At CDC's request, the CDC Foundation activated our Emergency Response Fund on April 27, 2009, to aid CDC's response to the H1N1 flu (formerly swine flu) outbreak. Federal dollars, even during emergencies, are tied to restrictions and purchasing procedures that can limit CDC's ability to act quickly. The Fund, comprised of donations from individuals and organizations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, gives CDC a backup source of funding to fill critical gaps and meet immediate needs.
Activating the Fund gave CDC responders access to special credit cards connected to the Fund, enabling them to immediately purchase the equipment, supplies or services they needed to respond to the outbreak in the field. CDC Foundation staff members participated in response activities by staffing a desk in CDC's Marcus Emergency Operations Center during business hours and remaining on-call 24/7. The two brief summaries below describe how the Fund helped CDC do more, faster, to stay ahead of an impending pandemic.
Blackberrys Help CDC Fight Flu Pandemic
It's a wireless world, and disease detection and response is no exception. CDC experts deployed to respond to H1N1 flu outbreaks planned to use wireless technology to stay connected with the agency's headquarters in Atlanta. But, due to all the deployments and activities related to H1N1 flu response, CDC's inventory of communications equipment was critically low.
At a daily morning update in CDC's Marcus Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Charles Stokes, CDC Foundation president and CEO, learned that CDC needed 150 Blackberrys for experts being deployed.
"Following the update, I asked if they needed our help," says Stokes. "Initially they believed they could get the Blackberrys through their own channels, but later that morning they determined that 50 employees were being deployed that afternoon and they did not have the means to get 50 Blackberrys purchased and delivered before the staffers shipped out."
Stokes encouraged them to use one of the credit cards associated with the Foundation's Emergency Response Fund to purchase the 50 Blackberrys needed immediately.
"The CDC Foundation came through again," says CDC's Darrell Lester, EOC logistics section chief. "The results were seamless and critical to our mission. We were able to support all deployer requests for these communication devices with benefits that have been astounding. Deployers were able to communicate wirelessly by voice and e-mail from anywhere in the world without locating a wired connection. Wireless transmissions of critical H1N1 data were sent and received in a timely manner —ultimately providing CDC leadership with a better understanding of the current situation and timely decision making abilities."
To help prevent CDC from experiencing a similar critical shortage in the future, the CDC Foundation contacted Research in Motion (RIM), the company that manufactures Blackberrys, and asked them to donate 150 devices to shore up CDC's inventory. RIM generously agreed, and these devices will be available to CDC to address H1N1 flu and future public health emergencies. Recently, the Foundation coordinated a gift of 50 additional Blackberrys from T-Mobile. During the initial H1N1 outbreak, T-Mobile also donated temporary accounts giving CDC responders wireless Internet access at T-Mobile-operated hotspots at many hotels and airports.
Boosting Participation in CDC Flu-Tracking Studies
CDC response teams deployed to address H1N1 flu outbreaks in New York, Delaware and Ohio were tasked with interviewing and collecting blood samples from students and families who had been diagnosed with or exposed to H1N1. CDC needed this data to help determine how the virus was spreading. Participation in CDC's investigations was voluntary, and CDC teams were having trouble getting enough people to sign up. With just a small amount of funding, the Foundation enabled each team to offer small incentives to encourage participation.
"The incentives helped incredibly," says Stephanie Schrag, CDC lead for the New York City H1N1 Flu Epi-Aid Team. "We needed specimens from approximately 30 households, but we were having difficulty recruiting families to participate. For the first three days, we did a lot of phone calling and only lined up six families. Once we were able to offer the incentives, we were able to schedule 30 families in two days. The ability to offer the incentives was invaluable. Our field teams had a very positive experience being able to offer the families an appreciation for their contribution to public health."