City’s emergency preparedness director helped form national response to swine flu

Steve Woodard is using his past experience as a top administrator at FEMA to help monitor the coronavirus

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Jacksonville health and emergency officials continue to monitor the new coronavirus, one of those involved in the operation actually helped designed the nation’s response to another pandemic 11 years ago.

Steve Woodard, chief of the city’s Emergency Preparedness Division, was previously a top administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C., and he was there in 2009 during the swine flu outbreak.

Woodard said he worked with other agencies in designing contingency plans that were used for that pandemic.

From April 2009 to April 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 12,000 deaths in the United States due to the swine flu, otherwise known as the H1N1 virus. The CDC said there have been 29 coronavirus deaths in the county as of Wednesday.

News4Jax asked Woodard if the events about a decade ago compared to what’s happening now with the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization on Wednesday declared a pandemic.

“(COVID-19 is) different because, by definition, it’s a new type of virus -- one we don’t have a vaccine for and one that seems to be impacting the older people in our community versus younger people, which is one of the differences between coronavirus and H1N1,” he said.

Woodard is now using his past experience to help in Jacksonville, where he has been with the Emergency Preparedness Division for seven years. He said the Department of Health is the lead agency when it comes to the coronavirus, but he is working with them. He said if the health department informs Jacksonville’s EOC that there is an active case of COVID-19, then the city would step in.

"We want to make sure all of our partners have that information in a timely fashion -- that includes hospitals that we work with, fire rescue personnel who may be interacting with people who are sick, and making sure the public also has that information,” Woodard said.

He added: “We’ve not canceled anything here and we’re going to take it as it comes. If cases involve here, we’ll see what needs to be done to keep the public safe.”

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