Miami-Dade Emergency Management, Health Department partner to screen bio-threats

In Miami-Dade County, Florida, the Emergency Management system and Health Department work together in a joint effort to detect biological threats and agents as early as possible and execute plans for protection.

“We’re a bio-watch city so we do have a number of sensors around the county that are checked daily and screened for things like anthrax and other bio-agents that could be deliberately presented in the community,” Curt Sommerhoff, director of Emergency Management, said during a recent interview. “In addition to that, our health department works with their immunologists and their surveillance teams. They do a lot of work directly with our health care agencies, our hospitals, to make sure that if there are any significant numbers in cases or symptoms presenting themselves in emergency rooms, in doctor’s offices, that they can quickly put those pieces together to identify what the problem might be. Then we can work from there to determine protective actions for the public if need be.”

Both the Emergency Management system and Health Department reach out to county residents as well to equip them with the knowledge they need to take an active role in self-protection. They stress the importance of, “following good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, staying home when sick (and) going to the doctor when warranted,” Sommerhoff said. “I think certainly when we had H1N1 in 2009, that message got through. Unfortunately when you have periods or lulls in those types of events, you do see a little dip in your preparedness at the community level.”

Sommerhoff started out working for the county in the Water & Wastewater Department. As the department’s liason to the Emergency Operations Center, he took an active role to address issues with sewage contaminating water sources, and develop preparedness and contingency plans. After moving to emergency management coordinator in 2001, he gradually moved up to director.