Health Protection Condition (HPCON) levels indicate a level of response to a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. Department of Defense Public Health Emergency Management policy assigns a specific level depending on the nature and severity of the emergency.
How HPCONs Work
HPCONs are essentially the Department of Defense protocol for managing its role during public health emergencies. Remember the color-coded Department of Homeland Security threat levels that were instituted after 9/11? There is a similarly graduated scale of threat with HPCONs, though the HPCONs are more similar to Force Protection Conditions as we’ll examine below.
HPCONs are subject to review and revision using information from the local community–HPCONs may vary depending on location. Some organizations, units, or commands may be in lockdown mode while others may permit travel and gathering when conditions permit. Establishing and/or changing HPCONs may depend on input from non-military authorities relevant to the public safety issues addressed by HPCON levels.
Five HPCON Levels Explained
Health Protection Condition Levels begin at Zero for typical or routine operations. As the threat increases, so does the level:
- Alpha (limited)
- Bravo (moderate)
- Charlie (substantial)
- Delta (severe)
In this condition there is zero public health threat. HPCPON 0 is “business as usual” but in spite of this, some public health guidance is issued:
- Get annual immunizations and stay current on your shots
- Avoid contact with sick people
- Avoid those who display symptoms of being sick
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water (20 seconds minimum)
- Cover all coughs and sneezes
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
HPCON Alpha indicates a “limited health alert”. Follow these basic guidelines:
- Clean and disinfect surfaces
- Contact a care provider for instructions BEFORE trying to get care at a clinic or hospital
- Notify your chain of command of any symptoms related to the HPCON situation
- Stay informed using OFFICIAL sources. HPCONs are issued by official sources and you should use the suggested resources provided for updates and more information
Lower HPCON conditions do not automatically mean that it’s safe to assume things are getting better–these conditions change quickly depending on circumstances.
A moderate-type level of protection. This level indicates increased community transmission of the health threat. All previous HPCON measures must be followed as well as the following:
- Practice social distancing at all times
- Avoid unnecessary contact with others
- No unnecessary travel
- No non-essential travel to areas known to be experiencing active disease transmission
- Stock up on food, medication, and other needs for least 14 days
- Prepare for travel restrictions and cancellations
- Make alternative arrangements for childcare
- Follow DoD or command-level movement restrictions
- Obey all orders to self-isolate / quarantine
Health Protection Condition Charlie means sustained community transmission is happening. All previous guidance prior to HPCON Charlie must be followed plus the following:
- Expect limited access to supplies
- Expect limited services
- Assume gatherings are cancelled
- Expect travel restrictions and prepare accordingly
- Plan for prolonged isolation
- Prepare for restricted access to military installations including BX/PX, Commissary, etc.
- Follow remote work procedures as directed
- If outside the U.S., authorized or ordered departure actions may be necessary. Expect an evacuation of dependents.
Delta is the most severe Health Protection Condition Level. Expect to remain at home for extended periods of time; follow all previous HPCON guidance as well as the following additional measures:
- Assume restricted movement in your community is the norm
- Comply with all stay-at-home isolation requirements
- Comply with all quarantine directives
- Observe both military guidance and civilian authority
- Do not violate HPCON guidelines without express permission or instructions otherwise
- Assume that all protective measures and orders apply to you
DoD HPCON guidelines are applicable for ALL public health crises, not just the outbreak of coronavirus and the spread of COVID-19. In all circumstances, if you have questions about how to properly comply with HPCONs, consult your local chain of command.