Improved coordination of operations, clearer definition of processes and networking of the actors involved – these are the distinguishing features of generic operational planning. Such planning forms the basis for successfully managing biological emergencies. The Berlin Senate Department for Health and Social Affairs has developed a generic model that can be transferred to various crisis scenarios.
Protecting public health in biological emergencies is one of the most urgent tasks faced by cities worldwide. Primarily this involves fighting infectious diseases, pandemics and highly contagious, life-threatening illnesses. Infectious diseases that have hitherto been virtually or entirely unknown pose a particular challenge for the medical profession and other relevant actors for public health protection. One major problem is pathogens that are not spread by bodily contact (such as Ebola) but via the airborne route, such as the MERS-CoV virus, which was first discovered in 2012. Experts assume that the number of such infectious diseases will increase. Moreover, countries located geographically close to regions of military crisis – such as Jordan – must be prepared for possible bioterrorist attacks.
Fighting infectious diseases and managing crisis scenarios requires a high degree of coordination and decision-making, as well as cooperation between numerous different actors such as the public health department, emergency services, hospitals, the police and waste disposal services. Emergency and operational plans drawn up at the local level should support hospitals and other relevant institutions and organisations in taking the necessary steps to contain emergencies, and in coordinating measures. It is also especially important to network the institutional interfaces for operational planning. In most municipalities, however, many different plans are in place, some of which are confusing and many of which are out of date.
Experts from various fields of public health protection agree that the successful management of biological emergencies will be largely dependent on standardised operational planning. In 2012 the Berlin Senate Department for Health and Social Affairs developed and introduced a new plan of operations. The aim is now to possibly also establish this in other local authorities and federal states in Germany, and at the national level. A further aim is international standardisation. To achieve this, it is crucial to maintain a continuous process of intensive exchange with as many countries and cities as possible.
The Berlin Senate Department for Health and Social Affairs has introduced a standardised and generic plan of operations that was discussed and agreed on with all the relevant local actors. The plan is based on five different scenarios for biological emergencies. It distinguishes between individual cases of illness, local and regional epidemics, pandemics and so-called suspected hazardous substances (see table).
The generic plan of operations is supported by a web-based portal. This enables all the actors involved in managing a crisis to obtain continuously updated information in real time (while of course protecting personal and confidential information), and to harmonise and coordinate their plans.
Examples of scenarios in cases of emergency [In German only]
The key element of the plan of operations is its generic structure, which is based on standardised terms and definitions. The plan was drawn up on a modular basis using process flow charts and checklists, which are then applied to the crisis in question. This means that the model developed can be transferred to any field of public health protection, regardless of the particular biological emergency. The Internet enables the various actors to network their plans, and gives them access to a shared pool of data. This can be used by both the public authorities (at the local, regional and national levels), and the other organisations and institutions involved. It also creates the possibility of establishing links in other thematic areas that may be relevant in crisis situations, such as water supply.
The findings to date demonstrate the success of the strategy. Standards make planning more reliable. They form the basis for meaningful emergency plans that ensure optimal management of the resources available. The generic structure increases transparency for all concerned – at both the local and higher levels. This leads to overall growth in the professional management of acute emergencies, and builds capacities for responding to new challenges.
Senatsverwaltung für Gesundheit, Pflege und Gleichstellung
T +49 (0) 30 9028-1508