If you want to take your disaster health security plans from paper to practice you need to involve the community – no matter what the size. But when your community is large, diverse and vulnerable to a wide array of threats, community engagement becomes even more important. Los Angeles is the second largest city in the U.S. and it is vulnerable to 13 of the 16 federally-identified types of natural disasters and man-made threats. When you are trying to protect that many people from such a wide array of threats to health, you don’t just need a plan – you need to build the connections within the community that can help you put your plan into action.
And that is exactly what the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health did.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health created the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience (LACCDR) project, which focused on three key planning areas: coalition building, community education, and community resilience activities.
LACCDR is a comprehensive, community-based approach designed to identify the area residents’ needs in a disaster as well as the resources that the community can draw on to promote resilience. As part of this approach, LACCDR’s activities and plans consider the needs of residents who would be most at-risk in the event of a disaster.
First, the LACCDR project staff focus on developing and strengthening partnerships, especially those in new areas or where gaps exist. Faith-based organizations are at the center of many of these partnerships, but LACCDR also works with hospitals, health clinics, and private businesses as well. Some of these partnerships are formalized through memoranda of understanding or coalitions, while others rely on informal relationships and an ongoing dialogue. These partnerships enable LACCDR to directly reach community residents with resilience-building activities.
Education is the second component of success for the LACCDR project. In order for people to protect their own health and the health of people around them, they need to know what to do. LACCDR, in partnership with many community-based organizations, has developed networks that enable it to reach people with actionable information they can use to become more resilient in the face of a disaster. For example, in the early months of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, LACCDR worked with its partners to distribute verified information that city residents could use to stay healthy throughout the pandemic.
Third, LACCDR developed hands-on activities that the people of Los Angeles can take part in to build individual disaster health resilience and form coalitions. For example, the LACCDR developed a toolkit that provided different neighborhoods within the region with detailed information on how to build resilience by creating community coalitions. Within the toolkit are coalition activities such as role-playing exercises to facilitate conversations about resilience among community residents, quizzes that analyze a community’s readiness, mapping exercises to locate resilience resources, and surveys that can help identify community needs.
These efforts combined make Los Angeles County a model of how local health departments nationwide can implement new programs that advance national health security by creating stronger, more resilient communities.
For more information on national health security, visit www.phe.gov/nhss.