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Joint Commission Issues Guide to Ready America’s Communities for Natural Disasters and Terror Attacks


OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill., Sept. 16 -- The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations today issued the step-by-step guide, “Standing Together: An Emergency Planning Guide for America’s Communities,” for small, rural and suburban communities to both prepare for and successfully respond to major local and regional emergencies -- whether they be hurricanes, floods, terrorist attacks, major infectious outbreaks, hazardous materials spills, or other catastrophic occurrences.

“The devastation of Hurricane Katrina is an all too recent and stark reminder of the need to anticipate and plan for mass casualty disasters,” says Dennis S. O’Leary, M.D., president, Joint Commission. “Communities need to grasp the reality that they may well be largely on their own for several days following a major disaster.”

The planning guide is the culmination of a two-year project funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems and the National Center for Emergency Preparedness at Columbia University. The centerpiece of the project involved the convening of two expert roundtable sessions in May and October 2004 to identify challenges, solutions and recommendations. The national 43-member panel included representatives of federal, state and local agencies; front-line emergency responders, emergency preparedness planners, and public health and hospital community leaders, among others. The Joint Commission also drew on The 9/11 Commission Report from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and reports from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The comprehensive planning guide provides 13 essential steps that local government and public health leaders can use to establish an effective community-based emergency management planning and response process. These steps acknowledge that small communities face a number of significant barriers to emergency readiness, such as uncertainty about who is responsible for planning, how to fund emergency readiness efforts, what exactly constitutes the planning and response processes, and how to coordinate with state and federal emergency management resources.

“America’s small towns and rural communities need practical tools to prepare for the various types of disasters that can inflict devastating harm in the form of lost lives and damage to critical community infrastructure and property,” says Joseph Cappiello, vice president, Accreditation Field Operations, Joint Commission. “The time for the collaboration, coordination and communication that is vital to a strong emergency preparedness plan is now.”

The guide offers a number of specific real-world examples, such as:

-- Safeguarding data and systems in the event of a natural disaster: Saco, Maine (pop. 16,000) held a disaster recovery workshop and simulation exercise for representatives from all city agencies and some local businesses to test back-up computer storage and telecommunications, and back-up power generation systems.

-- Establishing linkages with federal and state mental health resources: The New Hampshire Department of Safety, Bureau of Emergency Management has developed organized teams of behavioral health providers to respond to the mental health needs of residents following disasters.

-- Ensuring culturally sensitive communication: In the aftermath of the 2004 hurricanes, DeSoto County, Fla., hospital officials deployed mobile care units staffed by bilingual individuals to treat injuries and provide information to the migrant workers living in the area’s citrus groves about availability of safe water.

-- Identifying appropriate planning partners: Caterpillar, one of the largest industries in the Peoria, Ill., area, participated extensively in emergency management plan development and offered specific response support in the form of heavy construction equipment that might be needed in the event of a disaster.

“While a public responsibility overall, truly being prepared for and responding effectively to a health emergency requires strong public-private sector collaboration,” says Patrick Libbey, executive director, National Association of County & City Health Officials. “The partnerships envisioned in the Joint Commission’s planning guide are especially critical for the country’s smaller, rural and suburban communities. This guide provides a clear, comprehensive and concise description of the actions needed to ensure our communities are as well protected as possible in the event of a health emergency.”

The 13 identified sequential components of an effective community-based emergency management planning process build on the recommendations set forth in the Joint Commission’s March 2003 white paper, “Health Care at the Crossroads: Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Community-wide Emergency Preparedness Systems.” In the new guide, the strategies for and examples of each component are geared specifically to small, rural, and suburban communities. The component steps are to:

1. Define the community

2. Identify and establish an emergency management preparedness and response team

3. Determine the risks and hazards the community faces

4. Set goals for preparedness and response planning

5. Determine current capacities and capabilities

6. Develop the integrated plan

7. Ensure thorough communication planning

8. Ensure thorough mental health planning

9. Ensure planning related to vulnerable populations

10. Identify, cultivate, and sustain funding sources

11. Train, exercise, and drill collaboratively

12. Critique and improve the integrated community plan

13. Sustain collaboration, communication, and coordination

For a complete copy of the Joint Commission planning guide, go to “Headline News” at


Founded in 1951, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations seeks to continuously improve the safety and quality of care provided to the public through the provision of health care accreditation and related services that support performance improvement in health care organizations. The Joint Commission evaluates and accredits more than 15,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States, including more than 8,200 hospitals and home care organizations, and more than 6,800 other health care organizations that provide long term care, assisted living, behavioral health care, laboratory and ambulatory care services. The Joint Commission also accredits health plans, integrated delivery networks, and other managed care entities. In addition, the Joint Commission provides certification of disease-specific care programs, primary stroke centers, and health care staffing services. An independent, not-for-profit organization, the Joint Commission is the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. Learn more about the Joint Commission at


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