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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Strengthening National Health Security

Key Accomplishments: National Health Security

With natural disasters, disease outbreaks, severe weather and other emergencies becoming more common and costly, the importance of enhancing national health security has never been greater. When disaster strikes, we want one basic question answered: is everyone okay? By enhancing national health security, we can increase the chances that people will be healthy and resilient, both physically and mentally, after a disaster.   

The National Health Security Strategy

National health security is a state in which the nation and its people are prepared for, protected from, and resilient in the face of disasters or emergencies with health consequences. Achieving national health security requires people and organizations to work together at every level. When disaster strikes, everyone plays a role in keeping the community healthy. Working together effectively requires a plan before a disaster strikes.

HHS published the first national plan to protect health in a disaster in 2009. Led by ASPR, the 2009 National Health Security Strategy and Implementation Plan established the first comprehensive national roadmap to prepare for, respond to, and recover from public health and health care emergencies.  

Focusing on strategic objectives to strengthen disaster health

ASPR published an update of the National Health Security Strategy in February 2015, which focused on five strategic objectives:

  • Building and sustaining healthy, resilient communities: The Strategy’s goal is to improve community health resilience—a community’s ability to withstand and recover better from natural disasters, terrorism, and other public health emergencies. Community health resilience is strengthened by improving the community’s physical, behavioral, and social health while enhancing social connectedness within the community.
  • Making medical products available: The strategy calls for a wide range of medical products and procedures that protect health in emergencies. These range from drugs and vaccines for a new disease to scientifically proven ways to wash away chemicals after a bioterrorism attack. The strategy also encourages the federal government to involve state and local health agencies, EMS, and other community groups in government decisions about what types of medical products to develop to be sure that the products are easy to use and make sense in a disaster zone.
  • Enhancing the information available for decisions about health before, during and after disasters:  Leaders and emergency responders need good information to make decisions about using resources, preventing or dealing with health threats, and improving health security. The NHSS calls on partners to share information quickly and use innovative systems and tools to understand possible health impacts in communities.
  • Integrating public health, emergency management, and health care systems:  The strategy helps strengthen health care coalitions and regional planning alliances. By working together, organizations can help communities build on and improve routine services and health care systems, and they can meet increased demands for health care during disasters. The strategy also calls for better training for people whose jobs are related to health security, increasing the number of trained workers and volunteers, and effectively managing and using that workforce.
  • Strengthening globa​l health security:  As the movement of people, goods, and services across borders increases, our national health security increasingly depends on global health security. The strategy demands that health agencies in the United States to work with health agencies in other countries to improve health security worldwide. 

Building partnerships with traditional and non-traditional partners

The strategy describes national – not federal –priorities for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; the private sector including health care coalitions; non-governmental organizations; academia; communities; and families and individuals. By working together, the nation can build community health resilience, strengthen and sustain preparedness and response systems, improve capabilities, and prioritize future resource investments.

The strategy emphasizes a community-based approach to health security recognizing that all communities face different hazards, have unique populations, and have different resources to enhance health security.

To achieve national health security, the nation must cultivate a culture of resilience and shift the perception from that of national health security as solely a government responsibility to national health security as a civic responsibility – a partnership among individuals, communities, and systems.

The strategy not only sets a strategic course, but also mobilizes action by traditional partners such as public health, health care, and emergency management, and non-traditional partners such as youth and youth groups and community-based and faith-based organizations.

Today, local health departments now compete in an awards program that recognizes their contributions to health security, including how they manage volunteers during disasters, how they involve young people, and how they build local partnerships. 

The path forward

The strategy will continue to chart the course for the nation to enhance health security and inspire and motivate people and whole communities to secure their health by taking action to prepare for public health and health care emergencies.

  • This page last reviewed: January 15, 2019