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Health Dept. seeks to raise level of preparedness

JACKSON – The Mississippi Department of Health on Tuesday begana yearlong campaign designed to raise public awareness of emergencypreparedness, public health threats and emergency response.

The “Healthy-Secure-Mississippi” campaign will targetMississippi residents, their families and their communities withthe goal of educating them about existing and newly-createdprograms and services available statewide in the event of anemergency. The campaign will also inform Mississippians of waysthey can prepare for an event or crisis.

“We’ve developed a variety of programs to specifically respondto any event,” said Dr. Brian Amy, state health officer. “We’reready to protect them in the event of an emergency. We have madethe Mississippi Department of Health a go-to agency on educationand information about preparing for these threats.”

Even better, Amy said, is that the tools used to prevent orrespond to a terrorism incident are used in other ways each day,providing significant savings to the state by reducing redundantprograms.

The new system has already proved itself, he said, referring toa large-scale flu vaccination drive late last year where “tens ofthousands” of at-risk adults and children were vaccinated in amatter of days.

Amy called the health department’s terrorism and emergencyprograms and services a model for the nation and said participatingagencies were often consulted by other states seeking to establishsimilar programs.

Amy stressed the willingness of agencies to work together toachieve results as the strength behind the program.

Rusty Fortenberry, commissioner of the Department of PublicSafety, and Robert Latham, executive director of the MississippiEmergency Management Agency, joined Amy in a news conferenceannouncing the campaign Tuesday.

Major changes were made in health department services prior tothe announcement.

Among them was the creation of 38 centers around the statedesigned to specifically respond to a terrorist attack and tocoordinate local response efforts; emergency response coordinatorshave been assigned to every public health district to prepare localemergency services and public health nurses in each district havebeen trained in bioterrorism surveillance and emergencyresponse.

Other changes included the installation of surveillance softwareallowing the state’s hospitals to better detect and treat anydisease, including bioterrorism agents; and the development of 17critical care hospitals designed to meet the public’s needs duringa bioterrorism event.

Health officials said key elements of the awareness campaigninclude a redesigned Web site at www.healthyMS.com, featuringenhanced emergency preparedness and bioterrorism sections and a newhot line (1-866-HLTHY4U) featuring breaking news in three languages- English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

“This campaign is important because it draws attention to(emergency and bioterrorism preparedness) to residents around thestate,” Fortenberry said.