Western Tidewater Health District recognized for emergency plans

Published 7:09 pm Saturday, July 2, 2011

Preparedness: The National Association of City and County Health Officials honored the Western Tidewater Health District for its emergency preparedness model. From left, NACCHO program manger Scott Fisher; John Cooke, Dr. Nancy Welch and Amal Patel, all with Western Tidewater; Virginia Department of Health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley and Cynthia Hunting, with the health district, pose with the health district’s award.

The Western Tidewater Health District was recognized by a national organization for its emergency preparedness and planning.

The National Association of City and County Health Officials honored the district under its Project Public Health Ready program.

Western Tidewater, which serves Suffolk, Franklin, and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, is one of 11 districts in Virginia and 24 across the nation to be recognized.


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Western Tidewater emergency planner John Cooke said the achievement is a validation of the efficiency of the district’s emergency plans.

“It gives us another measure that our planning efforts are focused in the right direction,” he said.

Cooke added the recognition can be a comfort to citizens to know their health district has plans to handle any public health emergency.

He said he thinks the challenge Western Tidewater Health District faces is that the area it covers includes both rural and urban areas.

“Western Tidewater is a little more diverse; we have urban, suburban and very rural areas,” he said. “Our approach has to be tailored to those sort of differences.”

He said in cities like Newport News and Hampton, health districts can usually use a central location to distribute vaccines in the event of a pandemic.

“In downtown Norfolk it would work, but it doesn’t work in Southampton County,” Cooke said. “We have to pull (people) in instead of pushing things out.”

To earn the recognition, a team of Western Tidewater Health District employees worked for about a year to develop a 32-page document to be considered by the health officials’ organization.

The team followed Project Public Health Ready guidelines that covered several topics to test their emergency preparedness.

“There was about 17 pages’ worth of specific measures that they wanted to make sure our plans address,” Cooke said.

The guidelines covered three main goals. For the first goal, the health district must show how it is prepared for any and all emergencies.

“It’s a very in-depth cross section of our planning process,” Cooke said.

Cooke said the team had to describe plans of action as well as its connections in the area for carrying out the plans.

Then, the health district team had to explain its emergency training and assessment for all of the district’s employees.

Finally, the guidelines ask how the health district’s emergency plans are put to the test to ensure they will work in a real emergency.

Cooke said once a year the Western Tidewater Health District runs a full-scale exercise to practice for emergencies.

This year, the district tested its plans to distribute medicine to the public in an emergency situation.

Western Tidewater Health District was honored at the organization’s award ceremony June 22.