From bioterrorism exercise to real-life public health crisis: Lessons for emergency hotline operations

Lori Uscher-Pines, Sylvia H. Bookbinder, Suzanne Miro, Thomas Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Although public health agencies routinely operate hotlines to communicate key messages to the public, they are rarely evaluated to improve hotline management. Since its creation in 2003, the New Jersey Department of Health & Senior Services' Emergency Communications Center has confronted two large-scale incidents that have tested its capabilities in this area. The influenza vaccine shortage of 2004 and the April 2005 TOPOFF 3 full-scale bioterrorism exercise provided both real-life and simulated crisis situations from which to derive general insights into the strengths and weaknesses of hotline administration. This article identifies problems in the areas of staff and message management by analyzing call volume data and the qualitative observations of group feedback sessions and semistructured interviews with hotline staff. It also makes recommendations based on lessons learned to improve future hotline operations in public health emergencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-22
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Public Health Management and Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2007



  • Bioterrorism
  • Communication
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Hotlines
  • Influenza vaccines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy

Cite this