Although emergency preparedness and response may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about services that San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) provides, it is a crucial one. When disasters strike in southwest Colorado, food, water, and air quality can be impacted, as well as access to healthcare services. Regional emergencies can also include disease outbreaks, such as influenza or salmonella. The SJBPH Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) team is an active part of the response to these and other emergencies.

In Colorado, local public health agencies are required to provide seven Core Public Health Services (as indicated in the Public Health Act of 2008), one of which is Emergency Preparedness and Response. Colorado law states: All public health agencies are required to prepare and respond to emergencies with a public health or environmental health implication in coordination with

local, state, and federal agencies and public and private sector partners. Some of the required activities of providing this service include:

  • participating in preparedness planning, training, and exercises
  • serving as the public health lead during emergencies
  • maintaining an emergency communications strategy to communicate with local communities during emergencies
  • coordinating with county emergency management and healthcare partners
  • promoting community preparedness by communicating steps to take before, during, and after a disaster

The Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) program at SJBPH consists of regional and local staff who serve Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan counties as well as the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes, to build community resilience through emergency preparedness. The program ensures that residents have access to necessities during emergencies, and to the resources and information they need to prepare for, withstand, adapt, and recover from emergencies.

The SJBPH EPR program accomplishes this work through partnerships in the community.  As a member of the Southwest Colorado Healthcare Coalition (SWCHCC), SJBPH collaborates with healthcare organizations, providers, public health agencies, emergency managers, emergency medical services, and community partners, all working together to enhance regional preparedness and response capabilities.

SJBPH believes that everyone should have the ability to adequately prepare for emergencies regardless of their circumstances, and so created the Equity in Emergency Program (EEP) to increase access to emergency preparedness and promote increased resiliency in an emergency for all individuals in La Plata and Archuleta counties. EEP activities include developing and distributing inclusive emergency preparedness plans in Archuleta and La Plata counties and outreach to vulnerable populations in Archuleta and La Plata counties with the goal that all community members will be prepared for and have increased resiliency for emergencies.

Lori Zazzaro is the Southwest Colorado Emergency Preparedness and Response coordinator at San Juan Basin Public Health.