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A Taxonomy of State Public Health Preparedness Units: An Empirical Examination of Organizational Structure

Menachemi, Nir PhD, MPH; Yeager, Valerie A. MPH, MPhil; Duncan, W. Jack PhD; Katholi, Charles R. PhD; Ginter, Peter M. PhD

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice:
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e31821c090d
Research Articles

Objective: State public health preparedness units (SPHPUs) were developed in response to federal funding to improve response to disasters: a responsibility that had not traditionally been within the purview of public health. The SPHPUs were created within the existing public health organizational structure, and their placement may have implications for how the unit functions, how communication takes place, and ultimately how well the key responsibilities are performed. This study empirically identifies a taxonomy of similarly structured SPHPUs and examines whether this structure is associated with state geographic, demographic, and threat-vulnerability characteristics.

Design: Data representing each SPHPU were extracted from publically available sources, including organizational charts and emergency preparedness plans for 2009. A cross-sectional segmentation analysis was conducted of variables representing structural attributes.

Setting and Participants: Fifty state public health departments.

Main Outcome Measures: Variables representing “span of control” and “hierarchal levels” were extracted from organizational charts. Structural “complexity” and “centralization” were extracted from state emergency preparedness documents and other secondary sources.

Results: On average, 6.6 people report to the same manager as the SPHPU director; 2.1 levels separate the SPHPU director from the state health officer; and a mean of 13.5 agencies collaborate with SPHPU during a disaster. Despite considerable variability in how SPHPUs had been structured, results of the cluster and principal component analysis identified 7 similarly structured groups. Neither the taxonomic groups nor the individual variables representing structure were found to be associated with state characteristics, including threat vulnerabilities.

Conclusions: Our finding supports the hypothesis that SPHPUs are seemingly inadvertently (eg, not strategically) organized. This taxonomy provides the basis for which future research can examine how SPHPU structure relates to performance measures and preparedness strategies.

In Brief

This study empirically identifies taxonomy of similarly structured state public health preparedness units and examines whether this structure is associated with state geographic, demographic, and threat-vulnerability characteristics.

Author Information

Department of Health Care Organization and Policy (Drs Menachemi, Duncan, and Ginter and Ms Yeager) and Department of Biostatistics (Dr Katholi), School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Atlanta, Georgia.

Correspondence: Nir Menachemi, PhD, MPH, Department of Health Care Organization and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ryals Public Health Bldg, 1665 University Blvd, Birmingham, AL 35294 (

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided funding for this research. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.