’s preparedness and response efforts. At CDC, CPR works hand-in-hand with experts in immunization, environmental health, emerging diseases, occupational safety and health, injury prevention and control, and others. We pair our emergency management knowledge with their expertise in specific topics, such as infectious diseases.
Prepare. CPR provides expertise, funding, technical support, and training to public health departments to help them prepare for health emergencies. The Public Health Emergency Preparedness program helps state and local jurisdictions prepare to receive and distribute medicines, vaccines, medical supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) during emergencies. This requires practicing setting up a point-of-dispensing location (or POD) and dispensing a placebo. Baltimore, Maryland’s “Operation Shortbread” sweetened the effort by distributing boxes of Girl Scout cookies to Scout leaders. In March 2020, Baltimore activated the POD to dispense millions of PPE to hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. PPE distribution went seamlessly due to the practice exercises.
Respond. When CDC responds to emergencies, CPR can put standardized emergency management structures in place when needed to coordinate community action. CPR experts distribute messages to help the community take action. In the COVID-19 response, CPR provides funding to health departments to monitor case numbers and hospitalization rates, share information about infection control, and coordinate with schools, businesses, healthcare facilities, and other essential community services.
Recover. As an emergency winds down, we help health departments recover and rebuild their communities. After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria hit several Southern states in 2017, CPR funding helped cover public health response costs associated with the hurricanes. The funding made it possible for states to maintain their budgets for other important public health programs while recovering from the storms.
Evaluate. Only by evaluating responses can CPR improve future responses. When Ebola emerged and spread in West Africa from 2014-2016, lessons captured by CPR during CDC’s responses to approximately 20 prior Ebola outbreaks informed the actions of the experienced CDC team.
Adapt. We apply what we learned, saw, and experienced in past events to our training and preparedness activities. For example, when large events such as the Super Bowl occur, the host city’s public health department works closely with the previous host city. For the 2019 Super Bowl, a CPR field officer working at the Georgia Department of Health applied lessons learned during the 2018 Super Bowl to improve preparedness efforts, such as monitoring food vendors to prevent foodborne outbreaks.
Why It Matters
Our country must be prepared for the next public health emergency. The ability to identify a threat before it poses a significant risk depends on a well-trained public health workforce. State, local, tribal, and territorial health departments must be ready to handle large-scale emergencies and to identify and respond to smaller emergencies and outbreaks. As COVID-19 showed, what starts locally can very quickly become a global emergency.