What does the center do?
Well, since we're in the start-up phase, the center will be responsible for training the public-health workforce in Arizona. Our program will be an Internet-based program offering online courses in public-health preparedness. There'll also be Webcasts, streaming video, a resource library and face-to-face instruction through workshops, seminars and those types of things.
Who will be taking the courses?
Ideally, when we talk about the public-health workforce in Arizona, we mean the people who work in the health departments--your bioterrorism coordinators (and) your epidemiologists. Later on, as we move toward some of the discipline-specific courses, we'll target folks who are the actual first responders: veterinarians, physicians, ... leaders, managers, community-health workers--all those responsible for public health.
What types of emergencies do you cover?
Our approach is all hazards. What we mean by that is that it could be bioterrorism; infectious-disease agents; naturally occurring disasters, such as flooding (and) fires; (or) a chemical release, either inadvertently or (not). When you say "all hazards," it's supposed to cover everything.
Is terrorism a particular focus?
It is a focus. ... But the goal is to train these professionals so they can be able to respond to any type of event, whether it's a bioterrorist event, or if it's just a naturally occurring infectious-disease agent. The idea is that you'll know how to respond in any type of event--know who to communicate with, how you set up your incident command, how you talk between agencies. There is a standard that the CDC has, and those are their core competencies for the public-health worker. And everyone should be able to meet those competencies.
Any talk about the avian flu?
That was mentioned by one of our partners--you know, are we going to focus on that? Absolutely, especially since the state is working on their pandemic flu plan. We'll incorporate some of the planning that's going on with that, and sort of have targeted training in that area, as well--probably not in year one, because we have partial funding. But as we progress, those are things we will focus on. So we're meeting with our partners and trying to assist them in meeting their training needs, as well.
Who are your partners and how are they involved?
Our partners are the border counties, ADHS (Arizona Department of Health Services), Pima Community College--they have their Public Safety Institute. So we sit there and meet with them and say, "OK, look at this list. Where are you seeing areas with gaps you'd like to see (filled)?" Lately, what has been coming up a lot is ... targeted training to the volunteers. How do we get that training to them, because they are very important? When they were setting up the shop here for the Katrina evacuees at TCC (Tucson Convention Center), they had an influx of volunteers. But how do you coordinate and how do they get the appropriate training, as well, to be able to help?
Do you have any perspective on the gaps in Southern Arizona's preparedness for a public-health emergency?
The gaps I think I'm going to see are (in) the communications between agencies. That's always sort of been an issue, and it still continues to be. ... How do we make sure we're all doing the same thing, and not everyone is setting up their own command post? So I think that's going to be a big issue.
Were there problems with communication in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?
I think it was very evident with Katrina that there was sort of a lack of coordination between the federal, state and local government. I don't think you can really place the blame on just the federal government. When you're dealing with an emergency like that, everyone needs to be involved. That's the goal.
Should people prepare for an emergency?
There are courses through the Red Cross that they can take (and) just general public-health preparedness things that families can do at home--set up their own communication plan. ... So, absolutely, I think people should be responsible for their own preparedness within the home or the workplace. ... And you can get that online; there's tons of information for general preparedness in the home.