Emergency Preparedness & Response


Preparedness and response involves effective collaboration among government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, the private sector, communities, and individuals. Planning, training, and ongoing quality improvement are crucial to executing essential services, response, and recovery during and after an emergency [1].


Public health threats are always present. They include natural disasters; biological, chemical, and radiological incidents; and explosions. The impact of these threats can range from local outbreaks to incidents with national and global ramifications. Being prepared to prevent, respond to, and rapidly recover from public health threats can protect the health and safety of the public and emergency responders.

The DC Healthy People 2020 goals for Emergency Preparedness & Response include:

1. The DC community effectively coordinates and cooperates during emergency preparedness, response, and recovery efforts.
2. Preparedness, response, and recovery efforts are timely, effective, and continuously tested and improved.

The District of Columbia, like all major cities, faces many threats with the potential for large-scale health consequences, including disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. The public health, health care, and emergency response systems must be prepared to mitigate the morbidity and mortality associated with these threats. Securing the District’s health and effectively and expediently responding to emergencies are formidable challenges, and a shared responsibility for all parts of the city [1].

Preparedness Planning

The District Response Plan identifies DC Health as the coordinating agency for the Emergency Support Function in the District. Through this coordination structure, DC Health and its response partners:

  •  Provide mechanisms for coordinating District assistance and resources to identify and respond to public health and healthcare system needs during an emergency.

• Provide a coordinated and effective District government approach to an emergency that impedes routine public health and healthcare systems provided within the District.

An integral piece of preparedness is planning and developing plans for different response capabilities. DC Health collaborates with many partners locally and across the region to 1. prepare for public health threats requiring the distribution and dispensing of medical countermeasures and 2. coordinate with stakeholders to support the healthcare system when the demand for services during and after large-scale emergencies can be overwhelming. This includes planning for the need to open Points of Dispensing (PODs) across the District to provide life-saving medications or vaccines to at-risk populations during acts of bioterrorism or influenza pandemics.

These preparedness planning efforts are coordinated through the District’s official healthcare coalition, the DC Health and Medical Coalition (DC HMC). The DC HMC ensures each member has what it needs to respond to emergencies and planned events, including medical equipment and supplies, real-time information, communication systems, and trained health care personnel. The DC HMC activates the Health and Medical Branch to facilitate information sharing and coordinate resources during healthcare emergencies. During the 2018 Boil Water Advisory, the branch took the lead in coordinating situational conference calls and water restoration to affected healthcare facilities. During National Special Security Events and large scale special events, the branch ensures facilities are prepared to respond to the increased potential for active threats against visitors and residents during the event.


In collaboration with the DC Health and Medical Coalition, DC Health coordinates the development and implementation of the DC Mass Casualty and Trauma Plan. This plan provides the framework for the management of public health and medical response to a mass trauma emergency in the District. The plan is a collaboration between DC Level 1 Trauma Centers and hospitals, Emergency Room Medical Directors, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Agency Medical Directors,  representative of healthcare facilities, healthcare providers, and Emergency Response agency partners.

The DC Trauma Registry collects information about physical trauma cases that present in one of the four Trauma centers in the District. A key indicator of emergency preparedness and response is the percentage of trauma cases that result in death. In 2018, that percentage rose slightly to 4.1% of trauma cases [2]. DC Health also monitors emergency department data from hospitals within the District of Columbia. Based on chief complaints, this syndromic surveillance system is designed to identify possible high-priority bioterrorism agents such as anthrax.

Response Planning

There are several cross-jurisdiction and cross-sector groups that implement response and mitigation activities across the District.  DC Health coordinates the health and medical response from appropriate District, regional, federal, and private agencies, working through the DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), to assist with coordination of the District’s overall emergency response. DC Health provides mechanisms for coordinating District assistance and resources to identify and respond to public health and healthcare system needs during an emergency or planned event such as the Presidential Inauguration, State of the Union, and National Independence Day Celebration.

An important component of response planning  is ensuring that all first responders are properly trained and equipped to respond in an instant. DC Health partners with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to assure that all emergency medical responders and EMTs pass the national standards testing and maintain competency through ongoing skill-training, proficiency-monitoring and continuing education courses.

The DC Medical Reserve Corps’ (MRC) works to establish a network of local volunteers who are willing to donate their time and expertise to supplement existing public health and medical resources during emergencies and other times of community need. The DC MRC is made up of doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, dentists, veterinarians, social workers, and other medical professionals, as well as some non-medical support personnel. All volunteers receive free course instruction in the areas of the Incident Command System, Strategic National Stockpile, Weapons of Mass Destruction and other trainings relevant to emergency response.

Assets & Resources

• Disaster preparedness for individuals with special needs

• Guide for District Residents to Plan for Emergencies

• DC Recommended Emergency Supplies List

• Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Training

• Youth Preparedness

• CPR/AED/First Aid Training

• Active Shooter Response Training

• DC Medical Reserve Corps

• DC Public Health Emergency Law Manual

• Resilient DC Strategy

• Ready DC

 Special Event Medical Planning

• General Emergency Preparedness Guides by language
• Amharic
• English
• French
• Korean
• Mandarin
• Spanish
• Vietnamese





Promising Practices & Policies

• PR-I Improve data infrastructure surrounding timeliness of emergency response communications and events.

• Health and Safety Plans
If you are hosting an event in the District you will need to develop a health and safety plan. DC Health in conjunction with the Mayors Special Event Task Group requires that all event coordinators submit a Health, Medical and Safety Plan for review and approval by DC Health and DC Fire & Emergency Medical Services (DC FEMS).

Funding Opportunities

HSEMA Grant Funding

Citations & Additional Data Resources


1. DC Healthy People 2020 Framework

2. DC Health Trauma System and Registry

Additional Data & Plans

• Homeland Security and Emergency Management Strategy

Photo Credits:

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

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