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MAY 2017


overseas, and expected political and economic consequences to

affected regions. Through the co-chairmanship of OES and MED,

the working group also helps ensure that critical operations and

management issues are integrated into policy decision-making.

The PHWG formalizes another best practice learned during

previous outbreaks: it maintains a network of contacts embedded

throughout the State Department to facilitate rapid information

sharing and to feed analysis across State’s broad equities into the

U.S. government policymaking process. Regular meetings of this

group provide a forum to resolve ongoing public health crisis

management challenges and to flex the department’s coordina-

tion muscles before an outbreak occurs.

Mirroring these efforts within the department, the Pandemic

Response Team also develops and maintains strong working

relations with interagency counterparts (including the National

Security Council, CDC, USAID, Department of Defense, Depart-

ment of Transportation and Department of Homeland Security),

as well as with key allies and the World Health Organization, to

support its three mission areas. These working relationships are

essential to preparedness training, as well as better communica-

tion, coordination and transparency during an emergency.

Through these relationships, the Pandemic Response Team

monitors global disease outbreaks and local responses to pro-

vide senior officials with an early warning when outbreaks may

require a U.S. or international response. The team also leverages

these relationships to support State’s Bureau of International

Organizations in encouraging and monitoring efforts to reform

WHO’s emergency response capabilities.

More Work Needed

The State Department has made demonstrable progress in

acting on the lessons learned during the last decade, and there

is tremendous opportunity for the new leadership to bolster

these achievements. In particular, with stronger structures now

in place, the department should take a closer look at the human

capital and processes within those structures.

• First,

networks need to be encouraged at all working levels.

The State Department excels at building relationships that bear

fruit months or even years down the road, and this is a unique

asset that both our Foreign Service and Civil Service colleagues

can offer the interagency in times of crisis. Contacts developed

with the international health community during the avian

influenza effort paid dividends during the Ebola crisis, and Ebola

contacts greatly facilitated the response to Zika.

Cooperation on Ebola was facilitated by relationships devel-

oped among State, USAID, DoD and World Food Programme offi-

cials during earlier service together in Nepal. Personal relation-

ships, developed over years of working together, greatly assist in

breaking down the normal barriers to interagency and interna-

tional efforts. These networks may develop organically, but they

can also be encouraged through trainings and exercises.

• Second,

State should maintain a roster of current and retired

ambassadors with strong management and team-building skills,

who can be called on to head a separate coordination office when

the highest level of departmental response becomes necessary.

The ambassadorial title is invaluable in interagency and interna-

tional arenas during a complex public health and humanitarian

crisis such as Ebola, and the need for strong organizational skills

far outweighs the need for scientific or health credentials, which

should be supplied by other members of the team.

Seasoned career ambassadors also bring critical personal rela-

tionships to the table. During the Ebola outbreak, for example,

Ambassadors Deborah Malac and LindaThomas-Greenfield

leveraged personal relationships with Liberia’s senior leaders

to enhance our ability to support the government and secure its

support for our assistance effort.

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


Nicolette Louissaint (left), Gwen Tobert (center) and Robert

Sorenson, the three core staff of the Ebola Coordination Unit, at

a February 2015 event where President Barack Obama honored

those leading the Ebola response effort.