Control and Prevention (CDC). Following these case studies, challenges and lessons learned are discussed, and finally a description of the two simulated public engagement exercises performed during the workshop: a community conversation simulation and a Q-sort activity based on a severe influenza pandemic scenario. A list of references, the statement of task, the workshop agenda, and biographical sketches of the panelists are available in the appendixes.


Unexpected incidents occur every day, and generally people find a way to work around them and continue on, said Dr. Umair Shah, deputy director, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services (HCPHES), and director of the HCPHES Division of Disease Control and Clinical Prevention. When such incidents are life-threatening or cause significant harm, they are referred to as emergencies. When emergencies completely overwhelm our abilities to cope or respond, they are called disasters. Disaster incidents are categorized as catastrophic or pervasive and can be manmade or natural in occurrence, Shah explained. Catastrophic incidents occur suddenly, with little or no notice (e.g., intentional acts of violence, mass casualty incidents, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes). In contrast, Shah continued, pervasive incidents can have a slower onset and often progress gradually (e.g., floods, wildfires, pandemic influenza).

Defining Public Engagement

The process of disaster preparedness, response, and recovery is a multifaceted partnership, he said, and communities are key partners in making sure that a disaster response is successful. Citing the 2009 IOM report, Shah said that government at all levels should “partner with and work to ensure strong public engagement of community and provider stakeholders, with particular attention given to the needs of vulnerable populations including those with special needs,” who often are left out of the decision-making process. To help facilitate public involvement, the 2012 IOM Crisis Standards of Care report defines the essential principles of public engagement and includes a user-friendly toolkit for use by state and local agencies.

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