Science in Emergency Response at CDC: Structure and Functions

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Recent high-profile activations of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) include responses to the West African Ebola and Zika virus epidemics.

Within the EOC, emergency responses are organized according to the Incident Management System, which provides a standardized structure and chain of command, regardless of whether the EOC activation occurs in response to an outbreak, natural disaster, or other type of public health emergency. By embedding key scientific roles, such as the associate director for science, and functions within a Scientific Response Section, the current CDC emergency response structure ensures that both urgent and important science issues receive needed attention. Key functions during emergency responses include internal coordination of scientific work, data management, information dissemination, and scientific publication.

We describe a case example involving the ongoing Zika virus response that demonstrates how the scientific response structure can be used to rapidly produce high-quality science needed to answer urgent public health questions and guide policy. Within the context of emergency response, longer-term priorities at CDC include both streamlining administrative requirements and funding mechanisms for scientific research.

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