The Ebola crisis highlighted the need for greater information sharing between public health and law enforcement.

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Robert C. Hutchinson, a supervisory special agent (SSA) with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently wrote about the U.S. response to Ebola in late 2014 in an article for Domestic Preparedness. While a number of federal, state, local, and private sector partners got together in late 2014 for a short-notice tabletop exercise for the Ebola virus, Hutchinson emphasized how the event highlighted the need for greater communication and collaboration between organizations, especially health and law enforcement.

One of the largest disconnects in terms of the response to the Ebola crisis was this gulf between public health and law enforcement, as Hutchinson expands on:

"Public health officials are masters of their field on many diverse fronts, but the execution of involuntary quarantines involving resistant persons was not one of the areas with a well-established track record. Similarly, law enforcement officials are expected to address numerous diverse public safety issues that evolve, but the enforcement of involuntary quarantines involving noncompliant persons was not on their radar." 

During this tabletop exercise between various organizations, including public health and law enforcement, Hutchinson noted the lack of clear expectations and responsibility regarding the response to Ebola. It was only in the midst of the exercise itself that law enforcement was notified it was expected to be enforcing local quarantine orders recommended by public health officials. 

However, there were problems with this. Law enforcement officials did not know they were supposed to be enforcing quarantines and had not taken part in the necessary planning or training. Meanwhile, public health officials, themselves not accustomed to executing a quarantine order, had presumed that law enforcement officials could enforce quarantines on very little or short notice.

Although the exercise concerned the response to the Ebola crisis in particular, it offered valuable lessons for the emergency response community overall. Most of all, it showed the need for better collaboration and partnerships in dealing with complex threats. In addition, it emphasized the need for better training and protocols, both from a public health and legal standpoint.

The need for better training and protocols became apparent in Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital's response to the first Ebola case in the U.S. As Hutchinson explains, one of the Dallas' nurses who contracted the virus filed a suit against the hospital, alleging that it failed to provide adequate training and equipment to respond to the disease. 

While the claims of the lawsuit itself are still being sorted out, Hutchinson emphasizes one key point, that it "should be a notice for public officials and leaders in all related fields to assess their intentions, planning, preparedness, and training for future public health and homeland security threats." He continues: "There are consequences for ignoring these clearly identified threats and conditions under legal terms such as 'failure to train' and 'deliberate indifference.'"

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