Norwalk Health Department staff, volunteers, and partners talk through an example of a layout for a point of dispensing (POD) to distribute medication to the public. The exercise was part of a training from the National Emergency Response and Rescue Center at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) held in March at Norwalk City Hall. (contributed photo)
NORWALK, CT - No one wants to spend time thinking about natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and other large-scale events that could put us in danger. However, the Norwalk Health Department does just that, and not just during National Preparedness Month in September. Our staff works year-round with partners and volunteers to get ready for public health emergencies. NHD creates plans, conducts trainings and drills, and coordinates with other agencies to ensure we can respond in the event of an emergency.
In the past 2 years, the Health Department has recruited and trained more than 70 volunteers to join our Emergency Response Team (ERT). The ERT is a diverse group of adults who live or work in Norwalk or New Canaan and help Health Department staff prepare for and respond to public health emergencies.
ERT is recruiting its next cohort of members. If you’re interested, contact Donna Schlegel at (203) 854-7979 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In March, the Health Department brought experts from the National Emergency Response and Rescue Center at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) to Norwalk to conduct a training to help us plan and prepare to distribute medications to thousands of residents in the event of an emergency. The training included classroom instruction, as well as several interactive exercises meant to simulate challenges and complications that arise in a real emergency. A total of 43 people participated, including most of the Health Department staff, six ERT volunteers, and representatives from the Norwalk Police Department and the towns of New Canaan and Darien.
ERT volunteer member Steve Bayliss explained that preparedness begins with training and awareness, and he believes the session with TEEX in March enhanced the ERT’s effectiveness.
Trainers from the National Emergency Response and Rescue Center at Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) address Norwalk Health Department staff, volunteers, and partners about public health emergency response at a training held in March at Norwalk City Hall. (contributed photo)
“I’m truly appreciative of the Health Department offering us the opportunity to participate and learn from leading edge providers in National Emergency Response,” said Bayliss. “It was a great learning experience, and it helped us to build critical relationships with members of other important city agencies we would be interacting with during an actual emergency.”
In August, the Health Department and volunteers took the training one step further and practiced setting up a “point of dispensing” (POD), a location where medication would be distributed to citizens in the event of a health emergency. The drill focused on transporting, setting up, and testing all the equipment needed to run a POD, from laptops to power strips to clipboards and directional signs. In total, 18 Health Department staff members and 20 ERT volunteers participated in the drill. Afterward, all participants met to review the team’s performance, identify strengths, and suggest areas for continued improvement.
“The POD drill gave us insight into our team’s readiness to respond to emergencies and identified ways to strengthen and improve our procedures and plan,” said Glenn Iannaccone, Public Health Emergency Response Coordinator.
Of course, the Health Department works with many other partners in Norwalk and throughout the state to plan and coordinate our response. For example, the Department is a member of the regional Healthcare Coalition. In addition, the Health Department is a member of the City’s emergency management team and coordinates with representatives from the Fire Department, Police Department, EMS, and others.
How You Can Help
Even with all this planning and preparation, the Health Department and its City partners in emergency response need your help, too. Of course, we welcome adults to join the ERT.
Even if you can’t volunteer, you can take steps to prepare at home.
1. Visit Us this Saturday at the Library. Health Department staff member Donna Schlegel will be at the Main Branch of the Norwalk Public Library this Saturday, September 15 from 11 am – 1 pm to get information about preparing for an emergency.
2. Check out Dispense Assist. This online screening tool can be used in some public health emergencies to get needed emergency medication to you more quickly. Visit www.dispenseassist.net or the Dispense Assist app, familiarize yourself with the tool, and register.
3. Sign up for alerts. Sign up for the City’s Code Red system and the Notify Me section of the website to get breaking emergency information and Health Department News. You can also follow the Health Department on Facebook and Twitter (@Norwalk Health) to get health news and updates.
4. Make a plan, stock supplies, and build a “Go Kit.” The best time to think about and plan for an emergency is before it happens. Be prepared with food and safe water, basic supplies, medications and medical supplies, and the personal items you need to protect your health in an emergency or in the event of an evacuation. For more information:
Make a plan: https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan
Build a kit: https://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit
Personal health needs: https://www.cdc.gov/phpr/prepareyourhealth/PersonalHealth.htm
About the Norwalk Department of Health: Under the direction of the mayor, and with valuable guidance from its six-member Board of Health, the Norwalk Health Department provides a variety of services and programs to fulfill its mission: to prevent and control the spread of disease, promote a healthy environment, and protect the quality of life within its changing community. The Department’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Division works to ensure that the City of Norwalk responds effectively to natural disasters, bioterrorism and other emergencies that could affect the health of the public. The Health Department achieved accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) in June 2014, demonstrating that it meets or exceeds national public health standards and commits to continuously improve the quality of the services it delivers. More information is available at www.norwalkhealth.com.