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Eighth Annual Tribal Health Conference Brings People Together

On August 16 and 17 in Shelton, Washington emergency management, public health, and Indian tribal leaders engaged in discussions to expand and improve their work together.

September 13, 2011

It's not often that leaders in emergency management, public health, and Indian tribes from three different states are all in the same room. But it was true on August 16 and 17 in Shelton, Washington where these leaders engaged in discussions to expand and improve their work together.

Leaders from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho came for this year's eighth annual tribal public health emergency preparedness conference. The conference theme was Continuing to Bridge the Gap: Public Health and Emergency Management at the Tribal, Local, State, Regional & Federal Levels.  This was the second year that emergency management and public health combined efforts to integrate collective expertise, knowledge, and wisdom to prepare for and respond to emergencies.

A morning of opening addresses from the US Department of Homeland Security Director of Tribal Affairs, Steven M. Golubic, Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator, Ken Murphy, and Washington State Department of Health Secretary Mary C. Selecky set the stage for the real heart of the conference—afternoon breakout sessions by state.

In what several remarked was the most engaging and productive aspect of the event, participants had the unique opportunity to examine public health emergency capabilities with others from their state. By reviewing past incidents and discussing the challenges coordinating between tribes and mainstream public health and emergency response structures, those present were able to clarify roles and responsibilities in emergency situations.

“Tribes across the three-state region and across this nation, have faced extreme devastation this year with fires, floods, ice storms, snow, windstorms, and tornadoes," said Lynda Zambrano, one of the lead conference planners. "We evacuated our coastal tribes when the tsunami warning was issued; we rallied around a tribal nation that suffered the loss of an entire town to a devastating fire; we traveled to Southern California to assist our neighboring tribes with their extreme fire season this year; and we have worked closely with our federal, state, local and American Red Cross partners as they responded to Montana for some of the worst flooding that the area has seen in its entire history....The information shared at this year's conference was timely and important."

The second day of the conference consisted of informational kiosks to provide tribes a “hands on” or “one-on-one” discussion with partners about what help is available. Kiosks included partners from FEMA, US Health and Human Services, Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Emergency Management Division, American Indian Health Commission, Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, The Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council, and NWCPHP.

Luann D'Ambrosio, NWCPHP Assistant Director and conference planning committee member, remarked, "Conversations with the tribes and partners around the table were informative and constructive. This forum further strengthened ongoing communication and determined next steps around important issues in preparedness and emergency response."

The conference was an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships between tribes, public health, and emergency management—relationships that are critical to ensure a fast and efficient response during an actual emergency.

The 2011 Tribal Public Health Conference was organized by the Northwest Tribal Emergency Management Council and hosted by the Squaxin Island Tribe.

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