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Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response

Events such as the anthrax attacks on U.S. soil, the 2009 influenza pandemic, the failed car bomb attempt in New York City, and the recent Middle East Respiratory Syndrome epidemic have raised concerns that the nation is vulnerable to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats and emerging infectious diseases.

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leads federal efforts to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies, working with the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal, state, and local entities. HHS can strengthen emergency preparedness and response by:

  • Ensuring clear priorities are periodically reset and communicated for developing and acquiring medical countermeasures, such as drugs and vaccines, to respond to CBRN agents, emerging infectious diseases, and pandemic influenza.
  • Improving countermeasure development, such as establishing facilities to rapidly produce vaccines and countermeasures in an emergency; establishing the use of strategic investors to help fund development of new countermeasures; and improving regulatory requirements for their use.
  • Improving planning for public health emergencies and coordination between federal departments and state and local entities involved in public health emergency response.
  • Ensuring that the nation’s health care systems have “surge capacity”—the ability to respond to mass casualty events and adequately care for a sudden influx of patients with common or unusual medical needs.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

National Preparedness:

National Preparedness:

Improvements Needed for Acquiring Medical Countermeasures to Threats from Terrorism and Other Sources
GAO-12-121:
Published: Oct 26, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 26, 2011.

Influenza Pandemic:

Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic Should Be Incorporated into Future Planning
GAO-11-632:
Published: Jun 27, 2011. Publicly Released: Jun 27, 2011.

National Preparedness:

Public Health Preparedness:

More Reports

National Preparedness:

National Preparedness:

National Preparedness:

FEMA Has Made Progress, but Additional Steps Are Needed to Improve Grant Management and Assess Capabilities
GAO-13-637T:
Published: Jun 25, 2013. Publicly Released: Jun 25, 2013.

National Preparedness:

National Preparedness:

FEMA Has Made Progress in Improving Grant Management and Assessing Capabilities, but Challenges Remain
GAO-13-456T:
Published: Mar 19, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 19, 2013.

Emergency Preparedness:

NRC Needs to Better Understand Likely Public Response to Radiological Incidents at Nuclear Power Plants
GAO-13-243:
Published: Mar 11, 2013. Publicly Released: Apr 10, 2013.

Influenza Pandemic:

Agencies Report Progress in Plans to Protect Federal Workers but Oversight Could Be Improved
GAO-12-748:
Published: Jul 25, 2012. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2012.

Economic Development:

Emergency Preparedness:

FEMA Faces Challenges Integrating Community Preparedness Programs into Its Strategic Approach
GAO-10-193:
Published: Jan 29, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 2010.

Emergency Preparedness:

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High Risk: Public Health Emergencies