By: Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH

In an ever-changing preparedness landscape, population health threats range from infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika to climate change and the demonstrated health impacts of extreme weather related to climate to natural and environmental disasters like flooding and unsafe drinking water, all during a period of declining vaccination rates. We know that practitioners and officials already have too many to-dos and too little funding. That’s why we hope the National Health Security Preparedness Index will serve as a useful tool that can provide insights into where states and communities should focus resources and attention.

Diving into the data and using it to guide action and partnerships won’t happen overnight. Officials and experts on the ground will need to explore state data, identify areas for improvement, cultivate alliances, and develop creative solutions for closing preparedness gaps. Now in its third release, the Index has seen its data sources and methodology refined and adjusted to encourage its use as a tool for collaboration and improvement in states.

Last fall, we held a webinar featuring national and state officials to share some ideas about how to use the Index. Experts including Former Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Nicole Lurie, Washington state Secretary of Health John Wiesman, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Director Stephen Redd, and Index Program Management Office Director Glen Mays shared practical examples of how the Index is being put into action.

We are excited to launch the Preparedness Innovator Challenge that we hope will yield creative grassroots solutions from the frontlines of health security and preparedness. Individuals and teams are invited to share their stories of how they are using or plan to use the Index to improve health security, preparedness, and resiliency at a local, state, or national level. Entries will be accepted through July 31, 2017. Winners will receive national recognition for their work, along with opportunities to share their approaches and results with other experts across the country.

As Former Assistant Secretary Lurie noted on the webinar, measures only improve if they are used. To this end, please spend some time exploring in detail the Index data, which can be downloaded via the website Toolkit page, and identifying ways that findings can inform your efforts to improve health security and preparedness in your own state. Always working to make the Index more useful and practical for you, we are proud of all that has already been accomplished and eager to continue moving this work forward.

Alonzo L. Plough, PhD, MPH, is vice president, Research-Evaluation-Learning and chief science officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.