across the disciplines that employ them (Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2003). Effective communication and coordination are only possible when concepts and terms are used and understood in the same way by all participants. As is the case with any cross-cultural encounter, however, language is only one potential barrier. A more comprehensive kind of harmonization will require a great deal of effort on the part of each federal, state, and local agency, and of all disciplines involved in preparedness to understand each other’s perspective, assumptions, biases, culture, and goals. Meetings between high-level officials will not suffice to bring this about. Regular, institutionalized, and sustained interaction among program staff will be needed, and all preparedness planning would benefit from applying the values and strategies of cultural competence at the interface between the many disciplines and agencies involved.
The DHS has already recognized the need for a baseline understanding of the terms, acronyms, and phrases regularly used by different federal agencies that are involved in preparedness activities. For example, there are often very different understandings of the terms “first responder” and “surveillance.” The Homeland Security Advisory Council has created a report for the secretary of Homeland Security on the Lexicon Project—a project that would create a homeland security lexicon by identifying the terms, acronyms, and phrases (and their associated definitions) used most commonly by agencies involved in homeland security activities (Moscoso, 2004). The goal is to develop a baseline level of understanding of all the terms and acronyms that are commonly used by different agencies so that communication can be improved (DHS, 2004c). The council has recommended the creation of an electronic database that would be accessible to all federal agencies, Capitol Hill staffers, lawmakers, and state and local agencies as they draft legislation, submit grant proposals, or prepare emergency plans (Moscoso, 2004). The council also has recognized the value in making such a database accessible to the media and other partners so that standard terminology also would be conveyed to the public at large (DHS, 2004c).
Part of the Lexicon Project at DHS involves assembling “foundational documents” from federal agencies that include the terms commonly used when discussing homeland security activities. To the extent that it is not involved already, the committee encourages CDC to work with the DHS to ensure that the commonly used public health preparedness terms and the relevant CDC documents are incorporated into the Lexicon Project and that knowledge of this effort is shared broadly across CDC and DHHS.
In the preceding pages, the committee has outlined challenges and op-