Governments may be overwhelmed by a large-scale public health emergency, such as a massive bioterrorist attack or natural disaster, requiring collaboration with businesses and other community partners to respond effectively. In Georgia, public health officials and members of the Business Executives for National Security have successfully collaborated to develop and test procedures for dispensing medications from the Strategic National Stockpile. Lessons learned from this collaboration should be useful to other public health and business leaders interested in developing similar partnerships.
The authors conducted a case study based on interviews with 26 government, business, and academic participants in this collaboration.
The partnership is based on shared objectives to protect public health and assure community cohesion in the wake of a large-scale disaster, on the recognition that acting alone neither public health agencies nor businesses are likely to manage such a response successfully, and on the realization that business and community continuity are intertwined. The partnership has required participants to acknowledge and address multiple challenges, including differences in business and government cultures and operational constraints, such as concerns about the confidentiality of shared information, liability, and the limits of volunteerism. The partnership has been facilitated by a business model based on defining shared objectives, identifying mutual needs and vulnerabilities, developing carefully-defined projects, and evaluating proposed project methods through exercise testing. Through collaborative engagement in progressively more complex projects, increasing trust and understanding have enabled the partners to make significant progress in addressing these challenges.
As a result of this partnership, essential relationships have been established, substantial private resources and capabilities have been engaged in government preparedness programs, and a model for collaborative, emergency mass dispensing of pharmaceuticals has been developed, tested, and slated for expansion. The lessons learned from this collaboration in Georgia should be considered by other government and business leaders seeking to develop similar partnerships.