Each year, as September 11 approaches, the nation relives the unspeakable events and tragic loss of that day. But because of the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance, September 11 is no longer just about mourning. It’s about community, giving back, and hope.
September 11 has also changed how government guards the homeland at all levels and from all hazards. Firefighters and police are better equipped and trained to face different kinds of dangers. Health departments and hospitals are better prepared to handle mass casualties, whether from acts of terrorism or pandemic disease. Most importantly, the terrorist attacks changed the way institutions work together and share information—national and criminal intelligence, fire and rescue, business and government. States and regions work together as they rarely did before, and the federal government has learned to listen to their concerns.
The 2001 terrorist attacks underscored the importance of investments made in public health preparedness. Since 9/11, the U.S. public health system has received unprecedented national investment in recognition of its importance to national security. The events of that day also led to a cultural shift in the way state and large city health departments work and interact with other agencies and sectors. Health departments are now increasingly accepted as equal partners by traditional first responders, such as law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services.
Although the United States is better prepared to prevent, rapidly respond to, and recover from public health emergencies than it was 13 years ago, more work needs to be done so our communications activities are better coordinated with both state and local partners for emergencies as well as non-emergencies. Some issues that should be addressed within the next decade include increasing focus on vulnerable populations that need additional assistance in emergencies, such as mental and behavioral health needs; improving coordination among public health care, and emergency medical services; and improving the evidence base for preparedness activities. Public health threats increasingly have substantial potential for political, economic, and social influence. To ensure health security in the USA and worldwide—a crucial component of a nation’s overall national security—and cumulatively our global health security, new commitments from the national to the local level are needed.