Commissioned Corps Deployments: Public Health Emergency Responders

September 19, 2014


LCDR Elizabeth Lybarger

As America's uniformed service of public health professionals, one of the many ways the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service achieves its mission is through rapid and effective responses to public health needs. In order to address these urgent needs following acute public health emergencies, the Office of the Surgeon General created the Office of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) in 2004 to activate, mobilize, and deploy qualified officers expeditiously to a disaster site.

“Deployments are important for the Corps to take part in because we serve a population in need and offer a variety of skills and abilities,” says LCDR Elizabeth Lybarger, Training Coordinator for the Readiness and Deployment Operations Group (REDDOG) in the Division of Commissioned Corps Personnel and Readiness (DCCPR). “Deployments in response to the events of September 11, 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 essentially shaped the parameters that we use in deploying Corps officers today.”

A Commissioned Corps deployment is defined as a directed, temporary assignment of officers from their assigned duties within HHS and non-HHS organizations in response to a national public health emergency. Corps officers can also be deployed for a situation presenting a significant threat to the public health of a State, Tribe, or local community.

The deployment process begins with the Secretary of Health and Human Services’ approval of the activation of Corps officers. Once the Secretary has given this approval, the REDDOG Director evaluates requests for Corps officers from any State , a Federal Government Agency or Department, Tribal Nations, or from a Foreign Government. Requests can also be vetted through the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Emergency Management Group (EMG) and are analyzed for the mission requirements, the Corps’ ability to fill those requirements, and the ability to keep Corps officers safe. If a deployment request is approved, ready rosters are activated and appropriate assets for the mission are identified and deployed. Any officer who has met the Corps’ basic readiness requirements may be deployed.

“Response during any deployment creates camaraderie amongst officers and often builds teams, memories , and esprit de corps,” says LCDR Lybarger. “Officers often find in themselves new strengths, skills, and abilities as they see first-hand the impact they are having on the population we serve.”