Transcript of Get Ready Report podcast Episode 14: “Preparedness across the nation: Kansas Public Health Association helps residents get ready”

Interview with Elaine Schwartz, executive director of the Kansas Public Health Association. Listen to this podcast.

Why is Get Ready campaign and preparedness so important to your association?

There’s so much out there, and what APHA Get Ready format has done is to put it all together and all we have to do is access it. So we’re very pleased that APHA put a lot of time and investment in the Get Ready program.

What issues are most important to Kansas residents in terms of preparedness?

I solicited two different responses to that question. We have two counties in Kansas that have urban areas of our state, being Wichita, Kan., and then Kansas City, Kansas, so I’m going to tell you two responses to that question.

The first is that local citizens are most interested in what’s being done by government and professional responders related to comprehensive emergency preparedness. These activities could be the development of a vaccine or a policy related to how outdoor warning sirens are alarmed. Sadly, there does not seem to be an increase in the number of individuals interested in what they can do as part of the overall concept. So Get Ready has been helpful to increase that interest.

Secondly, we believe that the issues that are important are things like winter storms (this is from our emergency preparedness — he’s on our board from Wichita, Kan.) winter storms and tornadoes are our biggest concerns. This includes not just disasters themselves but the hours and days afterwards when recovery starts.

Because Kansas is in the central plains region (we’re getting into the weather aspect now) are there more climate-related threats for which people need to prepare in Kansas rather than other places in the United States?

According to our emergency preparedness person from Johnson County, which is the Kansas City area, she said that the state of Kansas ranked 22 hazards that impact communities within the state. Four of the top five are severe-weather related, and nearly 75 percent of all identified hazards are directly related to, or consequences of, traumatic conditions and moreover, given that terrorist activities generally are more significantly spread in urban areas, this hazard is more limited to the major urban areas more than the rest of the entire part of the state. Our board member from Wichita said that there are more climate related threats, but certainly a different mix than what other regions deal with. Winter storms keep the attention of emergency preparedness in the cold months, and in the spring and summer there are threats of tornadoes and flooding. I think we’ve made national news several times with tornadoes in Kansas — the Greensburg tornado recently and the one in Chapman.

Yes because I think that huge storm that came from California all the way to the East Coast passed through there, didn’t it?

Yes it did, and we had a lot of little warnings and big warnings going off from our weather radios!

Your association distributes information at meetings such as health fairs and the annual Governor’s Public Health Conference in Kansas. At most of these meetings, the expected main audience would be public health officials, which have existing expertise in this area. Have you found this to be true or what have you found to be the main preparedness concerns of public health professionals in Kansas, and I think you touched on it in No. 3, but did you have anything more to say about that?

As with a lot of areas, it is the apathy of the general public in being prepared for storms, and there are some people that receive warnings but don’t heed the warnings and stay, so training to work with the public and also the training on how to get people prepared.

Yes, definitely, because if you don’t get out you’re going to get stuck and you can have that huge issue like Katrina where a lot of people didn’t leave.

We have had that in Kansas in some cases with both flooding issues and tornado issues. They want to stay, and I think in rural states you see that a lot too, with the fact that that’s been their home for all of their lives, especially older people and disabled people they don’t tend to heed the warnings to evacuate.

So you think they’re just used to it? Like they’ve been through it enough times?

Exactly. They want to wait it out — they think it’s not going to be as bad as what they’ve already been through.

What specific Get Ready campaign materials will we expect to see when we visit your booth at a conference or a meeting? Are they dual purpose, by addressing the preparedness needs of both public health professionals and residents?

We have used the Get Ready materials that are on the APHA website and printed the fact sheets off, but we’ve also tailored those a little bit to our state. And when we’ve done things like legislative forums, we’ve had our state agency with emergency preparedness develop a slide show that integrated some of the information from Get Ready and a little more specific information to our state. We’ve used a lot of different formats and we’d like to try the new format of having PowerPoint or an ongoing slide show on a photo screen going so we’re always looking for new ways to get the word out at the least cost we’d have to spend to do that.

Your association also sends out newsletters containing Get Ready campaign material. Is your newsletter the main association newsletter or have you created a special Get Ready newsletter?

The answer is yes to both. We didn’t really call it the Get Ready newsletter, but two years ago we had an emergency preparedness section chair that did their own newsletter with their section members that were really interested in emergency preparedness. There was actually two co-chairs, and they put together a newsletter (this was when Get Ready was getting going) and they used that a lot and they got all of our section members interested in what was going on. But then the next emergency preparedness section chair did not carry that on, because I think they felt that everybody really knew about where to find the information. So what we’ve done in the main newsletter that we produce quarterly is to focus on having section reports, and we have articles from the section chairs and emergency preparedness tries to put out information that may be new that the membership needs to know.

The Kansas Public Health Association is entering into collaboration with the Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau. How did the decision to collaborate emerge?

We actually we started off with the Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau, but it actually led to the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, because what we trying to do was to focus it on businesses being prepared for pandemics. So the first discussions happened with the Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau, but really it’s the chambers with employers that we really wanted to target. We kind of just started working on that area and we’ve had meetings with two different chambers to talk about how we can share with employers some of the tips or the issues with the pandemics or with emergency preparedness disasters. So we’re really just getting started with those discussions. But it did go from the Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau over to the Chamber of Commerce.

What is the goal of the collaboration? With this particular collaboration, you also have the chance to educate non-Kansas residents about emergency preparedness, so what end results do you — as well as the Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as the Chamber of Commerce — hope to achieve?

The main thing is that we’ll have workplace wellness and workplace readiness. We’ve tried to encourage healthier situations in both emergency and non-emergency situations so that they will feel like they have a place to go where they can get materials for giving to their employees. So it’s a win-win for both the public health association and for the employers in the state. The verbage in our vision changed this past year, it’s very short, it’s “Working for a Healthier Kansas,” and we hope that through these types of projects and working with these employers that we can have them really tuned in to what is going on in public health, whether it’s emergency preparedness, infectious disease, all of those.

What activities or initiatives will all the parties in this collaborative effort employ to obtain success in reaching those goals? You just started that conversation. Have you gotten that far yet?

No, we haven’t really gotten the funding yet; we have some local state foundations that we want to seek funding for to help with this, and then if need be we would also look at policy and legislative ways that we could get this going. We were getting started on putting the collaboration together and then with H1N1 everything got put on hold and I think that’s the way it was across the country. There was a lot of “let’s get prepared” and then all of a sudden it hit, so we really had to put into gear all the preparedness campaigns for H1N1.

The idea of workplace wellness and working with disasters or pandemic preparedness is something that employers are constantly interested in, and so even though our state health department is very good at working with employers, there’s not been the campaign to pull everyone together that is in public health, whether it’s state health, local health or academic health, and all of the other particular health advocates that are working across the state. I saw a thing somewhere that I was at, in fact I still have it here on my desk: “The only thing more important than hiring the right employee is the health of the employee,” and I think that if you don’t have a healthy employee you really don’t have a good employee. Keeping them healthy is really important and that’s one of the things I think with workplace wellness would help us in our vision of “working for a healthier Kansas.

Interview conducted April 2010 by Jessica Murray, component affairs assistant, APHA

Return to the Get Ready Report podcast home page