The Intersection of Emergency Management, Health Services

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EM Weekly episode 104

The reason that I am concerned with water scarcity or water availability from an emergency management perspective is there is no substitute for water. Yeah, we can eat grasshoppers for protein and honestly depending on how they’re cooked, they’re really tasty.

Paula Buchanan

Todd DeVoe:      Hi and welcome to the EM Weekly show and this is your host Todd DeVoe speaking. This week we are talking about the role of public health and emergency management. You may know that there’s a school of thought that EM belongs in the realm of public health as the lead agency. I can see that point especially in the area of prevention. However, today we need to reach out to our partners in public health and foster a good working relationship.

Todd DeVoe:      Have you been to the EM Weekly Facebook page and are you a member of the EM Weekly could group? If not now is the time to join. We are going to be giving out a few books to our listeners on the EM Weekly Facebook group. You need to be a member to win, so join the group for more details.

Todd DeVoe:      Speaking of books, we are starting our book of the month club this March, and I’ll be discussing a book that I think will make you as an emergency manager better at your job. If you have a book that you think will improve the profession of emergency management, reach out and let us know

Todd DeVoe:      Now onto the interview.

Todd DeVoe:      Hey, I’m excited to have Paula Buchanan here with me today, and she is a Ph.D. Students, and she’ll get it to her history here in a second. But I got to meet Paula at the IAEM conference and grand rapids. That’s another one of those like I was telling you guys before with IAME, it’s really important to go to these things because you get to network and connect with people and Paula and I got to connect at the history museum, Right Paula?

Paula Buchanan:               Yeah. So uh, it was a gorgeous museum. I am going to go back to Grand Rapids just to check it out.

Todd DeVoe:      So Paula, welcome to EM Weekly.

Paula Buchanan:               Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Todd DeVoe:      So Paula, like I was alluding to in the, in the introduction that you are a Ph.D. student. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing and the research that you’re working on with your program.

Paula Buchanan:               I’m relatively new to emergency management. My background is more focused on business and public health. I have an MBA and also have an MPH or a master’s of public health. And during my MPH studies I was really interested in emergency management, but to date me, this was about maybe 15, 20 years ago. There weren’t any courses that focused on emergency management then that I knew of. And there definitely was not a degree or even like a certificate or an associates that you could get then. So, it’s one of those things I, yeah, as I was saying earlier is, I guess kind of put it on the shelf is something I was interested in and maybe, you know, in the future I have an opportunity to kind of do this synergistic thing between emergency management and public health. So, I recently discovered the program that I’m in now and one of the things that I really liked about it is that the gentleman who was the head of the program at the time, had a healthcare background. He’s a; he’s a vet… He’s a vet Med guy, veterinary medicine, and they offered elective courses and [in], medical issues and public health issues related to emergencies and disasters.

Paula Buchanan:               So that really piqued my interest. So one of the things that I’ve been trying to do is be a proverbial bridge between the field of emergency management and public health. Because you know, if you just look at the news, there’s so many public health, medically related disasters, and emergencies that are occurring that the two fields should be working together more closely.

Todd DeVoe:      And what, what does emergency management/public health look like in your mind?

Paula Buchanan:               Well, for me, I think I discussed this a little bit earlier is, and keep in mind, I’m also a history major too. So I always think about history and language and how you communicate with people. And I think terms matter and their definitions matter, especially when you’re trying to communicate something that can be relatively complicated with the general public.

Paula Buchanan:               So, for me in public health, one of the things we always talk about… Is the power of prevention. You know, get vaccinated, so you’re less likely to get the flu for example, or eat healthily. So you’re hot. You, you know, you’re less likely to have a heart attack or have poor health. And in public health prevention is one of the key things when the key components to ideas. But in emergency management, you know, you can’t prevent disasters from occurring. You could lessen the impact; you could mitigate them. And so, for me, as I’ve read literature, in the emergency management sector that’s been helped been published by people who have a public health background. I know this, that there are quite often there’s this disconnect because they’ll discuss, for example, preventing a disaster, which kind of makes me grit my teeth, because you know, that you can’t.

Paula Buchanan:               I was at a lecture on community resiliency recently in Atlanta, Georgia. And it was right around the time that you had another storm; a disaster was occurring. So all the emergency management practitioners who were slated to be on the guest panel. We’re out in the field doing their jobs. So, the only people that were left or people from the public health sector, people that you have seen on TV, they knew how to communicate effectively in public. But again, they said the same thing about preventing emergencies or disasters from occurring and you can’t do that. And I think, you know, even though I’m definitely not at the of some of these people, I could at least help kind of bridge that gap, which I see as a communication gap and a terminology and a language gap so we can better work together by understanding what it is we do and how we do it.

