GAO: States need more fed help preparing for pandemics

States continue to have “many major gaps” in their readiness for an influenza pandemic, the Government Accountability Office reported this week.

Although all 50 states have pandemic plans and have tested them, states are not prepared in 16 of 22 priority areas, including conforming to the Homeland Security Department’s National Response Plan/National Incident Management System requirements, the GAO reported.

The GAO findings were based on GAO site visits to Florida, Texas, California, Illinois and New York.

Other areas where states remain weak include supporting critical infrastructure; ensuring an adequate food safety reporting system; facilitating a medical surge; coordination of law enforcement; and developing community-level interventions that can help reduce the transmission of a pandemic virus.

The federal government has been providing expertise to states and localities on pandemic planning, such as providing a preparedness checklist and guidance on how to allocate influenza pandemic vaccine.

In July, states will begin having their pandemic plans reviewed for a second time by HHS.

The report concluded that although the Health and Human Services Department will complete the distribution of $600 million in federal pandemic funds to states and localities in 2008, federal agencies need to continue to provide support and guidance to the states. The report strongly recommended that the secretaries of DHS and HHS hold additional workshops with states in the five federal influenza pandemic regions.

“These workshops could be a useful model both for sharing information across states and building relationships within regions and to address the identified gaps in states’ planning and to maintain the momentum that has already been started by HHS and DHS to continue to work with the states on pandemic preparedness,” the GAO authors wrote.

These steps are especially critical given the upcoming transition in the administration in January 2009.

DHS and HHS officials, who were allowed to review the report before publication, have generally agreed with the GAO recommendations. HHS said that it is willing to hold more workshops if states and localities think they’d be useful.


About the Author

Heather Hayes is a freelance writer based in Clifford, Va.


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