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December 9, 2005

Bloomberg School to Play Important Role in Homeland Security Center

We may be unable to prevent earthquakes, epidemics or all terrorist attacks, but effective preparation and response will save lives when a disaster strikes. Improving our nation’s preparedness for and response to large-scale disasters will be the mission of a new $15 million research consortium established at Johns Hopkins University by the Department of Homeland Security.

The new Center for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response will be headed by Lynn Goldman, MD, MPH, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School, and Gabe Kellen, MD, chair of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Kellen also directs CEPAR, the Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response at Johns Hopkins, which will serve as the seat for the new consortium.

Goldman emphasizes that the center will take an “all hazards” approach to preparedness and disaster response. “We are focusing not just on terrorism, but natural disasters, bombs, epidemics, even warfare, which can impact a great number of people,” said Goldman.

Drawing upon the resources and expertise of 22 institutions nationwide, the consortium will examine the theory and practice of emergency preparedness and response, including the issues involved in critical decision-making, the integration of regional resources, the ability of medical facilities to respond to a sudden influx of patients, and health systems integration. “We are taking a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving. Public health will be a partner in this, but we will learn how engineers approach problems and they will learn from what we have to offer,” said Goldman.

While at Johns Hopkins Hospital to announce the consortium, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he believed that scientific research was essential for ensuring sound planning and decision-making. To illustrate his point, he noted that the recent decision to change security screening measures for airline passengers was “based on careful, sustained and thoughtful consideration of the risks.”

Among the projects involving the Bloomberg School, the center intends to develop a tool to help communities assess their risk to a high consequence event, whether man-made or naturally occurring. According to Goldman, better risk assessment tools can help communities assess their vulnerabilities and address their needs. “As Secretary Chertoff stated, we can’t keep adding on layer upon layer of prevention and, if we could, we would probably have a world we wouldn’t want to live in. We need to help communities invest more wisely.”

Professor Steve Teret, JD, MPH, professor of Health Policy and Management, and faculty with the Center for Law and the Public’s Health, will analyze legal issues and policies involved in high consequence disaster response, such as the problems faced during the response to Hurricane Katrina. Specifically, Teret and colleagues plan to examine the interactions of government agencies and liability issues during a crisis response. Donald S. Burke, MD, professor in the Department of International Health, and Ron Brookmeyer, PhD, professor in the Department of Biostatistics, will also develop computational models and simulations for analyzing the response to disaster scenarios.

Another key goal of the consortium will be educating the next generation of leaders in the issues related to preparing and responding to critical events. The Bloomberg School will be involved in developing preparedness education programs through its Center for Public Health Preparedness, led by Jonathan Links, PhD, professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Center for the Study of High Consequence Event Preparedness and Response is the fifth center of excellence established by the Department of Homeland Security. It was chosen from among 34 other proposals. In addition to participation from the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, the center will also involve faculty from the Applied Physics Laboratory, the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education and the Whiting School of Engineering.

Other major partners of the center are the Florida State Universities Consortium on Homeland Security (Florida A&M, University of South Florida, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University and University of Central Florida), the University of Alabama (Birmingham), Morgan State University, the University of Buffalo, the American Red Cross, the Brookings Institute and CBRTA (a partner in the National Technology Alliance).

Additional affiliated participants are at Loma Linda University, the University of South Dakota, Tuskegee University, the University of Alabama College of Communications, Jacksonville State University, Oregon Health and Science University, the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Denver Health and Medical Center, the Maryland Medical Services System, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.--Tim Parsons 

JHU Gazette Article