Mississippi ranks high for disaster preparedness

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi is among five states ranked highest in the 10th annual “Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism” report.
The review was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and issued by the Trust for America’s Health.
While 35 states and the District of Columbia fulfilled six or fewer indicators of public health preparedness examined, Mississippi met eight. Other states that also reached eight of the goals were Maryland, North Carolina, Vermont and Wisconsin.
“I think a large part of the success in preparedness in Mississippi is the relations we have,” said Jim Craig, director of health preparedness with the Mississippi State Department of Health. “We have a great sense of cooperation in Mississippi.”
Jimmy Allgood, emergency management coordinator for the city of Oxford, said the state’s emergency response community is exceptionally well-networked, equipped, organized and rehearsed.
“We meet a lot, we talk a lot and we plan a lot. In the field, we exercise a lot,” he said. Among other preparedness measures, Allgood added, the state’s system of mobile field hospitals are one important ingredient.
The report measured 10 indicators:
• Level of increased funding for public health.
• Ability to assemble a public health quick response team within one hour.
• Whooping cough vaccinations for 90 percent of target group.
• Free flu shots for Medicaid beneficiaries.
• Climate change adaptation plan.
• Mandated multi-hazard evacuation plans for child care facilities.
• Emergency management accreditation.
• Health system preparedness.
• Public health lab staffing and surge capacity.
• Public health lab chemical disaster preparedness.
The two measures that Mississippi did not meet were the whooping cough vaccinations – only 82 percent of the target group had received them – and the climate change disaster plan, which is in process.
“I think we’re even more prepared than this report indicates,” Craig said. “One measure was how quickly you can assemble a public health response team when a disaster strikes. The threshold is to do it within 60 minutes, but Mississippi was able to do it in 11 minutes.”
Craig said one of the biggest challenges states face in maintaining such readiness is funding. Federal funds for public health preparedness were greatly boosted after the Sept. 11 attacks, but since 2005, about 38 percent of that funding has been cut, he said.
“What I’m very hopeful is that we’ll be able to maintain the preparedness levels we have,” Craig said. “For that to be true, the funding must remain as well.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com