Huntsville/Madison County is no stranger to crisis management.
From the April 27, 2011, tornadoes to the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, our community has had its share of emergencies. As the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spreads, being able to look back and learn from past experiences is critical.
Huntsville-Madison County EMA Director Jeff Birdwell said also having a strong team to manage the outbreak will help the community through this difficult time.
From city governments to emergency medical services to business networks, Birdwell said our leadership is stepping up to the plate.
“You’re talking about a huge, collective group of agencies that have come together and said, ‘We want to make this happen,’ and ‘We want to make this better,’” he said. “That has been the top focus since Day 1.”
Joined by the City of Madison and Madison County Commission, Huntsville has partnered with numerous organizations, including the Alabama Department of Public Health, EMA, medical community, HEMSI, Redstone Arsenal, and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.
The groups host a daily conference call to discuss COVID-19 response and needs. Many also send representatives to the City’s daily COVID-19 briefings, which are available live on HSV TV and Facebook.
Mayor Tommy Battle established the live briefings to ensure the public and media would hear the facts and the latest information directly from the leadership team.
The public’s participation in social distancing and staying home is critical to reduce the number of people who are infected.”
“Our hospital CEO (David Spillers) has been a regular participant in the daily briefings that are held in the Council Chambers,” said Burr Ingram, vice president of communications and marketing at Huntsville Hospital. “These briefings have helped keep our community well informed throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Ingram said they’ve worked closely with the City on several projects, including the establishment and operation of a drive-thru testing clinic at John Hunt Park.
“One of the reasons that our community has responded so well in this crisis is the cooperative relationship between Huntsville Hospital and the City of Huntsville,” he said. “The same can be said about Madison County and the City of Madison.”
Dr. Pam Hudson, CEO of Crestwood Medical Center, said collaboration at the top has helped to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Huntsville and throughout the state.
“We are in constant communication with our colleagues at Huntsville Hospital System, EMA, HEMSI, as well as our local leaders to assure that we are working together to fight this disease in our community,” she said. “The public’s participation in social distancing and staying home is critical to reduce the number of people who are infected.”
When emergencies happen, Madison Mayor Paul Finley said local leadership regularly shares information that helps our community and cities navigate the crisis.
This week alone, Finley said department heads shared information that put Huntsville and Madison in a better position to make decisions and implement policy that positively impacts our community and employees.
“When times are good, our community recognizes just how connected our team is, working together to bring jobs and opportunity,” he said. “During times like this, we hope our community sees that same connection — government leaders working with healthcare professionals and Team Redstone to make impactful decisions that guide us through these tough times.”
Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong said local leadership has been more engaged than ever these last few weeks.
“Together with the Alabama Department of Public Health, Huntsville-Madison County EMA, Redstone Arsenal, HEMSI, our Chamber, and especially our hospital CEOs, our communication link is the strongest I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We’re all working together to protect the health and safety of the 370,000 residents that call Madison County home.”
Although COVID-19 is a new virus, ADPH District Medical Officer Dr. Karen Landers said plans were already in place to deal with the illness before it arrived in Huntsville.
“Planning and training for events is a very regular part of work for some of us,” she said. “In this particular incident, especially in Madison and Huntsville, there was this early concern to really bring this to the forefront and start talking about it.”
Birdwell said they regularly practice and adjust emergency plans to prepare for real-life situations like tornadoes and COVID-19.
Because authorities are already working together, they don’t waste time when a health emergency like COVID-19 hits.
With the help of the public and our COVID-19 response team, we can stop the spread of this disease and come back stronger than before.”
“When we have things like this happen, that introductory period doesn’t have to happen because we already know each other,” Birdwell said. “That goes a long way in pulling everybody together and working towards a common goal.”
Chamber President and CEO Chip Cherry said their strong business network is also offering assistance during the COVID-19 crisis.
In the past two weeks, Cherry said multiple area companies have provided medical supplies, testing kits, personal protective equipment and other materials to fight COVID-19 in our community.
The Chamber is also hosting daily Zoom calls with helpful information for businesses and guest appearances from top leaders.
“We can help be a force multiplier,” Cherry said. “But it’s very impressive to hear about the coordination between all the various entities of how we can best serve the public and be prepared to meet the needs of the people.”
The next two weeks will be critical in stopping the further spread of COVID-19. Health leaders urge residents to stay home, practice social distancing, wash their hands and cover their cough or sneeze.
The advice is simple, but it could save the life of someone you love.
“If we make the right choices now, it will have a significant impact over the few next weeks and months and will help our community weather this storm much better than it would have otherwise,” Cherry said.
Mayor Battle agrees.
“This is a difficult time for the Huntsville community, but we’ve been through hard times before and it’s nothing we can’t handle,” he said. “With the help of the public and our COVID-19 response team, we can stop the spread of this disease and come back stronger than before.”
For COVID-19 updates, visit HuntsvilleAL.gov/COVID19.