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.
“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 and Prepare
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.