A Jubilant Festival of Preparedness

Earlier this year, July 30th – August 2nd, American Samoa hosted the 10th quadrennial Festival of Pacific Arts, which attracted a record number of attendees. Since 1972, delegations from 27 Pacific Island countries and territories have come together every four years to share and exchange their diverse cultures at the festival. Throughout the festival these Polynesian and Micronesian countries, territories, and other ethnic-cultural entities showcase a rich variety of cultural expressions ranging from clothing, music, dancing, and foods to traditional tattoos and works of art.

American Samoa is a U.S. territory encompassing six not-quite-contiguous islands in the South Pacific. Barely larger in geographic area than Washington, D.C., it has a population of not quite 58,000 citizens. Because the Festival of Pacific Arts was one of the largest “special events” ever to take place on American Samoa, the territorial government decided to follow the principles set forth in the U.S. National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) in managing the operations for this year’s festival.

The American Samoa Department of Health had already been training its employees and volunteers in accordance with NIMS/ICS guidelines for several years, thanks to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Public Health Emergency Preparedness grant administered through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, American Samoa had used the “direct-assistance” component of the grant as a funding mechanism to have Lieutenant Commander (USPHS) Joseph Roth assigned to work with the festival organizers as a CDC Career Epidemiology Field Officer (CEFO) during the past two years.

In the months leading up to the festival, the American Samoa Department of Health conducted various internal-training exercises developed under the ICS guidelines, and in the months and weeks leading up to the festival worked successfully with a number of other agencies, and private-sector stakeholders, to address the numerous aspects of public-health preparedness planning associated with the event. Alternative-care sites were established throughout the island, for example, to ensure that anyone needing medical assistance would be treated not only professionally but also in a timely manner.

In addition, field medical tents were manned by carefully trained medical personnel, and ambulances were stationed in close proximity to the sites of the main outdoor events. Roth himself took special care to ensure that surveillance for mosquito-borne infectious diseases – e.g., malaria and dengue fever – and other acute illnesses would be carried out on a daily basis during the festival. Thus, any suspected case of infectious disease could be assessed quickly by public health officials at the festival’s command center.

NIMS/ICS proved to be a useful tool not only for planning prior to the festival, the Health Department officials said, but also for organizing agency operations and inter-agency communications during the festival. Their only personal regrets, in fact, these officials said, were that they were too busy themselves, working an average of 12-14 hours per day, to see and perhaps even participate in some of the colorful ceremonies and dances.

For additional information about the festival, click on: http://pacartsas.com/index.htm

Ruth Marrero

Ruth Marrero is an HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) fellow assigned with the Career Epidemiology Field Officer Program (CEFO) program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. She attained her BS in Business Management from Norwich University, Vermont, and is studying for a Master’s in Public Health Education at California State University Northridge, California. Her focus of study has been in Epidemiology, and she is enrolled in an Emergency Management certificate program. She is a per-diem Health and Safety Services instructor and a volunteer Disaster Action Team (DAT) member with the American Red Cross of Ventura County, California. She also has completed CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training and has been a CERT volunteer at many events.



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