Utah County Health and Justice Building: Stock Photos - Provo 01

The Utah County Health and Justice Building is pictured Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018, in Provo. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

The Utah County Health Department has received a national designation for its emergency preparedness efforts after completing an extensive, year-long process to identify and fill in gaps in its existing plans.

“We had our ducks in a row before, now it is so much better,” said Eric Edwards, the director of health promotion for the Utah County Health Department.

The Utah County Health Department was notified last month that it was recognized by the National Association of County and City Health Officials for how it plans, responds to and recovers from health emergencies after it met benchmarks set by Project Public Health Ready.

“Public health preparedness planning, response and recovery begins at the local level,” Lori Tremmell Freeman, the chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said in a press release. “Local health departments play an essential role in creating healthy, resilient communities that can respond to and recover from disasters. NACCHO commends Utah County Health Department for being a model of public health emergency preparedness.”

It is one of 520 local health departments nationwide who have received the designation after undergoing a rigorous, peer-reviewed process to see if they’ve met the set standards.

The department decided to pursue the voluntary accreditation after its public information officer, Aislynn Tolman-Hill, had undergone the process elsewhere.

“It is the only benchmark out there for public health preparedness,” Tolman-Hill said.

The process included weekly meetings for a year, about 2,000 pages of documentation and more than 180 employees who each underwent more than 100 hours of training.

“It improved our plans, our tools, our processes,” Edwards said.

The department now has its next five years of drills and training planned, along with a complete emergency preparedness plan that includes how to handle communication both inside the department and to the community in the case of an emergency, like how the department would continue operating in an emergency or how it would distribute vaccinations on a mass scale.

The plan, Edwards said, will allow the department to respond faster to emergencies. He encourages other health departments to undergo the process.

Tolman-Hill said the process required them to write down plans, which means that there’s a record of what to do that’ll exist even if an administrator is out of town or away from the office during an emergency.

The department plans to continue updating its plans as the Project Health Ready criteria evolves.

“We are not done,” Tolman-Hill said.

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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