Personal responsibility is an important component of health, as has been emphasized by several of the articles that have appeared on these pages.

Personal responsibility is an important component of health, as has been emphasized by several of the articles that have appeared on these pages. However, natural disasters and other large scale emergencies pose health hazards that require planning and action on a larger scale at town, county or even state and regional levels. It is true that personal planning and preparation can be invaluable, but they can only go so far.

Those of us who lived through the 1950s and 1960s remember the “duck and cover” drills, and the yellow and black signs denoting FALLOUT SHELTER at designated locations like the basement of the courthouse. These places had been selected and provisioned for a certain number of individuals, in order that these individuals would survive a nuclear attack, provided it were not too close by. Many of these shelters were used, in fact, primarily for tornado shelters. After the early to middle 1960s the federal interest and funding necessary to maintain these diminished and then vanished. The modern "all hazards preparedness programs" directed by the Department of Homeland Security date from the September 11, 2001 attacks. These programs have been given increased relevance by natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and by numerous active shooter incidents like those in Las Vegas, NV and Parkland, FL.

In last week’s paper the lead article contained information regarding efforts at the local level to respond to the last type of emergency, and I was greatly relieved to read of these efforts. However, in point of fact, active shooter incidents often result in multiple wounded victims and require the participation of healthcare organizations as well as law enforcement, despite the best efforts of the school system. This and many other types of emergency require the cooperation and coordination of multiple agencies at more than one level. The coordinating agency for our area is the West Central Texas Council of Governments, or COG, which is a political subdivision of the state of Texas serving 19 counties, including Coleman, Runnels and Taylor in an area encompassing 18,000 square miles.

Within that vast area are hundreds of organizations that actually do the work required to maintain the health and safety of the people who live and work there. The federal plan for Emergency Preparedness calls for “Healthcare Coalitions” in order that various individual healthcare organizations within a given community or county will have a structure through which they can cooperate, share resources and interface with governmental structures at the level of the COG. (For details see https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/mscc/healthcarecoalition/Pages/default.aspx accessed 2/23/2018.)

The Health and Wellness Coalition for Runnels County (HAWC) is an organization in its infancy, but those of us who are involved with it believe that HAWC is in the best position to interface between the healthcare organizations of Runnels County and the COG. Our first step should be to bring together the health and safety organizations of the county for planning and coordination in order to facilitate the sharing of information and resources. To that end we have invited key professionals and officials from the county to meet at 2001 Hutchings Ave. (in the building with Keel Drug) on March 8, 2018 at 7 p.m. for the purpose of updating and improving our Emergency Preparedness Plan(s). Representatives from The COG as well as the RAC (Regional Advisory Council for EMS and Trauma) will be present as well, to advise and assist. There will be an opportunity for community input from any interested individual from 6:30 to 7 p.m.

Key objectives are to identify and then plan for potential emergencies such as flooding, power outage for extended periods, blizzard, active shooter, train derailment or bio-terrorism. We need also to characterize potential surges in need such as due to food poisoning epidemic or bus accident, especially if combined with other elements such as blizzard conditions. If you are responsible for health and safety issues in Runnels County, even if you have not been otherwise invited, please join us.

Bradly Bundrant, MD, MPH is the chief of staff of Ballinger Memorial Hospital. The Health and Wellness Coalition of Runnels County will meet March 8 in the conference room adjacent to Keel Drug to discuss emergency preparedness, planning and coordination in Runnels County.