Todd DeVoe:      So if you take a look at it, like say the outbreak of 1918 was the flu. So something like that you’re saying is not preventable or is it just something that we have to contain?

Paula Buchanan:               Well, in public health you can prevent, you can eradicate, say an infectious disease. It might come back later, but you can at a point in time, eradicate it. But in emergency management, disasters are always going to accrue. It’s like just a part of the ecosystem, so to speak. So, you can lessen their impact. You can decrease the severity and scope of them, but they’re always going to occur if that makes sense. And I think that, especially from a risk communication perspective, when we’re talking to people about all the, you know, the floods that destroy, people’s homes, the tornadoes that wipe out entire communities, we must be very clear in the language that we use to communicate with them. We can’t let them think, oh, we can eradicate natural disasters. We can eradicate storms; we can eradicate, uh, floods. No, we can’t. However, you know, we can help to lessen their effect or their impact.

Todd DeVoe:      So basically saying some of the mitigation of affects it or efforts that we use. I’m going into say, building the levies, say in New Orleans, right? For instance, where we saw those fail over Katrina or some of the dams that have failed over the years that even though we tried to do some mitigation portion of it, we might not be able to eradicate that disaster completely. But we can also encourage people to prepare individually. Does that help lessen the effect? Do you think on, on those large-scale disasters?

Paula Buchanan:               Yes, it can. And you know, there’s been a lot of talk in the news about community resiliency. I was like I said, I was at this a resiliency workshop, and you know, you can help communities be more resilient to quote-unquote bounce back and be better after the storm. So, they can be better equipped to be… And better prepared to handle… to a handle the outcomes, but there’s just no way you can’t make a community so resilient that they can prevent a tornado or a flood. Like what happened for a hurricane from happening?

Todd DeVoe:      You know, one of the things that I always find interesting, we talk about earthquakes specifically. And the earthquake in the middle of the desert where there 7.8 earthquake in the middle of the desert where there are no structures is an earthquake. It’s seismic activity. But that 7.8 earthquake in the middle of downtown Los Angeles for instance, would be a catastrophic event. So disasters really as a human effect on, on a natural phenomenon. So basically then with your research, are you looking at how, with especially with a resilience portion of it, of how we can better do, say, a building structures and stuff like this with the building codes to prevent catastrophic events happening? Or is it just more along the lines of the recovery portion that your kind of focused on?

Paula Buchanan:               Oh, for me, I’m looking more at what I call sociotechnical systems. How are hard technical infrastructure, specifically telecommunications, uh, social media, how we can use our news, our technical infrastructure to better communicate with the public, especially populations that are more vulnerable? For example, I don’t know if you… Did you see the poster that I had at IAEM?, I honestly cannot remember I think you did, right?

Todd DeVoe:      Oh yeah, of course. I did it with the, uh, the, the area where they filmed the walking dead, right?

Paula Buchanan:               Yeah. So the walking dead is filmed in Georgia, and there’s an area called Bellwood Quarry, which is known for all of you Walking Dead fans out there as a site of a pit where maybe season two, season three, um, hundreds of walkers were somehow pushed into the pit. It’s a real pit in northwest Atlanta, and it’s called Bellwood Corey. It used to be a rock quarry. So, one thing that from a, from an emergency management and a mitigation perspective that the city of Atlanta has done is they, they’re in the process of transforming Bellwood quarry and to a water storage facility. Currently, the city of Atlanta only has about three days of water supply. So, if right now all the water gets turned off across Atlanta, we would be out of water. Let me see by basically Sunday. And so, the city realized, yeah, this is bad.

Paula Buchanan:               And about two mayors ago, maybe mayor, Shirley Franklin’s administration, she pushed to start transforming the query into a water storage facility, which would increase the city’s water supply from three to 30 days. The reason that I am concerned with water scarcity or water availability from an emergency management perspective is there is no substitute for water. Yeah. We can eat grasshoppers for protein. And honestly, depending on how they’re, they’re cooked, they’re really tasty, and then that goes out. They are, but there is no substitute for water. And I know that, uh, some EMTs and Firemen might be upset with me is but try to fight a fire without water. I mean, I know there are other things you can use to fight a fire beside water, but I bet you they’re all liquid base, which means they come from water. Almost all of them are liquid base. So, you know, that’s a huge public health issue. The World Health Organization, which is one of the preeminent, you know, groups or think tanks in the public health sector have stressed, and you know, water scarcity or water availability as one of the major emerging issues in public health. And it’s an issue in emergency management as well.

