Jeff Gunzenhauser, interm health officer and medical director for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, recounts his city's response to a recent measles outbreak. Photo by Big Cities Health Coalition.

Jeff Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, interim health officer and medical director for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, recounts his city’s response to a recent measles outbreak. Photo by Big Cities Health Coalition.

Today is National PrepareAthon! Day, the perfect time for Americans to take action to prepare for disasters. But do you know why emergency preparedness funding is so critical?

Members of the Big Cities Health Coalition — a forum for public health officials from 27 of the largest U.S. metropolitan health departments — visited Capitol Hill this week to answer the question and urge policymakers to restore funding for both the Public Health Emergency Preparedness program and the Hospital Preparedness Program.

Big U.S. cities are often at the front lines when emergencies strike, from infectious disease outbreaks to major weather events.

“We are in a place at a state of readiness that we’ve never been before,” said Shelley Hearne, DrPH, director of the Big Cities Health Coalition.” Despite this willingness to act, Hearne noted that the decline in federal funding poses a major risk to the emergency preparedness system.

The four panelists at the briefing, representing some of America’s biggest cities, included Patrice Harris, MD, director of health services for Fulton County, Georgia; Julie Morita, MD, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health; Wendy Chung, MD, chief epidemiologist at Dallas County Department for Health and Human Services; and Jeff Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, interim health officer and medical director for Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Each public health official shared stories from personal experiences fighting infectious disease outbreaks including Ebola and measles and the challenges they have faced in protecting their communities.

Inadequate funding can limit the capacity of cities to cover the costs associated with responding to disasters. For example, during an infectious disease outbreak, funding is needed to pay for training for public health workers, disease monitoring, vaccinations and education materials for the community. Public health departments work most effectively when they are able to “prepare and prevent, rather than play catch-up with funding after disasters occur,” said Harris.

Currently, Chicago and Los Angeles are two of only four major U.S. cities that receive direct federal funding for emergency preparedness. Funding for city and county health departments is controlled by state agencies. According to a Big Cities Health Coalition press release, many Coalition members report quickly exceeding their annual budgets to conduct resource-intensive activities during times of crises.

For more fact sheets and tools on how you can keep yourself, your family and your community safe, visit APHA’s Get Ready campaign.