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The Day Everything Changed

Lainie Rutkow, The Day Everything Changed

Alum Lainie Rutkow, now faculty, reflects on how 9/11 altered the course of her career.


A week into her first year of law school at NYU, Lainie Rutkow witnessed the devastation of September 11, 2001 and began asking questions her professors couldn’t easily answer, such as which level of government was primarily responsible for the on-going response and recovery? As a resident of lower Manhattan who lived through the tragedy at Ground Zero and its aftermath, Rutkow discovered a renewed public health calling in her passion to improve emergency preparedness.

When Rutkow started the Bloomberg School MPH program in 2003, she was engaged by faculty to help examine options to provide liability protections to disaster volunteer health professionals; a project that resulted in a report to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Her studies continued to focus on the intersection of law and public health as she entered the PhD program in 2005 as a Sommer Scholar. At that point, she began developing the skill set to evaluate the emergency preparedness laws that she had studied as an MPH student.

Now, as an assistant professor and assistant director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Law and the Public’s Health in the department of Health Policy and Management (HPM), Rutkow is evaluating some of the emergency preparedness laws developed 13 years ago in the wake of the September 11 attacks. She remains committed to asking questions and analyzing solutions to make local, state and national populations safer in the event of emergencies.

“It’s a privilege seeking answers to policy questions that impact the lives of first responders and others who are on the front lines of protecting the public’s health,” Rutkow says.

Her research addresses questions such as: How might laws impact first responders’ and others’ mental health during or shortly after an emergency? And, once states have enacted emergency preparedness laws, what effect do those laws have on an actual emergency response?

Rutkow recently led projects that analyze state-level emergency preparedness laws throughout the nation. Her findings generate science-grounded strategies that empower federal, state, and local public health agencies, disaster response workers, volunteers and stewards of consumer protection to better safeguard the public’s health.

In addition to her research, Rutkow has received “excellence in teaching” recognition for her graduate course, Public Health Agencies: Law, Policy, and Practice, and published over 50 articles in leading biomedical and legal journals, including the American Journal of Public Health and the New England Journal of Medicine

“Through coursework and research opportunities, my years as an MPH and doctoral student at the Bloomberg School helped me to better understand the connections between law, public health, and emergency preparedness. Now, as a faculty member, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to help current students realize the practical implications of those intersections at the local, state, and federal levels,” says Rutkow. “While the events of 9/11 are 13 years behind us, their legal ramifications remain highly relevant today as national and global threats—from terrorism to infectious disease outbreaks—constantly evolve.”


Sommer Scholars