Todd DeVoe:      Right. In 2016, the National Geographic to the great story called the water wars (the real title is Parched see link) and talking about that was going to be our next conflict that we were going to fight over clean water, a worldwide that oil and things like this are just going to be things in the past. And then there’s also the book, I forget when it was made originally, I want to say it was the late nineties, early two thousands called the Cadillac Desert talking about the water issues in the southwest, which is California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and those areas here with water scarcity and how we’re, how we’re really taxing a lot of the water systems by moving more people into areas which realistically we shouldn’t be living in Las Vegas, you know, and whatnot. So, water is one of those things that I personally pay attention to a lot of because I do live in southern California,

Paula Buchanan:               For you, it’s very present. And I think what’s interesting in a city like Atlanta is it’s not; I am just saying for the residents who live here, we don’t think about it. It still irks me and drives me nuts. We’ll waste water watering our lawns for hours in the summer. So, I think for me it’s looking at what Atlanta is doing. When it comes to its water supply is very forward thinking. But also cities that are in theory less vulnerable to water scarcity must also address the public and effectively communicate the risk to them. Because for you, for example, it’s, the risk is there, and you see it where you live. But here we don’t see it as much.

Todd DeVoe:      Well, when we talk about water on, on the public health side of things, I mean, take a look at Flint, Michigan, you know, with the delivery services, it wasn’t about the water itself. That was bad. It was the whole delivery system that that is terrible and polluted, you know, so it isn’t areas that have, I mean, you have Lake Michigan that can, you know, a lot of fresh water right there, but you can’t deliver it safely. We’re having the same issue here in, I forget what city (Gardena CA) it is and here in California where the water system, they say it’s clean, but it looks bad, and it smells bad. And people don’t want to drink it. Obviously, I wouldn’t want to try it either. Excuse me. Do you know? but I mean the water delivery systems that we have are aging right. And so does that cause a public health issue too, as far as the aging water systems? (City of Gardena CA.

Paula Buchanan:               Yes, it does. And, and I think I maybe mentioned this in my poster, if I can remember correctly, but you know, part of an Augusta Atlanta as an example, since I live here, and it’s an area of interest to me as we have clay pipes, we still have played pipes from the 18 hundreds that are part of our infrastructure. It’s bad clay pipes, New Orleans, which is, you know, where I went to college and graduated from Tulane University. And so, you know, I worked for the city or intern for the city when I was there, and I know that their infrastructure is aging. It used to be the most innovative, you know, water pumping station to help prevent flooding. Yeah. A hundred plus years ago. So that’s crumbling. And, and the thing is when you have a machine or a piece of equipment that works when it breaks down, then where do you find the parts if the, if the equipment was built a hundred plus years ago. So that, that’s something that crumbling infrastructure when it comes to supplying and water and other utilities is an issue across the country. Probably more on the east coast, I would think. And maybe in the Midwest, because that part of the country is, all those parts of the country are older. But

Todd DeVoe:      yeah, I mean they used to deliver water with lead pipes. Right. You know, so we learned that was a bad, bad idea. We’re constantly trying to fix things. You know, it says here that, there are 1 million Californians lack safe drinking water, you know, and those are the things that you don’t normally hear about in the news, you know, around the country have an, have Flint, Michigan, obviously huge headlines. And then I know the people who, are, on the anti-fracking side of things have done some water research as well and upstate New York where there’s a lot of methane that got pushed into the water system well and in other parts of the country that’s doing the same, same type of thing. So I think water is one of those things that as emergency managers that we really should keep an eye on specifically. And then also obviously with the public health side of it.

Paula Buchanan:               I agree. There’s; I can’t remember her name offhand, but there was a lady, from the EPA that presented a great discussion on water issues. You know, most people are familiar with what’s going on in Flint, but there have also been issues, um, and more kind of in the Central Valley area of California for example. You just don’t hear it in the news that often. And for me, what I’m looking at is I’m not like a, what we call and public health and epidemiologist or a bench scientist then I’m not that skilled at the scientists anymore. But that’s the type of work that they would do is basically testing the water and figure out what’s in it and how it can be improved. But if you take a step even further back, you know, just making sure that the water is there yet to think about that first and then figure out, okay, we have a water supply, then how can we protect it?

Todd DeVoe:      Yeah. Protection infrastructure. It’s for an important kind of wrap this into together because we really started talking about how public health can’t, oh, necessarily prevent disasters, but we can try to mitigate them going into the back into the water system here. How do, how do we as emergency managers and public health partner up, to do prevention or mitigation in this water system

Paula Buchanan:               when you’re really angry? I’m smacking you are called the innerweb right now.

Todd DeVoe:      Yes. Mitigation or mitigating the water crisis.

