Similar to the triaging of patients by health care workers, legal and public health professionals must prioritize and respond to issues of law and ethics in declared public health emergencies. As revealed by the 2009-2010 H1N1 influenza outbreak and other events, there are considerable inconsistencies among professionals regarding how to best approach these issues during a public health emergency. Our project explores these inconsistencies by attempting to assess how practitioners make legal and ethical decisions in real-time emergencies to further critical public health objectives. Using a fictitious scenario and interactive visualization environment, we observed real-time decision-making processes among knowledgeable participants. Although participants' decisions and perspectives varied, the exercise demonstrated an increase in the perception of the relevance of legal preparedness in multiple aspects of the decision-making process and some key lessons learned for consideration in future repetitions of the exercise and actual, real-time emergency events.
(Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2011;5:S242-S251)