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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


ASPR’s Vision for Building Readiness: Sustaining Robust and Reliable Public Health Security Capabilities

Author: Robert P. Kadlec, MD, MTM&H, MS, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Published Date: 8/10/2018 12:54:00 PM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; National Health Security; Medical Countermeasures; Response & Recovery;

HHS’ Vision for Healthcare Preparedness is a multi-part blog series that describes ASPR’s four pillars to achieving national health security: providing strong leadership, building a Regional Disaster Health Response System, sustaining public health security capabilities, and advancing an innovative medical countermeasures enterprise. This blog focuses on sustaining public health security capabilities. Read the next post in the series here.

A catastrophic health emergency – whether naturally occurring such as an influenza pandemic or deliberate, such as a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack – could threaten our national security, weaken our economy, strain our federal resources, cause widespread panic, and result in hundreds of thousands of casualties.

During the past decade, public health emergencies and biothreats, such as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the 2014 Ebola outbreak, the 2016 Zika outbreak, and the 2017-18 chemical attacks in Syria, accentuate the need for public health officials and healthcare professionals to be able to access real-time information about emerging threats to enable them to make timely, responsive decisions.

ASPR advocates for the sustainment of robust and reliable public health security capabilities, primarily through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but also through other components of HHS. Working together, we must improve the detection and diagnosis of infectious diseases and other health threats. We also must be ready to get critical medical countermeasures to patients when seconds count. HHS accomplishes this by enhancing disease situational awareness, strengthening disease containment, improving risk communication, and improving medical countermeasure distribution and dispensing.

Enhancing Disease Situational Awareness

Situational awareness provides the foundation for enhancing decision-making; improving prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts; ensuring that resources are used wisely; and promoting health security.

Situational analysis also requires effective coordination of information dissemination across federal, state, and local governments, as well as with international organizations, other

countries, community-based organizations, academia, and health system and other private sector entities.1

Although biosurveillance is primarily a CDC function, ASPR enhances situational awareness by managing the Secretary’s Operations Center (SOC), the focal point for synthesis of critical public health and medical information. The SOC monitors and evaluates domestic and international emerging health threats 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure HHS, the CDC, and others are fully prepared to activate. ASPR uses multiple tools and databases, including GeoHEALTH and the HHS emPOWER Map, to further enhance situational awareness.

Strengthening Disease Containment

To mitigate the spread of a contagious disease, HHS aims to contain an outbreak using non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as isolation, quarantine, social distancing, and decontamination. The CDC is primarily responsible for implementing these actions.

To ensure that U.S. health care providers and facilities are prepared to safely identify, isolate, transport, and treat patients with an infectious disease, ASPR’s Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) funds a Regional Treatment Network for Ebola and Other Special Pathogens. This network consists of 10 regional special pathogen treatment centers, 69 state or jurisdiction treatment centers, and more than 170 assessment hospitals that can safely receive and isolate a person under investigation for Ebola or other infectious disease. In collaboration with the CDC, ASPR’s HPP also funds the National Ebola Training and Education Center Exit Icon.

Improving Risk Communication

The right message at the right time from the right person can save lives. CDC is the primary HHS agency responsible for providing the trainings, tools, and key messages to help health communicators, emergency responders, and organizational leaders communicate effectively before, during, and after a major disease outbreak.

ASPR works with the CDC to amplify those messages and resources. To help the CDC, health departments, and other health entities identify trending health issues, ASPR’s NowTrending web-based application identifies potential health issues emerging in a specified geographical area based on open source Twitter data.

Improving Medical Countermeasure Distribution and Dispensing

Rapidly getting vaccines, antibiotics, medications, and other medical supplies to an affected population is critical for saving lives in an emergency. ASPR anticipates that the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) will be transferred to ASPR in fiscal year 2019. As part of this transfer, ASPR is dedicated to improving the final distribution and dispensing of products contained in the SNS by providing robust operational support to state and local authorities.

For example, ASPR in collaboration with the CDC, is working with other federal agencies to explore how to: facilitate and coordinate federally-funded residential delivery capabilities (e.g. DHL, FedEx, USPS), solicit and coordinate public-private partnerships at the national level (e.g. pharmacies, big box stores), pre-position caches for specific populations (e.g. first responders), and provide mechanism to increase federal staffing to assist states and locals in an emergency.

For more information about ASPR or CDC efforts to identify, contain, communicate, and respond to an infectious disease event, visit or, respectively.

1 The National Public Health and Medical Situational Awareness Strategy Implementation Plan (2015-2018), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, September 2015.


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