Linking academic and public health institutions in disaster response

How can academic institutions, with their healthcare resources, faculty expertise, and students work most efficiently in responding to public health disasters along with public health agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs)? A conference at Emory this week explored the symbiotic relationship that, with proper planning, can turn these diverse institutions into a powerful public health response team.

The conference was co-hosted by the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats (SECEBT) – an Emory-led partnership of academic institutions and public health agencies. Other conference sponsors were the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence for Emerging Infections and Biodefense (SERCEB), led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR), and the Preparedness and Emergency Response Research Center (PERRC) at the Rollins School of Public Health.

The “Disaster Response Utilizing Academic Institutional Resources” conference brought emergency preparedness and response officers from southeastern universities together with local, state and government public health representatives, NGOs, and nonprofits.

“Academic institutions have a great deal to contribute in preparing for and responding to major public health disasters, as evidenced by the tremendous response in Haiti,” says James Hughes, SECEBT director. “But we needed to further explore how universities such as Emory, which also is an academic medical center, come to the forefront in preparedness and response and how we can best create sustainable relationships and response mechanisms with government and non-government groups.”

Emory CEPAR executive director Alex Isakov also hosted a workshop sponsored by the PERRC that examined the relationships between health departments and academic institutions, as well as ways to build and sustain successful partnerships over time.

“Academic institutions can contribute significantly to sustainable community preparedness and response systems when they are oriented to the needs of their neighbors and properly interfaced with the public health system,” says Isakov.

The conference featured a keynote by Emory alumnus Captain James Ware, former commanding officer of the US Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. The CDC, UNICEF, and CARE were represented, along with RTI International, Project Medishare, Partners in Health, International Medical Corps, and Family Health Ministries.

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