DomesticPreparedness met with Rear Admiral W. Craig Vanderwagen, M.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Chief Preparedness Officer, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Chief Preparedness Officer, HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt’s principal advisor on bioterrorism and other public health emergencies, addresses the guiding principle “one team, one fight.” In his remarks, he discusses the team-orientation approach used by the Public Health Service (PHS), the transfer of the National Disaster Management System (NDMS) to HHS, and the emphasis on building local capacity buttressed by regional support.

An Overview of Public Health Preparedness 

How HHS disaster-management activities and exercises focus attention on improving the nation’s overall medical support infrastructure and on further professionalizing individual behaviors to strengthen the culture of preparedness.

The Public Health Service and Team-Oriented Deployment 

The collective effort to articulate functions for the department’s three principal team categories: rapid response, mental health, and the incident-response coordination teams (IRCTs). Training, rostering, and equipping the teams. The fulltime HHS deployable force.

Lessons Learned From the Response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita 

The need to ensure that state and local medical-response capacities are strong and that command-and-coordination capabilities are resilient. Improving data collection on local assets through use of the DHS Target Capabilities List (TCL). Strengthening the regional pre-positioning of federal assets.

The Transfer of NDMS to HHS

Achieving incremental transfer by 1 March with the goal of increasing state controls of NDMA assets. The DMAT focus on pre-hospital care, and the PHS focus on longer-term care.

Health Information Technology 

The American Health Information Consortium (AHIC) draft standard for emergency services. This year’s pilot test of a deployable, interoperable first-responder electronic health record. The importance of an electronic health record to syndromic surveillance and improvements to BioSense.

Closing Thoughts Taken From the Tsunami Relief and Iraq Operations 

How effectively the Indonesians demonstrated the importance of resiliency in their efforts to regain control during the tsunami recovery phase. How Iraq’s forty-year neglect of its hospital system is hampering restoration of the nation’s public health. In light of these two examples, how HHS must keep educating Americans on the need for institutional and individual preparedness.

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W. Craig Vanderwagen

Rear Admiral W. Craig Vanderwagen, M.D., was appointed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Public Health Emergency Preparedness and promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, Upper Half, U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) in July 2006. He now serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response and Chief Preparedness Officer. In this position, he is the HHS Secretary's principal advisor on matters related to bioterrorism and other public health emergencies. The mission of his office is to lead the nation in preventing, responding to, and reducing the adverse health effects of public health emergencies and disasters. Admiral Vanderwagen has significant public health emergency and disaster-response experience. Most recently, he was the deputy secretary's special assistant for preparedness and led the teams that implemented the changes at HHS recommended in the White House Report Katrina Lessons Learned. He also: was the senior federal health official in the response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in Louisiana; led the public health team deployed on the hospital ship USNS Mercy to Indonesia to assist in the 2005 tsunami recovery; served as chief of public health for the Coalition Provisional Authority and Ministry of Health in Iraq; and directed some of the health care operations initiated to help Kosovar refugees during the 1999 Balkans conflict.

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