Blog: From OP&R


Expand the sections below to read exciting stories from the Office of Preparedness and Response!


Keeping Connected: Using Radios To Communicate During Disaster (January 2018)


Communicating during an emergency can be life or death. If the telephone or internet does not work during an emergency, how can staff at the Office of Preparedness and Response coordinate with partners across Maryland? The answer: a Maryland First responders Interoperable Radio System Team (MDFiRST) Network.

These radios allow the Maryland Department of Health to connect with state and local first responders across Maryland. The state-of-the-art 700 MHz radio provides seamless communication between partners in multiple jurisdictions using a single radio.

These MDFiRST radios use “code plugs,” which define the groups the radio can communicate with. Specialized code plugs have been developed for use by the Maryland Department of Health, local health departments, state facilities, and local jurisdictions. Partners can add more code plugs on their radios so they can coordinate with local response personnel, such as fire departments or offices of emergency management. During a national emergency, the radios are capable of linking to other responders across the country. 

The Office of Preparedness and Response began distributing MDFiRST radios to the Maryland Department of Health’s state facilities in December  2017. Staff continue to distribute radios to partners across Maryland, including the Office of Food Protection and Maryland’s 24 local health departments. After distribution, the Office of Preparedness and Response schedules training classes and regular drills. This makes sure partners are well practiced at using the backup communications system during an emergency.​

Office of Preparedness and Response Joins Effort to Combat Maryland's Opioid Crisis (October 2017)


The rapidly rising number of deaths from heroin, fentanyl, prescription painkillers, and other opioids led Governor Larry Hogan to declare a State of Emergency in March 2017. Several staff from the Office of Preparedness and Response joined this effort to combat Maryland’s opioid crisis.

Office of Preparedness and Response planners, epidemiologists, and more continue to play pivotal roles in facilitating the Maryland Department of Health and statewide efforts. Experts from the Office of Preparedness and Response lend their talents to the Opioid Operational Command Center, which works to reduce the harmful impacts of opioid addiction through education, prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Office of Preparedness and Response staff contribute in many ways:

  • ​Two planners serve critical roles in the Incident Command System as the Planning Section Chief and Health and Medical Branch lead (under the Operations Section). In these roles, they helped to develop and establish statewide goals and objectives for the Opioid Operational Command Center, leading to the development of a logic model and Coordination Plan. They also coordinate bi-weekly Incident Action Plans and connect experts from a variety of agencies.
  • Epidemiologists use the Electronic Surveillance System for the Early Notification of Community-based Epidemics (ESSENCE) to identify unintentional non-fatal opioid-involved overdoses. ESSENCE receives real-time data from every acute care hospital Emergency Department in Maryland – the only state to do so. This data supports response and prevention planning by anticipating overdose trends.
  • The Medical Director/State Preparedness Coordinator provides naloxone training for Maryland Department of Health, Department of General Services, and Capitol Police employees. He also created Overdose Response Program training kits for local health departments to use in their naloxone training and outreach efforts.
  • The Director and Deputy Director provided programmatic technical assistance and co-lead a facilitated discussion with state partners on future planning for the Opioid Operational Command Center.
  • The Public Information Officer serves in the Joint Information Center, where communications professionals across multiple state agencies coordinate opioid messaging.
  • The Office of Preparedness and Response also connects regional coalition partners, local emergency managers, and local health departments. These local health departments lead Opioid Intervention Teams, which implement the statewide efforts locally.

As a part of the statewide effort to combat the opioid crisis in Maryland, the Office of Preparedness and Response plays a critical role in educating partners about the science of substance use disorder, as well as best and promising practices in the effort ahead.


Presidential Inauguration Deployment (January 2017)


In support of the 2017 Presidential Inauguration, CDC Preparedness Field Assignee Amanda Driesse was reassigned to the Washington D.C. Department of Health from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Office of Preparedness and Response. Driesse spent three weeks, from Jan. 9-27, 2017, assisting with Inauguration activities.

Before the Jan. 20 Inauguration Day, Driesse assisted with the Health Alert Network (HAN) and information-sharing drills with Washington D.C. Department of Health partners. She also wrote the After-Action Report and improvement plan for the agency's Pre-Inauguration Drill for closed Point of Dispensing (POD) partners. 

