Director's Update: Spring 2020

Where the Real Magic Happens: Lifting the Curtain on Health Emergency Response

As I do every spring, I’d like to congratulate our latest group of undergraduate students on their successful completion of the “Battling the Bugs: Anthrax, Ebola, and Everyday Life” Honors Seminar. This was our fourth cohort of students, and they were simply awesome. We are very excited that thirteen of these students will be continuing with us as members of the U of M Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). Welcome to the team!

Battling the bugs studentsEach week throughout the semester, students completed personal reflection papers on what they found most compelling in the course readings, lectures, and discussions. Halfway through the semester, a strong theme emerged in many of the papers: they were shocked about the extent to which public health –particularly public health emergency response efforts – are hidden from view from them and others in the general public. Most notably, they were surprised and pleased to learn about the various campus-level emergency response plans, and dedicated resources, for public health and mass casualty incidents.

It made me think about colleagues in the Health Emergency Response Office and MRC members with whom I am so privileged to work alongside every day. I took a little peek online to see what has been written about the contributions of people who thrive even though they operate out of the public eye. I found an interesting piece about one of the most magical places on Earth (at least for children and families). In a 2018 blog post, Disney Institute Senior Cast Development Director Bruce Jones described the importance of Disney’s “third shift Cast Members.” Here’s what he said:

"Here at Disney Parks and Resorts, there is a group of Cast Members who Guests rarely see. I am referring to our third-shift Cast Members working in a variety of areas such as textile services, maintenance and custodial. Although these individuals may not interact directly with Guests very often, they clearly deserve recognition for their enormous contributions to the Guest experience.
Working throughout the night, these individuals help to maintain the upkeep of our parks and resorts so that they are “show ready” for Guests each day. They also focus on making sure our attractions, laundry facilities and transportation vehicles are in working condition to provide safe and reliable experiences to Guests and fellow Cast Members."

One of our most important MRC teams is the Logistics Strike Team. This team is responsible for “setting the stage,” in every respect, to ensure successful response to scenarios ranging from rapid distribution of medications following a large-scale infectious disease outbreak to supporting the campus community and their families following a mass casualty incident on or near campus. They plan for, and exercise, documented attention to the myriad of large and small details related to space, supplies, storage, set-up, tear down, and effective staff and crowd management and support.

People standing on top of a buildingIn this era of resource constraints, it’s common for us to ask “What are the show stoppers for this scenario?” In nearly every instance, the Logistics Strike Team tops the list. In addition to their “show stopper” work in support of a multitude of health response activities, this team is also a great place for interdisciplinary partnership. This photo of current and past team leaders is proof with colleagues representing the College of Biological Sciences (Michael Maher, graduate student), Medical School (Anita Theilman, Finance), College of Veterinary Medicine (Lisa Hubinger, Graduate Programs), and Office of Continuing Professional Development (Theresa Hudachek, senior education specialist). In addition to those pictured, Natalie Vestin, research associate in the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) has signed on as a new team leader.

As I write this, the Minnesota Department of Health has issued a statement about the death of an infant related to pertussis (the first pediatric death since 2013), CIDRAP colleagues are closely monitoring a novel coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan China, 37 MRC members are reflecting on their recent deployment in support of families devastated by a Christmas morning fire at the Drake Hotel in Minneapolis, and acts of gun violence continue to play out across our nation. Health emergency preparedness and response work, particularly efforts solidly behind the curtain, are needed now more than ever. We are very fortunate to have so many caring and dedicated people on this campus working in and with the Health Emergency Response Office. When we are needed, the show must go on!

Jill DeBoer, Director
Health Emergency Response Office

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