The Foreign Service Journal - May 2017
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MAY 2017



deal with pandemics. It is essential that the State Department

continue to press forward energetically with implementation of

our own lessons learned so that we can more quickly, nimbly and

effectively support our interagency and international partners

while protecting the safety of our own personnel in the field.

Recent Advances

In the months after Ebola faded from the headlines, State

forged ahead with testing and adaptation of solutions in real time

as we responded to new outbreaks of Zika and yellow fever. As a

fundamental first step, the Bureau of Oceans and International

Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) established a small,

permanent Pandemic Response Teamwith a three-pronged

mission: to coordinate department-wide responses to outbreaks,

build internal capacity and support strategic initiatives around

global response capability.

To date, the department’s response to outbreaks has been

largely ad hoc, as evidenced by the hodgepodge of “task force”

models that have been established—the Avian Influenza Action

Group in 2005, the Ebola Coordination Unit in 2014 and the Zika

Coordination Team in 2016. The absence of a defined model has

repeatedly resulted in a scramble to develop coordination mech-

anisms and establish leadership in the early days of an outbreak.

OES’ Pandemic Response Team seeks to address this challenge

as a central tenet of its mission to build State Department capac-

ity. Together with the Bureau of Medical Services (MED) and the

Operations Center’s Crisis Management and Strategy Office, the

team has now launched a multitiered response mechanism that

mirrors best practices at agencies like the CDC and integrates

pandemic response into the department’s broader crisis man-

agement structures.

This newmodel provides a framework for elevating the depart-

ment’s response posture from “steady state” monitoring by the

Pandemic Response Teamup the ladder to establishment of an

Operations Center Task Force and, potentially, creation of a sepa-

rate coordination office along the lines of the Ebola Coordination

Unit. Outbreaks have complex policy implications, and they may

ebb and flow over a period of many months; the goal of this model

is to provide predictability while maintaining maximumflexibility

and ensuring a judicious expenditure of resources.

In addition, a new Public Health Working Group, co-chaired by

OES and MED under the auspices of the State Department Crisis

Management Council, brings together representatives from across

the department to evaluate outbreaks and provide advice to senior

officials on appropriate responses. Emergency Action Commit-

tees at posts utilize tripwires to determine responses to any given

threat; in a similar manner, the working group relies on a set of

decision criteria to assess the risks posed by a potential outbreak.

This decision tool incorporates criteria such as the overall

public health threat level, the extent of U.S. mobilization required,

public perceptions, existing capacity within State Department

offices, expected impact on post staffing and U.S. nationals

From left, Ambassador Steven Browning, Jeremy Konyndyk (head of USAID's Office of Disaster Assistance) and Dirk Dijkerman

(head of USAID’s Ebola Secretariat) testify about funding for the Ebola crisis before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee

on Appropriations on Feb. 11, 2015.