Global Alert and Response (GAR)

JW Lee Centre for Strategic Health Operations

Today's increasingly mobile and interconnected world heightens health security risks. These threats include epidemic-prone or foodborne diseases. They may also be the result of accidental or deliberate outbreaks, radio nuclear accidents or environmental and natural disasters. Events such as SARS, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami demonstrate the variety and severity of the public health events we face.

The quality and speed of information are critical factors in emergency response. For this reason, WHO has established emergency operations centres in Geneva and in regional offices. These centres play a vital role in supporting rapid, evidence-based decision-making and in facilitating coordination across organizations and sectors.

Commissioned in July 2004 at WHO headquarters, the Strategic Health Operations Centre (SHOC) serves as the nerve centre of the networks of emergency operations centres and of WHO's global alert and response. The SHOC provides a single point of coordination for response to public health crises, such as disease outbreaks, natural disasters and chemical emergencies. WHO combines the latest information and communications technologies to support field operations and facilitate collaboration with Member States and the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and other networks.

Beyond response operations, the SHOC participates daily in global preparedness activities and emergency exercises. The centre also provides technical advice to WHO regional offices and other public health agencies in the design and construction of emergency operation centres, and serves as a hub for event management and information coordination.

SHOC activities support Recommendation 5 of the International Health Regulation (IHR) regarding the Pandemic Influenza A (H1N1) 2009 Review Committee: "WHO should strengthen its internal capacity to respond to a sustained Public Health Emergency of International Concern … identify the skills, resources and adjustments needed for WHO to carry out its role in coordination and global support … establish an event management structure that could be maintained throughout a future pandemic or other sustained global public-health emergency."