Tribal Legal Preparedness Project Launches at Pitt Public Health

By: Allison Hydzik

In a public health emergency – such as an infectious disease outbreak or natural disaster – state and federal governments have established laws and procedures that enable authorities to respond quickly.

But, what about the 573 federally recognized Tribal Nations that are sovereign entities in the United States, each with unique needs?

The Tribal Legal Preparedness Project seeks to fill this niche with free training modules and a resource library to help Tribal Nations enhance their preparedness capacity. The project was announced today by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Public Health Practice, in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ChangeLab Solutions. It’s the result of a multiyear process of surveying and listening to tribes to learn their specific needs and concerns.

“Public health emergencies are issues that every community faces,” said Tina Batra Hershey, J.D., M.P.H., project director and assistant professor of health policy and management in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. “To address these threats, it is critical to understand how law can be used to help these communities prepare. Tribal governments have the authority to create their own laws – thus, legal preparedness is crucial to their public health response in a disaster. We created the Tribal Legal Preparedness Project to assist Tribal Nations interested in expanding their legal preparedness capacity.”

For example, in an infectious disease outbreak, Tribal Nations may need to quarantine their members. If laws, policies and procedures are not in place, that process can be complicated, particularly if jurisdictional issues arise due to the location of the Tribal member. This can also lead to delays in protecting public health.

The project’s modules and library are not a substitute for professional legal advice, Hershey said, but are intended to assist Tribal Nations with enhancing their preparedness capacity.