Public Health Emergencies: Your Role and Ours


Flooding, an extended power outage, a new infectious virus, and poor air quality from forest fires thousands of miles away. These public health emergencies have affected Dane County in the past five

flooded road

 years. While we’ve responded to all of them, remember we all play a role to prepare for an emergency, stay safe while it happens, and recover after the emergency ends. In fact, everyone in our community is responsible for being as prepared as possible for disasters and emergencies.

Public Health Doesn't Work Solo

Our role as a local public health department is to help support the health and safety of our community before, during, and after a public health emergency. A public health emergency might be natural or human-made. Examples include:

  • Disease outbreaks like COVID or measles
  • Severe weather like flooding or extreme heat
  • Biological threats like an anthrax attack

Depending upon the emergency, our role may look different, but generally includes:

  • Providing education and science based information
  • Collecting and analyzing data to support response actions
  • Working to minimize health impacts of the emergency

Not everything that’s related to health is public health. Because funding, staffing, and expertise vary from agency to agency, we do this work in coordination with community partners and existing emergency response agencies, like police, fire, hospitals, and Dane County Emergency Management. For example, when air quality is poor, we may have a supply of masks we’re able to distribute or provide information to help inform people about health impacts of air quality, but other agencies may have other resources and help to provide.

Climate Change is Making Some Emergencies More Common

The temperature of our atmosphere has increased which means it can hold, and then dump, more precipitation. As a result, experts expect extreme weather events to increase.

  • The DNR projects extreme heat days in Wisconsin will triple by 2050, from about 10 days a year in 2020 to about 30 days a year.
  • We may think of wildfires as a problem in states like California, but the threat of wildfires is increasing, even in Wisconsin. Wildfires can also lead to poor air quality.
  • The development of roads, sidewalks, and buildings, eliminates natural landscapes that could otherwise help absorb water. This leads to an increased threat of flooding.
  • Electrical power can go out unexpectedly from extreme weather. Long-term outages can close businesses like grocery stores and banks, interfere with public transportation, and keep you from using medical devices run through electricity.

Take Time to Prepare for Emergencies Now

  • Put together an emergency kit with food, water, medications, and other supplies you’ll need for several days. Make plans for your pets too!
  • Put together a family emergency communication plan with phone numbers, medical information, emergency meeting places, and more. You may not be together when an emergency happens!
  • Read up about emergency alerts. Some will go to your phone automatically, others you have to sign up for. Sign up for our Public Health Emergency Email Updates.
  • Know what you’ll need to prepare if you have to shelter at home, at the place you’re in when an emergency happens, or at a mass care shelter.
  • Make an evacuation plan: how you’ll leave, where you’ll go, what you’ll do with your pets, and more.
  • Stay up to date on all vaccines, have COVID tests on hand and a personal COVID-19 plan
  • Learn CPR and first aid - your local Fire Department/EMS can help you with resources for training! Already trained? Consider adding the Pulse Point app to your phone. The app uses location-based technology to alert users when someone within their immediate area is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest and needs help before EMS or firefighters arrive!

Check Out Our New Webpages

Want to know more about how to be prepared for different emergencies? We’ve got webpages for that! Check them out, and while you’re there, sign up to get public health emergency updates from us via email.

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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