NCEH/ATSDR Emergency Response

A Directional Sign in Front of Storm Clouds indicating the Storm Evacuation Route.

Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinates over 130 activities in the U.S. and U.S. territories in 2020.

When a natural or technological disaster or emergency strikes, CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH)/ATSDR Office of Emergency Management (OEM) works as a central coordination point for responding. By triaging and coordinating NCEH/ATSDR’s emergency response assets and unique expertise, OEM helps federal, state, and local entities respond to environmental health emergencies, and addresses environmental public health consequences of natural and technological emergencies, terrorist events, and hazardous substance releases. OEM functions to further science, policy, and practice of emergency management in support of CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and state, local, tribal, territorial, and global partners. Site-specific consultation teams can be convened to provide support 24 hours a day, usually within 30 minutes. OEM can provide an on-site response team anywhere in the continental United States, usually in an average of eight hours after a request.

Office of Emergency Management 2020 (Non-COVID) Activities

OEM was involved in over 130 activities in 2020, most of which were unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 7 acute emergency responses
  • 74 technical assists to state and local health departments and other federal agencies
  • 45 preparedness activities
  • 9 actions related to ATSDR’s role as the representative of HHS on the National Response Team
  • 2 written consultations
  • 2 non-COVID deployments

OEM led several significant projects in the United States and Puerto Rico, including air monitoring and responding to several earthquakes and a pesticide spill. After powerful earthquakes struck in January 2020, OEM led a team of CDC staff to support the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management, the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and HHS. These teams conducted assessments of the public health needs of displaced persons in improvised camps and government shelters. The team also assisted with health and risk communication to inform the public about issues associated with the earthquakes.

Other OEM work involved collaboration with federal, tribal, state, and local agencies on emergency responses to pollution incidents under the National Response System. ATSDR Region 7 requested assistance in responding to a pesticide spill into the Neosho River, which is the primary drinking water supply for several communities downstream near Iola, Kansas.

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard in Houston/Galveston, Texas, requested OEM assistance in developing a community air monitoring plan based on a commodity survey of the ports. The Coast Guard also asked for assistance in developing protective measures on the most commonly transported hazardous substances. OEM provided information on the toxicity of the substances and recommendations for establishing incident specific air monitoring and sampling plans. Subsequent to this work, the Coast Guard amended all 51 Area Contingency Plans across the country to include recommendations for consultations with CDC/ATSDR.

Page last reviewed: December 29, 2021