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My View: Disaster planners polish plans countywide

On June 30 the Portland Tribune published a front-page article describing a report critical of the status of Multnomah County's emergency preparedness (Report slams disaster plan). We are writing to give you a Multnomah County Health Department perspective on the article.

There is good reason for readers, county residents and regional partners to be concerned over the Tribune article about the recently released report on emergency preparedness in Multnomah County.

The article noted that the report was focused on the County Office of Emergency Management. It also stated that some county departments, including the health department, are doing a good job.

The health department has primary responsibility for a number of county and regional health-preparedness activities, and we want to make the public aware of what we're doing.

The Multnomah County Health Department is well along on its journey toward a high state of readiness to respond to public health emergencies. Documentation is available on the Web site mchealth.org. Click on the expanding red square icon around the words 'Emergency Preparedness: Health Department' to find our public health-emergency response plan. You also can find after-action reports for health department exercises.

The site also includes the full content of an Emergency Preparedness Pocket Guide for residents. The guide will be mailed to the homes of all returning Portland school district students this summer, and more than 200,000 copies have been distributed to community groups and organizations all over the county for them to hand out.

We also have trained a large health department Incident Management Team. The team has been trained in the National Incident Management System's Incident Command System, accepted as a national standard by the Department of Homeland Security in 2004.

In November we will participate in a two-day statewide exercise testing our response to an influenza pandemic.

The health department also serves as the regional lead agency for a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant. In this role we have taken on responsibility for guiding health care-emergency preparedness in a six-county region through the NW Oregon Health Preparedness Organization.

The group is managing multiple projects to improve preparedness among providers and organizations that are critical to managing the health aspects of an emergency.

In summary, the health department has gone far to become a highly competent emergency management organization. Our work has been cited as exemplary by the Rand Corp. and other national organizations.

But we still need to do more. Along with providing a wide array of important health programs and 'safety net' services, preparing for and responding to emergencies will continue to be an integral part of the Multnomah County Health Department's mission.

Also, because some major and 'worst-case' emergencies will require the support and coordination services of the county's Office of Emergency Management, we are committed to working within the county structure to make sure that the deficiencies in the office are addressed in an appropriate and timely fashion.

Lillian Shirley is director of the Multnomah County Health Department.