PODCAST: When a Public Health Crisis Comes to Town

In this episode of Local Gov Life, A. C. Gonzalez and Sana Syed cover how they navigated the Ebola crisis that struck Dallas three years ago.

"We were managing the fear and the panic more than we were managing Ebola itself." In 2014, A. C. Gonzalez was Dallas city manager and Sana Syed was the public information officer. They took a look back at how they navigated through the crisis when the first confirmed U.S. case of Ebola surfaced in their city. The deadly disease had struck West Africa initially, killing more than 11,000 people. When a Dallas man traveling from Africa returned home and fell ill with symptoms, residents became so frightened, they were pulling children out of school and avoiding public venues. Before the crisis ended, two additional residents contracted the disease and city officials worked around the clock to keep everyone—from city staff to medical professionals from the Centers for Disease Control—informed. The city even had to find a way to test and house the dog of one of the patients. 

Gonzalez looks at how the crisis impacted the city in unprecedented ways, in this episode of the Local Gov Life Podcast. He and Syed discuss the many ways they engaged the community and civic groups as well as how having strong relationships helped pave the way in uncharted territory. 

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Takeaways: 

  • There is no such thing as over-communicating.
  • Partnerships with other organizations, such as the Dallas Independent School District, helped in unforeseen ways—like having translators on staff to facilitate communication with immigrant residents.
  • Help can come from unlikely places. For example, the Catholic Diocese and a former city manager stepped forward to house families that needed to be quarantined. 
  • In an unprecedented situation, you need to be prepared to take the reins. 
  • Even in the midst of a crisis, it's important to call everyone together, make decisions, and then mobilize.

Quotable Mentions:

"We did not have clarity on who was in charge...who should be giving the orders."

“We brought every major stakeholder to the table—from the county to the school district to medical authorities—and we said how can we create an educational campaign about what Ebola is to help dispel some of this panic.”

"We had no intention of euthanizing that dog!"

“Whether or not they were clinically in any danger of contracting the disease, the public thinks they’re possible carriers.”

“At a time like this, when not all of the answers are apparent, relationships are critical.”

"In this era of global travel, any disease that is out there in the world is a possible visitor to your community."

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Local Gov Life highlights successful programs and projects that enhance the quality of life in our communities. Each episode features a changing cast of local government experts from public and private sector backgrounds, who together encompass years of experience in getting things done and achieving results. Catch up on all individual episodes at icma.org/podcast or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music.

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