Advancing Research for Public Health Emergency Preparedness in Canada


6 May 2019

Disasters and emergencies from infectious diseases, extreme weather and human-related events are on the rise and can have major adverse effects on our health, including disease, disability and death. While emergencies tend to raise our awareness about the need to be prepared, public health agencies (PHAs) prepare for emergencies largely in the background until an event occurs. PHAs aim to mitigate risks and protect the health of those in their communities; however, it can be challenging to prepare for potential emergencies that range in likelihood and impact. It is important for public health practitioners to define what it means to be prepared for diverse disaster and emergency risks, however, clarifying definitions and identifying metrics have been knowledge gaps in public health emergency preparedness (PHEP).

Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 2015, Public Health Ontario (PHO) began collaborating with researchers and potential knowledge users on PHEP study to answer two key questions: Are we prepared? and How do we measure it?

The results of phase one, Public Health Emergency Preparedness: A Framework to Promote Resilience, were published in December 2018. This paper summarizes the results of the qualitative study conducted using six focus groups across Canada. The framework that was developed consists of 11 essential elements of public health emergency preparedness. Governance and leadership is a cross-cutting element with 10 inter-linked elements representing key aspects of PHEP for local/regional public health agencies in Canada.

Emergencies are not limited to jurisdictional boundaries and it is important to have collaborative approaches to defining and measuring PHEP in the Canadian context. Look out for a future blog post that will highlight the results from phase 2 of the study, which developed a list of PHEP indicators.

In addition to this CIHR-funded project, PHO has published a number of studies recently that relate to public health activities and science for emergency preparedness and response:

  1. Comparing Twitter data to routine data sources in public health surveillance for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games: an ecological study
  2. A systematic review of the health impacts of occupational exposure to wildland fires
  3. Evaluating risk communication during extreme weather and climate change : a scoping review 

PHO Rounds: Measles outbreaks in Canada: a brief modelling study

This PHO Rounds will describe the results of a brief modelling study that explores the impact of public health interventions such as vaccinations, case and contact management, and their potential impact on measles cases and outbreaks.

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Updated 6 May 2019