September is National Preparedness Month, but the USF College of Public Health embraces preparedness year-round.
War. Public health emergencies. Natural and man-made disasters. Refugee campus with internally displaced persons.
For most individuals, the mere idea of working in the aforementioned conditions is enough to trigger a rapid heartbeat, panic attack, or worse.
No so, for the selfless, dedicated professionals who make public health preparedness their life’s passion.
At the University of South Florida, preparedness is a social responsibility—not just in September for National Preparedness Month, but year-round. Through online and on-campus academic programs and federally-funded centers, the USF College of Public Health trains students, professionals, and community organizations at home and around the world.
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USF offers the only fully accredited MPH in global disaster management and humanitarian relief in a virtual format
The Department of Global Health is home to four undergraduate and graduate programs that equip students with knowledge and real-world exposure to public health preparedness. To accommodate students’ busy schedules, three of the programs are completely online.
“The virtual format is particularly attractive to US Public Health Service Officers, military personnel, and other out-of-state students,” said Wayne Westhoff, PhD, associate professor of global health and director of the disaster management and humanitarian assistance programs. “Plus, some out-of-state and international students are eligible for a reduced tuition waiver, which is an added bonus.”
The graduate certificate in disaster management addresses the management, preparedness, response, and recovery from natural and man-made disasters. By focusing on humanitarian foundations and principles, the graduate certificate in humanitarian assistance teaches students leadership and management skills needed to work with special populations, particularly international refugees, displaced persons (IDPs), and those affected by emergencies.
Disaster management and humanitarian assistance graduate certificates arrived on the scene in 2002 and 2006, respectively. Since then, more than 268 students enrolled in the programs. According to Kathy Barnes, an academic services administrator in University College, “Disaster management ranks #10 and humanitarian assistance #46 out of USF’s 115 graduate certificates.”
Can’t decide between the two graduate certificates?
In 2011, USF began offering the only fully accredited master of public health degree in global disaster management and humanitarian relief. The program is completely online and includes courses in homeland security. To date, 14 students earned the degree and more than 40 are currently enrolled.
“About one-third of our graduate students are in the US Public Health Service Corp, one-third work full-time in preparedness, and one-third are completely new to the field,” Dr. Westhoff said. “This combination of students often generates rich discussions with real life, real time examples that you just can’t get from a book!”
Hunter Zager, MPH represents a cadre of selfless, dedicated professionals who earned a degree from the college and make public health preparedness their life’s passion.
Ms. Zager is one of seven regional emergency response advisors for the Florida Department of Health. She is assigned to the Tampa Bay Region.
As a regional advisor, Zager collaborates with eight county health departments on preparedness and response. She is responsible for covering a wide range of events including hurricanes and natural disasters, anthrax threats, and other emergencies like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Special events such as the Super Bowl and Republican National Convention (RNC) also fall within her jurisdiction.
Last year, Zager contributed to a year plus of planning to prepare the local health and medical system for expected and potential impacts from the RNC. Primarily charged with patient movement, “I led a team of field personnel charged with monitoring deployed health and medical assets, assisting with logistical needs, and troubleshooting field-level health and medical issues,” Zager said.
Additionally, she wrote the Aerial Point of Embarkation Plan which entailed relocating large numbers of patients by air. If activation had been necessary, she would have managed the set-up and operation.
“Thankfully, the plan was not activated and the RNC was mostly uneventful from a preparedness standpoint.”
Interested undergraduates can earn a minor in community engaged home land security and emergency management. In July, a group participated in the college’s first International Public Health Field School in Belize. Focused on emergency management, they spent two weeks examining the country’s public health framework, exploring under-served villages, and interacting with individuals charged with protecting Belizean communities in the event of a disaster.
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USF’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center develops and strengthens Florida’s public health workforce
The College of Public Health is home to the Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center (PERLC), one of 14 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded centers across the U.S. The Center trains state, local, and tribal public health authorities and meets partners’ unique workforce development needs in the area of public health preparedness and response, as well as specialized training, education, and consultation.
In the event of a disaster, volunteers and staff at emergency organizations often join first responders in aiding victims. By facilitating trainings on topics such as situational awareness, local health interventions, and crisis leadership, the PERLC helps individuals improve skills necessary during disaster response.
Additionally, the Center teaches teams how to build, strengthen, or coordinate coalitions in their community and offers follow-up support on topics such as sustaining coalitions, a coalition’s role in disaster recovery, and measuring resiliency.
“Through coalition training, we strive to enhance the ability of Florida’s 67 counties to be resilient and recover from disasters,” said Dave Rogoff MHA, BSIE, director of the Center for Leadership in Public Health Practice. “This is done by assisting the counties in assembling new Community-Based Disaster Coalitions (CBDC) in their respective areas or strengthening existing coalitions.”
As of August, the Center successfully trained teams from 33 Florida counties in the development of CBDCs. Participants included community groups, county public health departments, emergency management, as well as faith-based and non-profit organizations.
“More than 13.5 million people—close to three-fourths of the state’s total population—are represented in the 33 counties trained by the PERLC,” Mr. Rogoff said.
“The post-disaster resiliency of Florida is significantly improved, due in large part to the Center’s effective training and commitment to serve as an agent of collaboration.”
To learn more about Community-Based Disaster Coalitions and other preparedness training offered through USF’s Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center, click here.
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