Are you prepared to respond to a national disaster?

March 21, 2012

Dentists and their teams can be valuable resources during a disaster situation. That’s why the American Dental Association has been pushing to get the Dental Emergency Responder Act (H.R. 903) passed, a bill that would incorporate dentistry into the federal disaster response framework. The bill recently passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, getting dentists one step closer to being recognized as emergency responders. Next, it is up for a full House vote.

Dentists and their teams can be valuable resources during a disaster situation.

That’s why the American Dental Association has been pushing to get the Dental Emergency Responder Act (H.R. 903) passed, a bill that would incorporate dentistry into the federal disaster response framework. The bill recently passed the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, getting dentists one step closer to being recognized as emergency responders. Next, it is up for a full House vote.

The bill amends three acts to specifically include the dental profession, said Dr. James L. Willey, the Director for the ADA’s Council on Dental Practice. The acts are: The Public Health Service Act, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006.

“There will always be disasters; why wait until the disaster hits and then respond. That’s dealing with problems on the right side of the disaster. Let’s start dealing with the left side of the disaster, before it happens.”-Lt. General Russell Honoré, U.S. Army (Ret)

If passed, the bill will clarify that dentists-and their team members-may be considered medical support personnel and should be involved in government planning for disasters, said Dr. Joseph McManus, the ADA’s Senior Vice President of Dental Practice/Professional Affairs. This gives organizations like dental schools the opportunity to apply for medical surge capacity training grants for disaster planning.

“The dental community is quite willing to pitch in during these critical situations to help free up our physician counterparts to do the things they should be doing,” Dr. McManus said, “It would be a mistake to not recognize the dental community as a resource that should be used to some capacity in the event of a national disaster.

How you can help

From a ready reserve of supplies to using their facilities to increase surge capacity, dentists have a lot they can offer during a disaster situation, Dr. Willey said. In some sates dentists were trained to administer vaccines during the Swine Flu outbreak, and they have long been instrumental in forensics when it comes to victim identification. Dentists have played key roles in national disasters in the past, and this bill, if passed, will only help the dental community become more involved in disaster planning and response in the future. It also will dramatically increase the number of health professionals able to respond to an emergency.

What the act does:

  • Clarifies that dentists may be considered disaster response public health workers and that states, at their option, can incorporate dentists and dental facilities into their planning

  • Affirms that dental assets may be included in the National Health Security Strategy and the operational plan for the National Incident Management System

  • Specifies that dental schools are eligible to apply for public health and medical response training grants under the federal Centers for Public Health Preparedness program

  • Encourages voluntary collaborations between the dental community and Department of Homeland Security

Be prepared

Dentists who want to be part of disaster preparedness and response will have more opportunities to learn how to do so effectively, Dr. Willey said. There are a lot of resources available to help get you there, including the ADA website. The ADA also has partnered with the National Disaster Life Support Education Consortium (NDLSEC). This group educates physicians, dentists, paramedics, firemen, police officers and others to help enhance the resiliency of a community in a disaster situation. They have a variety of courses you can take from core to basic to advanced training modules.

It’s also important to have a plan for you own office, Dr. Willey said. The ADA has resources dentists can use to create their own disaster plan. It’s important to think through a potential disaster, from simple things like the emergency phone numbers you’ll need to how you’re going to handle more complex scenarios like how to recover a dental office from a flood.

You have to plan now, Dr. Willey said, because trying to figure it all out when a disaster happens is too late.

“I had an opportunity to meet Lt. General Russell Honoré, U.S. Army (Ret). He is the general that President Bush sent into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to lead the recovery task force,” Dr. Willey said. “General Honoré talks about the time you spend on the left side of a disaster. The time you spend preparing before a disaster occurs directly affects your ability to survive that disaster after it happens.”