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While the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic makes news on a nearly hourly basis, one of the stories being missed is how well prepared many communities are to respond to local outbreaks.

“I take great comfort in knowing communities have been preparing and developing those relationships (among first responders and other agencies) for a long time,” Freddy Gray, MPH, CHES, director of health communication and preparedness, said.

ORAU has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on preparedness since 2003. At that time, ORAU had a contract with the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine to run tabletop exercises at the eight quarantine centers that existed around the country then.

“We walked through how they would handle an infectious disease coming in on an international conveyance. That could be an airplane, a train, a bus, a car – anything across the borders,” Gray said. At the time, the focus was on SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which first appeared in China and spread worldwide within a few months.

ORAU continued to work with the CDC on tabletop exercises for the quarantine centers, of which there are now 20. Over the years, ORAU’s work in preparedness has evolved to include development and implementation of preparedness education campaign materials for CDC’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program; medical countermeasures readiness, which helps communities put plans in place to provide medicines and supplies during public health emergencies; and technical assistance and training for preparedness professionals.

Based on ORAU’s work, the CDC asked for a toolkit that could be adapted to help communities respond to outbreaks locally.

Gray said the tools were disseminated to local communities for how to handle the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 and have been used in the years since by ORAU’s pandemic response team and the CDC to improve local response during a public health emergency.

While there are still many unknowns about COVID-19, Gray said the existing tools can be modified for the current situation.

He added that public health organizations, first responders, hospital and health care agencies, faith-based organizations, schools and businesses in the communities where he has been are well prepared.

“They work wonderfully together and there’s a lot of good sharing of information, a lot of collaborative effort, so there are a lot of people at the local level who are tied together as brothers and sisters, so to speak, and doing a very, very good job,” Gray said.

To learn more about ORAU’s public health emergency preparedness capabilities, see Public Health Emergency Preparedness.

Contact us

For information about ORAU’s health communication, preparedness and response solutions, contact Freddy Gray, director, Health Communication and Preparedness programs, at 865.576.0029 or

Our Experts

Freddy Gray

Freddy Gray, M.P.H.

Expertise: Public health and healthcare preparedness, medical countermeasures, team dynamics, strategic planning

Gray has more than 25 years of experience managing and supervising public health and healthcare system preparedness and response programs involving medical countermeasures to help mitigate the surge of patients due to a public health emergency.

Certification: Master Certified Health Education Specialist

Julie Crumly, Ph.D.

Julie Crumly, Ph.D.

Expertise: Health and education program evaluation, research methods and data analysis, multicultural and social psychology, evaluation of health interventions and programs, and outcome evaluations for continuing medical education

Co-author: “Non-pharmaceutical interventions for pandemic influenza: An assessment of communication, training, and guidance needs of state, tribal, local, and territorial public health officials,” 2018

Certification: Master Certified Health Education Specialist