During the Inauguration response, Driesse served as Situation Unit Leader in the Planning Section of the Incident Command System (ICS). In this role, she:
  • Established timelines and reporting protocols for situation reports, 
  • Gathered information from internal and external partners, 
  • Compiled and distributed accurate situation reports and spot reports, 
  • Monitored WebEOC and other Washington D.C.-specific systems for situational awareness, and
  • Worked through the Incident Command System (ICS) chain of command to gather and validate information.

After the National Special Security Event ended, Driesse helped to develop the After-Action Report for the entire Washington D.C. Department of Health’s response to the Inauguration.



Zika Response in American Samoa (May 2016)


In May 2016, Jessica Goodell was deployed to American Samoa to support the Zika response. Goodell, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Temporary Epidemiology Field Assignee with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, served during her deployment as the CDC’s Country and Team Lead.

The public health Zika response in American Samoa included:

  • ​​Implementing enhanced surveillance systems to identify and diagnose suspected cases of Zika;
  • Vector control activities (reducing the number of mosquitos which transmit Zika);
  • Educating the public and medical providers;
  • Prevention activities focused on pregnant women; and
  • Monitoring pregnant women with Zika Virus and their fetuses and infants.

Educational materials were translated into several languages and distributed among pregnant women, clinicians, men, and youths. There are no social media platforms, so radio, television, newspapers, and the airport were all used to educate the public about Zika.

The response faced several challenges, including a limited lab capacity in American Samoa to test cases of Zika. Samples had to be sent off the island for testing and interpretation of results.

During her deployment, Goodell led a Zika 101 Train the Trainer session for over 50 local staff. Her deployment had many successes, including the implementation of a standard operating procedure. Goodell also re-initiated a process for hiring long-term staff in American Samoa. 


How an Extreme Heat Plan Helped Save Thousands of Lives (July 2014)


In May 2011, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene developed the state’s first Extreme Heat Plan, reducing the number of deaths in Maryland and leading the National Weather Service to change their Heat Advisory criteria in Maryland.

A pairing of temperature data and surveillance reports found a trend in the number of heat-related emergency department visits and deaths during extreme heat. When temperatures rose above a 105°F Heat Index (how hot it feels when relative humidity is combined with air temperature), heat-related illness and death significantly increased. 

These findings led to the creation of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Extreme Heat Plan. The plan initiates actions during pre-summer, pre-event, heat advisory, heat warning, complex heat emergency, and post-summer.

Starting in April of each year, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene monitors temperatures, National Weather Service advisories, and deaths related to heat. Educational materials are released to the public and local health departments to raise awareness about heat emergencies. Maryland 2-1-1, an information hotline, also provides callers with information about cooling centers.

Heat not only affects individuals, but also health care facilities. In June 29, 2012, a fast-moving band of thunderstorms, called a Derecho, caused widespread wind damage and power outages. These power outages affected dozens of vulnerable facilities, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, in-patient hospices, and dialysis centers. Emailing Excel spreadsheets between facilities became unwieldy and required significant staff time. In response, a real-time facility tracking tool was developed to monitor power status for these vulnerable facilities. This system was tested during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 and future summer seasons, lessening the impact of heat exposure risk due to power failure.

Because of these actions by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, heat-related emergency department visits in Maryland decreased by 27 percent and deaths decreased by 50 percent between 2011 and 2013.

Responding to Superstorm Sandy (December 2012)

When disaster strikes, having an emergency plan in place can reduce the impact and lead to a quicker recovery. When Superstorm Sandy hit Maryland in late October 2012, rain and blizzards caused power outages in Western Maryland. However, the plans created by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Office of Preparedness and Response helped reduce the number of public health emergencies following the storm by:
  • Opening three emergency shelters. One of these shelters housed 119 vulnerable adults who evacuated a nursing home following generator failure.
  • Calling 880 vulnerable residents in Garrett County.
  • Visiting vulnerable adults at home if they could not be reached by phone.
  • Deploying ambulance strike teams to help with search and rescue, deliver medical equipment, and conduct wellness checks.

The coordination between the Office of Preparedness and Response, the Garrett County Emergency Operations Centers, and the Garrett County public health emergency preparedness (PHEP) planner reduced the number of residents needing emergency services and allowed for a speedy recovery.

For more information about Maryland’s response to Superstorm Sandy, visit​