Emergency management program at the NML

An overview of the National Microbiology Laboratory emergency management program. Marcino D*, Gordon K*. Can Commun Dis Rep 2018; 44(5):102-5. doi: https://doi.org/10.14745/ccdr.v44i05a02


In recognition of Emergency Preparedness Week (May 6-10, 2019), this science story describes the history and current state of the NML emergency management program. Emergency preparedness and outbreak response are key foundations to address public health outbreaks and threats. NML plays a strong national and international leadership role to protect the health of Canadians and the global health community.

How did NML Emergency Management Program come to be?

The SARS outbreak in 2003 led to the planning and establishment of NML’s current emergency management (EM) program and Operations Centre (OC). The EM program and OC provide the structure and framework to respond to public health outbreaks and events, and help fulfill NML’s emergency preparedness and outbreak response functions. NML’s response efforts are based on the Incident Command System (ICS), a response framework developed for first responders in the 1970s. The ICS outlines event management practices using standardized tools as health emergencies often span provincial, federal and/or international jurisdictions.

While ICS management practices are the basis for NML’s response, the OC is the hub where most site support activity occurs. The OC is the physical space dedicated to technical and subject matter experts, along with decision-makers, to address incidents. For example, the OC is where action plans are drafted for quick and effective laboratory response to public health outbreaks or threats.

What are your most significant findings from this work?

Public health events supported by the NML EM program range from internal laboratory program support (e.g. food-borne outbreaks, H1N1 coordination), to national deployments (e.g. tuberculosis diagnostic testing in Nunavut, bioterrorism monitoring at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics), and international deployments (e.g. Ebola testing in West-Africa in 2014-16, Lassa virus testing in Nigeria, 2018). This support is extended to facility emergencies and business disruptions. Each event activates a specific response team that is supported by the OC. Whether supporting an internal NML program for a spike in enterovirus sample testing or coordinating shipments of reagents to remote regions of Africa, NML EM experts provide custom and scalable support appropriate to site requirements and event scope.

What are the implications or impact of the work?

The NML EM program provides valuable site support and event co-ordination so that scientific and technical experts can prioritize their efforts on responding to threats. It also plays a strong liaison role when interacting with international public health partners and stakeholders, national stakeholders, and provincial partners. Further, the NML EM program conducts extensive Emergency Preparedness Response Officers led in-house ICS training and EM exercises across all NML sites. Along with OC support activities, and having the OC Director as the single-window access to the NML, the NML EM program and OC help strengthen Canada’s outbreak response capabilities by providing the structure and support needed to address time sensitive public health outbreak and threats.

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