Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Juggling Priorities: The Impact of COVID-19 on Exercises for PHEP Awardees

Health departments across the country are facing the most strenuous public health challenge of our time. The COVID-19 pandemic is currently in its deadliest phase in many regions of the United States (US). Many of the health departments currently engrossed in COVID-19 response have relied on Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) funding from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund their emergency preparedness efforts since the program began in 2002. As health departments remain focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Hagerty is prepared to help PHEP awardees meet their award requirements so that they concentrate on supporting those who are ill, their families, essential workers, and healthcare workers at the front line of the pandemic response, as well as those who are distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines.

The PHEP cooperative agreement is a CDC funding source for state, local, and territorial health departments. Awards provided through the PHEP program help health departments across the US plan and prepare for the unexpected, including natural hazards, man-made disasters, technological incidents—and pandemics. The goal of the program is to advance preparedness of the nation’s health departments across six functional areas, “[modernizing] jurisdictional all-hazards public health preparedness and response strategies” to prepare for emerging health threats.

As part of the PHEP cooperative agreement, awardees are required to carry out multiple planning, training, and exercise efforts over a five-year performance period, the most recent of which began in 2019. Health departments benefiting from PHEP funds are also required to carry out specific requirements each 12-month budget period. The CDC has waived or extended the deadline for some of the requirements for the current budget period, Budget Period 2 (mid 2020 – mid 2021), due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are multiple exercises and action plans that PHEP awardees are still required to complete in the five-year performance period, including the annual PHEP exercise and numerous tabletop exercises (TTXs), functional exercises (FEs), and full-scale exercises (FSEs).

Upcoming Requirements for PHEP Awardees

In the last several months, public health awardees may have delayed conducting PHEP-required exercises and trainings to concentrate, understandably, on pandemic response. But pushing these activities to the end of the PHEP performance period may leave many health departments rushing to develop and conduct multiple exercises in a short timeframe to meet the PHEP requirements.

Hagerty Can Help

As health departments remain focused on their primary mission—responding to the increasingly complex COVID-19 pandemic—Hagerty is poised to support the development of the exercises that are required of PHEP awardees. Hagerty is experienced in designing and executing exercises that meet the standards of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) and exceed those of clients. The following summarizes how Hagerty can support the nation’s health networks:

  • Hagerty has successfully transitioned exercise design and execution to the virtual environment. Though the pandemic has made in-person trainings and exercises unfeasible, Hagerty’s experience in virtual exercise design has allowed our clients to continue to benefit from the dynamic, interactive nature of multi-player exercises. Hagerty has delivered virtual seminars, trainings, workshops, TTXs, and FEs across major virtual platforms—including Zoom, Adobe Connect, Teams, and the client’s platform of preference—for clients across the country.
  • Hagerty has experience working with health departments, healthcare associations, and emergency management agencies to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hagerty has recently designed trainings, seminars, and exercises for these groups to validate and improve their public health preparedness processes. These activities, conducted virtually, have enabled clients to explore potential challenges surrounding public health efforts like vaccine administration and Point of Dispensing (POD) management, proactively identify gaps in preparedness, and collaborate with stakeholders to build the partnerships needed for effective problem-solving. Through careful design and innovative content development, Hagerty delivered a series of virtual activities that were easily adopted by the client and of enormous value to the target audience.
  • Hagerty personnel have the subject-matter expertise to develop nuanced, actionable After-Action Reports (AARs) for health departments and healthcare systems nationwide. While the real-world experience of the COVID-19 pandemic may be used to support PHEP requirements, Hagerty’s analytical experts can support the development of AARs that result in meaningful change. Hagerty’s in-house experts have significant knowledge and experience in topics—including workforce resilience, continuity of operations, and anthrax and pandemic influenza response—and have created COVID-19 response AARs for healthcare entities, cities, and counties across the country to identify lessons learned and improve planning tools. Our team will leverage this knowledge as well as the situational intelligence gathered from Hagerty’s nationwide presence to formulate next steps that are impactful and specific to health departments.

Beyond exercises, Hagerty can also help support the development of health departments’ Operational Readiness Reviews (for more information, see our previous blog post on the topic) or Jurisdictional Risk Assessment (JRA).

PHEP awardees play a critical role in updating the nation’s public health preparedness, a mission that demands significant effort and attention in the best of times. As health departments in every state fight to lessen the impact of the pandemic on society, the preparedness professionals at Hagerty stand ready to support exercise, AAR, and other PHEP needs.

Additional Resources

Exercises 2.0: Virtual Tabletops as Part of the “New Normal”

Hagerty’s Exercise Services (one-pager)

About the Authors

Amanda Wight is the Lead for Hagerty’s Exercise Portfolio and Lead for Hagerty’s Active Threat Portfolio. Amanda has supported communities nationwide on developing, delivering, and assessing exercises on a wide range of subject matters. Having conducted more than 35 exercises in the past five years that vary in size and complexity, she has expertise in the development and execution of large, multi-site, multi-jurisdictional, multi-discipline exercises.

Alexandra Koch, MPH is a Managing Associate and public health emergency management professional with strong knowledge and experience in public health emergency preparedness and response. As a ORISE Fellow at the CDC and Prevention’s Division of State and Local Readiness she validated PHEP Cooperative Agreement awardee data and assisted in the rewrite efforts for the 2019 – 2024 PHEP Cooperative Agreement. She also has assisted Fulton County Board of Health for their Anthrax dispensing plans by optimizing POD locations using RealOpt.

Anne Armstrong is an Associate supporting Hagerty’s Exercise, Active Threat, and Continuity portfolios. Anne has worked with public and private sector clients across the country to improve their disaster readiness, business resilience, and continuity capabilities. Prior to joining Hagerty, Anne worked on federal policy and strategy in the non-profit space and at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Policy and completed a Boren Fellowship in Amman, Jordan.