Ready to Respond to Public Health Emergencies

CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) responders

State and local health departments must stand ready to handle many different types of emergencies that threaten the health and safety of families, communities, and the nation. Learn how CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) program helps communities respond to threats.

Public health emergencies occur every day across the United States. Tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, infectious disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies have all occurred in the United States within the past few years and will happen again.

Communities must be ready in the event of a public health emergency – both those they expect and those that come without warning. The terrorist and anthrax attacks of 2001 clearly demonstrated that states need expertise and resources in place before disaster strikes. Since 9/11, CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) program has worked with states, cities, and territories to prepare and plan for emergencies.

CDC's Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) Program
CDC’s PHEP program enables public health departments to lead or support public health responses, saving lives when an emergency occurs.


Six Domains of Preparedness

CDC’s PHEP program works to advance six main areas of preparedness so communities are better prepared for emergencies that affect people’s health. View text description and download PDF.

The PHEP program provides:

  • Guidance: Annual evidence-based guidance to ensure state, local, tribal, and territorial jurisdictions have the most current information to better protect their communities. One of the main sources of this guidance is the Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities, which CDC updated in October 2018 to reflect the changing threat environment and the evolution and growth of state and local preparedness programs.
  • Technical Assistance: Operational know-how to ensure health departments are ready to respond
  • Evaluation: Measurement and evaluation of state and local capabilities to prepare for any public health emergency

Why Preparedness Matters

Emergency preparedness is critical for the safety of people, communities, and the nation. Planning and exercising plans helps ensure that health departments are ready to respond and save lives when emergencies occur.

Preparedness in Action

While we all hope that emergencies never occur, they are inevitable and the true test of any preparedness system. For example, from 2016 through 2019, a large, multistate outbreak of hepatitis A swept the country. This outbreak appeared to be spread mainly via person-to-person contact, as a community-acquired infection.

To combat this outbreak, state PHEP programs worked with their state communicable disease and immunization programs to decrease the time to report new cases, conduct public health follow-up, conduct vaccination outreach, and provide public risk communication information.

All of these activities – made possible through years of building preparedness capacity and partnerships with multiple program areas – are working. For instance, Michigan has reported a decline in the number of new cases each month since December 2017, and California and Utah have declared their outbreaks to be over.

How You Can Help

Community members play a key role in helping educate others about the importance of preparedness. Check out the Stories from Field to learn more about how CDC’s PHEP program has equipped jurisdictions to prepare for, respond to, and recover from public health emergencies. Also, be sure to share the educational resources available on the State and Local Readiness website and help spread the word.

PHEP Program - Protecting America's health, safety, and security.

Since 2002, CDC’s PHEP program has built and maintained public health emergency management infrastructures in all 50 states and select local and territorial public health departments. These public health departments are now capable of leading or supporting public health responses to save lives when an emergency occurs.

Page last reviewed: September 5, 2019