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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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410-767-0823 or 1-877-463-3464