Lab Matters Summer 2019 - Page 27

PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE COOP Exercises Aim to Keep the Wheels Turning During a Disaster By Samuel Abrams, MPH, PMP, specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response Public health laboratory test results and information help to shape health interventions and policies to protect the public from unpredictable hazards and threats. To minimize disruptions to laboratory operations that could adversely affect community health, public health laboratories maintain plans detailing essential functions and personnel, communications, infrastructure, and other factors to assure ongoing testing and facilitate recovery of the laboratory system even if operations at the laboratory are greatly affected. This emergency response roadmap is called a continuity of operations plan (COOP). In the spring of 2019, APHL partnered with the RAND Corporation to conduct COOP tabletop exercises at four US public health laboratories. Funded by the Division of Laboratory Systems at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the exercises tested laboratory capacity and capability to respond to earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist bombings and other disasters, and assessed COOP policies and procedures for incident management, identification of essential laboratory activities, location of alternative testing sites and restoration of normal operations. Laboratory staff from different functional areas—management, security, facilities and other health department partners— worked through the scenario. As they progressed, they evaluated their current laboratory COOP against the demands of the scenario and noted gaps and critical areas for improvement such as alternative communication methods, increased staff training on COOP, operational exercises, and formal partnerships with laboratories that have the capability and capacity to assist with testing. PublicHealthLabs @APHL A well-developed COOP provides a detailed list of all core testing and support activities that must continue functioning during a disruption to laboratory operations. It outlines the steps necessary to ensure that core testing is completed without delay. COOP activation typically occurs when a laboratory facility experiences a disruption in usability, for example, due to an earthquake or hurricane. A reagent shortage or staffing issues also can lead a laboratory to deploy components of its COOP. A formal report with the findings and key focus areas will be issued to the APHL community. The Public Health Preparedness and Response Committee will use this information to update the existing APHL Guidelines for the Public Health Laboratory Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), a resource for any laboratory establishing or updating its COOP. DIGITAL EXTRA: Read more about COOP on the APHL Lab Blog: Looking Back at Superstorm Sandy: Preparedness for the Public Health Laboratory and Not Even Sandy Could Stop Newborn Screening in New Jersey. With a strong and tested COOP, laboratories can be well prepared to respond to an emergency while continuing to ensure critical public health testing services are met. n Summer 2019 LAB MATTERS 25