Although there is no shortage of information, the quality and validity of information varies considerably. Learning how toentify effective information tools and use them to their full potential takes time. However, in ruralaho, information-gathering skills are being taught to help emergency planners and public health professionals to better navigate the vast World Wide Web of information.
Exercises and disasters are always better explained and better understood with 20/20 hindsight vision. After-action reviews provide such hindsight as they monitor and evaluate activities. Equipped with this information and other shared lessons learned and best practices, planners have the ability to influence the way their communities respond to future disasters and ultimately improve the ability to respond more effectively. However, a key question is, “What information is worth adopting and where do we get it from?”
In the era of the World Wide Web of information, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data and resources, making it difficult to discern relevant information from background noise. Teasing out the nuggets of valuable information can often be challenging without an organized approach. Erin Strange, emergency preparedness coordinator at Bear Lake Memorial Hospital in Montpelier,aho, commented, “One of the biggest challenges in emergency preparedness is simply finding resources [and the] tools to get to reliable information.”
Two Training Periods With One Focused Objective The information-gathering approach has to be strategic and focused in order to provide the maximum reward. To this end, emergency planners from throughout southeasternaho gathered twice for three-hour training periods to learn how to gather scientific, evidence-based information for emergency planning and response. When combined with regular after-action reports from events, evidence-based data provides a solid foundation for mitigation and response measures. A significant result of this training is the increased opportunities for these rural emergency planners to access additional information via the Internet from their desks in ruralaho.
In order to collect the appropriate data, the information-gathering process must leverage existing and accessible resources. Southeasternaho Public Health collaborated with theaho State University (ISU) Health Sciences Library to provide information-gathering training for emergency planners from the regional healthcare coalition. Subject matter expertise for the training, which was funded by a one-year grant from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), included: Dr. Ruiling Guo, who was a health sciences librarian/associate professor at ISU Health Sciences Library at the time of the grant and now teaches at the Health Care Administration Program in the Division of Health Sciences at ISU; and Rhonda D’Amico, who was the healthcare liaison for Southeasternaho Public Health and is now the health district’s program manager for Statewide Healthcare Innovation Plan (SHIP).
For this particular training, the project focused on emergency planners in the region’s rural, critical-access hospitals, but the training was offered to healthcare professionals from all agencies within the healthcare coalition and private sector in the region. Project goals included:
Creating a needs assessment;
Developing and conducting a training program to directly address the results of the needs assessment; and
Developing new partnerships between emergency planners and library professionals.
Before the training, all of the emergency planners surveyed had an interest in learning “how to search for disaster health information effectively and efficiently for emergency preparedness and disaster response.” The pre- and post-tests showed that there was a statistically significant increase in knowledge and skills in information searching after training. Participants learned more about and increased their confidence in using NLM’s information resources.
Finding & Using the Right Information Tools As with any best practice, information gathering requires a systematic approach guided by the actual needs that the data and resources should address. In the ISU Health Sciences training session, the approach included:
Awareness of NLM resources and basic disaster health information searching;
The development of search strategies;
An introduction to PubMed, Disaster Lit, and other selected disaster health information resources; and
Understanding of how to evaluate online disaster health information and how to access and request full-text articles.
Participants were given case scenarios to search for evidence in PubMed, Disaster Lit, and other related online resources. The training ended with the introduction to disaster and emergency management decision-making tools, such as WISER, CHEMM, and REMM.
In addition to course material, participants received three hardcopy books: (a) an in-depth resource about healthcare preparedness and response; (b) a basic primer to anyone new to healthcare preparedness; and (c) a workbook to assist in planning. Finally, attendees received several pocket information guides that could be added to their “go kits.” The training materials are available on the project website. In the future, the training presentations will be available on TRAIN, a public health industry learning management system.
This exercise in conducting information gathering illustrates the importance of an organized, systematic approach that is focused and covers a broad range of resources because the volume of resources is large and not always appropriate, accurate, or up-to-date. For these reasons, partnering with existing institutions to help train and strategically focus information gathering can save a lot of time and be a valuable investment for mitigating, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from future disasters.
Darin Letzring is the program manager for Public Health Emergency Preparedness at Southeasternaho Public Health, where he was previously the all-hazards planner with a total of ten years in the program. He also serves as an emergency preparedness liaison officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. An advocate for rural America, he has served on various working groups within the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).
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