Houston is no stranger to the impacts of extreme flooding. Last year, Hurricane Harvey marked the third “500-year flood” to hit the Texas metropolis in just three years.

Among the responders  — in both preparing the region for disasters and responding to their aftermaths — are workers from Harris County Public Health, where Umair Shah says investments in public health capacity are paying off.

“You have to invest in the capacity for health departments and public health in general to really grow, to really be strong, to really be available and nimble when an emergency comes,” said Shah, MD, MPH, executive director of Harris County Public Health, which now serves the third most-populous county in the country. “We want the capacity to be here so when you’re stretching, it’s not as much of a stretch and you can really get into the response and recovery efforts as quickly as possible.”

Shah discussed the agency’s emergency preparedness work in a one-on-one interview with APHA TV at last year’s APHA Annual Meeting and Expo in Atlanta. He said local investments in public health infrastructure and emergency management are making a difference, noting that less than 10 percent of the county’s health infrastructure went down during Hurricane Harvey, which ended up being the worst incident of extreme rainfall in U.S history.

The Harris County experience was an especially relevant topic at the Atlanta Annual Meeting, which had a theme of “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health.” Shah said the impact of a changing climate on extreme weather events certainly presents an urgent challenge for public health. And one of those many challenges, he said, is raising awareness about the essential role of a strong public health system.

“We really see at the end of the day, that a real challenge that people don’t always recognize is that public health is hidden, it’s behind the scenes,” he told APHA TV. “When we do our job, we’re like the offensive line of a football team… We’re absolutely critical just as our other emergency management partners.”

Visit APHA TV to watch Shah’s full remarks and all the episodes from Atlanta.

For more video from APHA 2017, register for APHA Live. APHA Live includes on-demand, online access to 13 of the top sessions from the APHA Annual Meeting and the opportunity to earn more than 16 free continuing education credits. For even more educational programming from APHA 2017, consider RAMP, which includes synced PowerPoint presentations and voice recording of scientific sessions from the Atlanta meeting.