States are rapidly improving their preparedness for a pandemic outbreak, according to a new interim report by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center).

The report catalogs the results of five regional workshops involving 27 states and territories held between April and August 2007. The NGA Center convened the workshops to identify gaps in state pandemic preparedness, specifically in non-health-related areas such as continuity of government, maintenance of essential services and coordination with the private sector. In addition, the workshops examined strengths and weaknesses of coordination activities among levels of government, both vertically (state-federal and state-local) and horizontally (state-state and state-private sector).

"States will be the front line of defense in the event of a pandemic outbreak," said John Thomasian, director of the NGA Center. "This report demonstrates that states are taking proactive measures to improve their readiness and protect their citizens."

According to the report, "There is raised awareness in state government of the problem and potential widespread impact of a pandemic. All states had significant and wide-ranging awareness of the threat, its origin and its potential impacts. Additionally, all states were aware of the unique characteristics of a pandemic and the challenge posed for effective planning."

While states are making progress on all fronts of preparedness, the workshops identified a few key areas where increased cooperation between states and the federal government needs to occur. For example:

  • States do not adequately understand what federal capabilities might be expected at the state level and how federal agencies will engage during a pandemic;
  • State response plans rely heavily on the availability of privately held infrastructure and actions by outside organizations, but the relationship, roles and responsibilities of public and private entities are not yet clearly defined; and
  • Few states have conducted state-specific economic analyses of their economies under pandemic conditions.

To help states better prepare for a pandemic, the NGA Center last year released Preparing for a Pandemic Influenza: A Primer for Governors and Senior State Officials. The report examines key issues governors and their top officials may face should a pandemic occur. Among its recommendations, the report encourages states to perform training exercises to assess current capabilities and explore effective operations for incident response. According to the report, "Initiating even the most basic exercises now will save lives during a future incident."