Samantha Stone is being honored as a Individual and Community Preparedness Champion of Change.
Being selected as a White House Champion of Change is an honor but not a distinction that I alone should hold. I am one person amongst a dedicated team of state government employees who are committed to promoting, protecting, and preserving the health and well-being of all people in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, particularly those individuals and populations most vulnerable, from public health and medical emergencies, threats, and disasters.
As a member of the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management (OPEM) at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, I am charged with collaborating with a variety of partners and stakeholders to ensure that our public health and healthcare systems, as well as individuals and communities, have the knowledge, plans, and tools to prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the impact of these often unplanned and devastating events.
At OPEM, I oversee Show Me, a series of three communication tools meant for use by public health and emergency management personnel, volunteers, and individuals with communication challenges during a variety of emergencies. One tool is paper-based, and the other two are free mobile apps. The tools are intended for use in emergency shelters, emergency dispensing sites, and family assistance centers. At the foundation of these projects is a user-centered design: we worked closely with individuals with communication challenges so that they, as end users of the tools, became co-creators by taking part in each stage of the tools’ design, development, and creation. This is an inclusive, participatory process that focuses on users’ abilities, desires, and needs as they relate to using the final products. Instead of forcing end users to alter their behaviors to adapt to products we create, the products get created explicitly to meet the needs of end users.
Moving forward, much of our preparedness efforts will focus on developing more comprehensive, regional, and coordinated response to emergencies. OPEM is creating six regional Health and Medical Coordinating Coalitions (HMCC) within Massachusetts. As part of the establishment of HMCC, there was a year-long stakeholder engagement process that brought together representatives from acute care facilities, community health centers, emergency medical service providers, long-term care facilities, and local public health agencies. Emergency management and public safety partners are being brought into the fold as well. This shift towards HMCC embodies the core principles of whole community planning and response: coordinated and collective team efforts are best equipped to understand and meet the needs of a community.
The work that OPEM is doing on the creation of the HMCC, along with the Show Me tool set, is part of a larger departmental movement to focus on whole community and inclusive planning and response efforts as a means of engaging and empowering individuals to create a more resilient community. It’s a substantial challenge but one which we’re committed to meeting.
Samantha Stone is a Risk Communication Coordinator with the Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.