How Does NJ Rate in Emergency Preparedness?

By Erin Delmore

“If you’re exchanging business cards in an emergency response, you haven’t been doing the kind of connection you need to do day to day,” said Alonzo Plough, vice president for Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is taking a close look at emergency preparedness state by state and the report warns, we’re only as prepared as our neighbors. New Jersey scored a 6.8 on the 10-point scale — right in line with the national average.

“Our response to disasters and emergencies range from disease outbreaks like Ebola to extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy,” Plough said.

A more recent example: the Hoboken train derailment last fall, which required a cross-agency effort to triage the wounded on site.

“What you saw were the hospitals setting up the triage tents, those hospitals back on their sites were freeing up beds that were not needed for people that were emergency people who’d come in. All of that kind of interaction between the hospital, between the police, between public health, fire because there’s always a fire issue. That’s what we mean by mobilization and rapid response,” Plough said.

The northeastern states outperformed the rest of the country. Scores slipped in the southeastern and mountain states, where health care centers and emergency response units are fewer and farther between. While New Jersey’s stats and the national average both show improvement since the index was founded in 2013, experts say there’s no reason to be complacent.

“Like in all states, we would like to see more and more rapid improvement. I think in the report we referred to it as sluggish improvement. We really want to make sure that we have a fabric of protection across the nation. Preparedness means having 50 states where we’re operating at the top of our game,” Plough said.

While local, state and national responders prepare and practice for emergencies, experts say the most improvement is needed at the community level. After all, they say, your neighbor is often your first responder. Community engagement and hospital preparedness come to a head over the vaccine crisis. Health care professionals are urging new parents to immunize their kids.

“A measles outbreak, which shouldn’t happen if children are up to speeds on their vaccines often happen because some families may choose not to vaccinate. From a public health standpoint, that’s not the best choice to protect your child or the community, but you have to be able to respond. And really one case of measles in the United States is cause for great alarm. And most hospitals and public health departments treat just one or two cases as a major outbreak,” Plough said.

Experts say a healthy and insured population is better prepared to withstand an emergency, as are families with a first aid kit and at least three day’s food in the home.

Experts at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation say they hope the report doesn’t fall on deaf ears. And in fact, they’re inviting the public to come forward with stories of what works in their communities. You can find an outlet for those comments on the index’s website.