The Outbreak Observatory team traveled to St. Louis, Missouri this week to present some of our recent work at this year’s NACCHO Preparedness Summit. The Preparedness Summit is an annual gathering that engages public health, healthcare, and emergency preparedness professionals from across the US on a variety of ongoing and emerging health and security issues. Speakers, presenters, and attendees share challenges and lessons to increase national preparedness for a broad scope of threats, ranging from infectious disease outbreaks and bioterrorism to natural disasters to radiological and nuclear incidents. The theme for this year’s event, “The Emerging Threat Environment,” provided a backdrop for our team to share findings from recent observations and engage with potential partners for future research.

For this week’s post, we will spotlight the Outbreak Observatory presentations at this year’s Preparedness Summit.

Educational Session

On Wednesday, March 27, representatives from the Outbreak Observatory team hosted a panel titled, “Improving Preparedness through the Conduct and Application of Operational Research: Two Jurisdictions’ Experiences Working with the Outbreak Observatory,” moderated by Outbreak Observatory’s Lead Analyst, Diane Meyer. Outbreak Observatory’s Principal Investigator, Jennifer Nuzzo, opened the session with an overview of Outbreak Observatory, including the impetus behind the original concept, our guiding principles and priority topic areas, and our work over the past year. Joining us in this session were two of the primary collaborators on recent Outbreak Observatory observations. Syra Madad represented the New York City Health+Hospitals (NYCH+H) healthcare system, and she discussed the challenges faced by the NYCH+H network during the severe 2017-18 influenza season. Sarah Koeller, from the Chester County Health Department (Pennsylvania) discussed their experience with a 2018 mumps outbreak that primarily affected an immigrant and non-English-speaking population.

Both Dr. Madad and Ms. Koeller also provided insight into their experience engaging with the Outbreak Observatory, including the benefits we were able to provide over the course of our collaborations. Dr. Madad highlighted Outbreak Observatory’s role in facilitating candid discussions with NYCH+H personnel across multiple facilities and identifying deficiencies that led directly to changes for the 2018-19 influenza season. Ms. Koeller noted that Outbreak Observatory participated in Chester County’s after-action debrief, including lines of questioning and topics that they would not have identified on their own. Additionally, Outbreak Observatory provided support in estimating the cost of response activities, which prompted Chester County to incorporate cost and resource tracking processes into response plans for future outbreak investigations.

Attendees engaged actively in a brief discussion after the conclusion of our panelists’ presentations. Several attendees expressed interest in the type of research that Outbreak Observatory conducts, including the potential for conducting observations in the midst of outbreak responses. Additionally, multiple attendees asked about the possibility of expanding our focus to other aspects of response, including pertinent challenges such as vaccine hesitancy and exercise evaluation.

Poster Presentations

The Outbreak Observatory also shared the work from two projects via posters presented on Thursday, March 28. The first poster, “New York City Health+Hospitals’ 2017-18 Seasonal Influenza Response,” shared a more detailed look at the findings from the collaboration with NYCH+H introduced by Dr. Madad at Wednesday’s panel. The second poster was titled “Responding to Outbreaks of Hepatitis A in US Cities- Lessons, Challenges, and Opportunities,” and it focused on the findings from an observation, conducted in collaboration with the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), to investigate the operational challenges facing various jurisdictions responding to outbreaks associated with the nationwide hepatitis A epidemic. Outbreak Observatory aims to publish the full findings and recommendations for both of these observations in the peer-reviewed literature over the coming months.

Conclusion

The NACCHO Preparedness Summit is the perfect venue for us to spread the word about Outbreak Observatory and to share our operational findings with one of our primary target audiences, the on-the-ground public health, healthcare, and emergency preparedness practitioners who plan and implement outbreak response operations. The Preparedness Summit also provides and excellent opportunity for us to identify organizations and individuals who are interested in partnering with Outbreak Observatory in future outbreaks. In fact, we met Ms. Koeller at the 2018 Preparedness Summit, just a few months before they identified the mumps outbreak that she discussed on our Wednesday panel. We are grateful for the opportunity to share our insights with such an attentive audience, and we are excited for the chance to introduce Outbreak Observatory to a broader audience and speak with individuals who may have new operational lessons that they would like to share.

Outbreak Observatory aims to collect information on challenges and solutions associated with outbreak response and share it broadly to allow others to learn from these experiences in order to improve global outbreak response capabilities.