University of South Florida

New safety director aims to help USF Health plan ahead and be prepared

There are two ways you can respond in an emergency. You can panic, in which case harm could come to you and others. Or you can react the way you’ve been trained, which will likely help you and others survive.

Don Mullins is aiming to help everyone at USF Health fit the second description and to know exactly what to do in emergency and disaster situations. As director of Safety and Preparedness for USF Health, Mullins will pull from his 14 years of experience with local and national emergency response and training roles to build a safer, more prepared USF Health.


“I want to take a broad look at USF Health, taking an ‘all hazards’ approach to preparedness, and build programs that better protect students and personnel, as well as help USF Health be a better community partner for when our own community needs us most,” he said.

Mullins has worked in private, local, state and federal sectors helping form policy and managing emergency preparedness. He has taken active roles in key emergencies in Florida, including acting as the Florida Department of Health representative for the disaster field office in the 2004 hurricane season, acting as a public health responder at the Orlando International Airport during the 2003 SARS outbreak in parts of Asia that made its way to Canada, and working in the public information section of the Florida Department of Health during the 2001 anthrax attacks in Palm Beach County, FL. For his work in the anthrax scare, Mullins was recognized by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Mullins has been trained by state and national agencies for emergency management and Homeland Security and has provided training to first-responders at local and national levels, including disaster and Homeland Security planning and continuity consultation to state and national groups, as well as businesses. As a consultant for continuity (the process of establishing defined procedures that allow entities to continue their essential operations in case of a catastrophes), Mullins was retained as lead planner for the Florida Department of Health, the Orange County Department of Health, and the U.S. General Services Administration. He also teaches first responders from across the Florida and is a national instructor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mullins first joined USF in 2011 as director of the Center for Readiness, Response and Recovery in the USF College of Public Health, where he and his team provided local and national first-responder training and tests in realistic settings.

For USF Health, he will bring a consistent protocol, said Joann Strobbe, Chief Financial Officer and Associate Vice President of Finance, Administration and Technology for USF Health and the Morsani College of Medicine.

“Don will help provide a continuity of safety across all areas at USF Health and his experience in emergency response and training at local and federal levels gives him a perspective that will help us build a safer USF Health,” Strobbe said.

So for what kinds of disasters will USF Health faculty, staff and students be trained? It will be a full range of potential calamity, he said.

“Mostly, we’ll look at our security and vulnerability and assess how we can take a more proactive approach to reducing impacts from disasters,” he said. “We can also be stronger at planning our reaction during hurricanes and natural disasters. We want to create a culture focused on ‘everyone having a role’ and know that we’re familiar with our own work spaces so that we can tell when something isn’t right, this is called situational awareness. It’s been said before, but ‘if you see something, say something’. Make the call.”

There will likely be some mandatory training, probably online, he said, and he is available to speak at department meetings and/or review work spaces.

In a broader sense, Mullins will establish what is considered the foundation for all emergency preparedness: planning.

“The overall goal is to institute a lifecycle of planning, training and exercises,” he said. “Everyone at USF Health has a part to play and we can’t become complacent with our roles. It’s about a culture change and providing the tools to bring concepts of safety, as well as what to do in an emergency, to every department at USF Health.”

Mullins said he wants awareness, not worry.

“The goal is to be prepared, not be paranoid,” he said.

If you have questions, you’re welcome to contact him, Mullins said. And you’re likely to get a kick out of the ending digits of his phone number: 396-9111. He swears it’s a coincidence.

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.

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