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Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
by David Bresnahan
March 6, 2006

WASHINGTON -- The Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Defense will have a plan for response to a bird flu pandemic completed by the end of March.

Health and Human Services is taking the lead role in the plan that is being completed by each department to create a pandemic influenza plan in time for the end-of-March deadline established by the Dept. of Homeland Defense last year, according to a DoD medical official.

During a recent Joint Operations Medical Managers Course in San Antonio, Texas, Ellen Embrey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, told the gathering that the plan will lay out the roles and responsibilities in varying stages of an avian influenza (bird flu) outbreak, whether in the United States or overseas.

"We've been working on and implementing training and policy guidance to make sure we're prepared globally," said Embrey in a DoD report of the San Antonio course. "We have to ensure we have the surveillance in place, installation preparedness, global understanding and a stockpile of necessary components to mount an effective medical response. It's an enormous task."

Embrey explained that Health and Human Services is in charge of U.S. government response, with Homeland Security responsible for the nonmedical response, and DoD ready to support any national response.

"It's a team effort," Embrey said. "The DoD has a unique set of assets that, when needed, could be used to support the national response." She added that the DoD will play a key role in the nation's preparedness for an outbreak, and when the collaborative planning ends in a few weeks the hard work will be apparent.

Ongoing collaboration between military services and federal agencies is indicative of an ongoing commitment for the Defense Department to work toward an "interoperable and interdependent future," Embrey said in the report.

Each command, according to the DoD report, will have its own implementation plan, a tasking that touches every installation throughout the world. The overarching goals in this planning effort are to preserve operational effectiveness and protect those most at risk. Each combatant commander must have a plan in place to address pandemic influenza and the effect on operations, because some people may be sick for a while, and the commanders have to project how this could affect their ability to perform their mission.

The joint environment is most evident in the medical arena, Embrey said, a trend based on a DoD focus to provide "world-class medical care when needed anywhere in the world."

She cited the battlefield as an example of joint interoperability. When service members are injured in combat, they are administered care by a medic, whether Air Force, Navy or Army, then evacuated by a Navy helicopter or Army Humvee to a forward surgical team, which exists in all services. Once stabilized, they are brought to the next point of care, if needed, by an Air Force fixed-wing aircraft back to a major medical facility, such as the Army's Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio or Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"For us, it's making sure the capabilities we have in each service are interchangeable, so, for instance, any service's medic can operate the same equipment. We don't want to have to learn new equipment when time is of the essence," Embrey said. "Through joint training, standardization and combining and making efficiencies where we can, we can ensure top quality care anytime and anywhere."

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Embrey urged those who are concerned to visit the DoD Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library, which includes information for clinicians, servicemembers, unit leaders, veterans and their families on deployment-related health issues. "It's a one-stop shop to learn about what the department is doing in the health and readiness arena," she said in the report.

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David M. Bresnahan has over 30 years of experience as an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, radio station owner, talk show host, and business owner. David has been a prominent writer for many Internet newspapers.

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Each command, according to the DoD report, will have its own implementation plan, a tasking that touches every installation throughout the world.