Paula Buchanan:               Um, I that’s one thing that, that, that I struggle with you since I’m new to this field. I see that this is an issue but you know, I’m not going to name names, but there was a paper that uh, that we were reading on the public health aspect of emergency management, and I knew one of the authors, he was one of my professors in graduate school, and I was all excited cause I, you know, he’s a smart cookie and I was all excited to read this stuff. Then I got to maybe about page three, and instead of saying he didn’t, I think in the entire paper, the word mitigation was mentioned once, mention was mentioned about five times. And I’m just again, gritting my teeth like, you know, is it my place, you know, as someone who’s just a doctoral student, not even a doctoral candidate to approach this professor of mine, you know, full professor tenured and say, look, I like what you’re doing in this research, but you have to be really careful in your language, you know?

Paula Buchanan:               And that’s, that’s something that’s a that’s a that’s a that’s a, uh, you know, a tall task for someone like me to do or to perform. But that said, I think just opening up the floor for an, for a dialogue, for example. Um, you know, a lot of times when people love like my professor stature and this lady who was from the Centers for disease control, CDC, um, you have to have places like IAEM or different conferences where you can more informally speak, you know, um, there is constructive criticism and then there’s destructive criticism. And so, I think if we, I mean that’s one thing that I’ve found lacking so far is I haven’t found many conferences, symposiums or whatever you want to call them, where you do have a lot of public health and emergency management practitioners and researchers in the same room.

Paula Buchanan:               And I think until we’re more in the same room and communicating with each other and fostering collaborative relationships, this issue is still going to be there. For example, the paper that I mentioned, everyone that was on that paper had a, you know, a doctoral or terminal degree in public health. They just had an interest in emergency management. There were no people who had even like a certificate or, or undergraduate degree or any type of extensive training in emergency management. And so hopefully as the field grows to incorporate more, you know, other fields like public health and we start hopefully researching and collaborating with each other. Hopefully, it’ll transform to where you don’t really hear prevention anymore in emergency management, which is a good thing.

Todd DeVoe:      Do you think that there should be a subset of education for public health providers or public health practitioners? That s emergency management?

Paula Buchanan:               I do. And what’s funny that is funny that you say that and I always tell people that whenever I mentioned Tulane, it is a shameless plug for my university, which I love dearly, so, Tulane has a school of public health is officially called this school of Public Health and tropical medicine. And now I will say, I don’t think they have like a master’s concentration in emergency management. They do offer coursework. One of the courses I think focuses on water quality as an emergency management issue. So, when I saw that I squealed with glee, I thought that was great. So, they do have courses and forgive me if I’m incorrect on this, but I think they do offer a certificate in public health. So, I do think schools of public health are starting to more fully integrate emergency management issues like water availability or scarcity and to their curriculum. But I think as it will be a while if ever before you see like a master’s degree in emergency management that is offered from a school of public health.

Todd DeVoe:      I find interesting about that. If you look at say the large-scale earthquake in California, and this is obviously the one we talked about here where I’m at, or Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, something like this that really knocks us off the system for awhile. And one of the things I find interesting about the great shakeout scenario that was created back a few years ago, I think it’s eight years ago now. With the large-scale earthquake that starts in the San Andreas Fault, it goes through the Los Angeles basin, and it cuts off transportation and water into the Los Angeles basin. And Dr. Jones is talking about the fact that it’s six months. She’s saying who, who just wrote the book called the Big Ones, six months, without water. And what I mean, without water, she means without water, I just drink your water. It’s all water sanitation. No firefighting, the whole nine yards.

Todd DeVoe:      And, and, now it becomes a public health crisis because it is affecting sanitation. There’s no way to get rid of sewage. There’s no way to be; there’s no way to do that stuff regularly without the water. And so realistically we move in the recovery aspect of the things, from a fire and police activities. Maybe police might be still be doing stuff necessarily is when talking about rescue a really comes back into a public health crisis of, of disease control after a disaster. So, I think we really need to have that partnership between our public health people and our emergency management and our first responders coming in with a large-scale event like that.

Paula Buchanan:               I agree. And one thing that, I mentioned this earlier that when I was getting my master’s degrees, you know, there wasn’t, there wasn’t any course, there weren’t any courses that offered anything about emergency management. So, one thing that I did on my own is I discovered that our local police and fire departments offer what’s called a citizen’s police and the citizen’s fire academy. Just so for my personal knowledge, I can then better understand what our police department does, what are fire and EMTs do. And then by completing those two programs, I found out about CERT. So, I had no idea CERT existed, and I liked CERT so much. I completed the training twice. But what’s funny is, you know, in these different programs I think was one of the few because of maybe one other person with a public health or medical background or clinical background anyway, shape or form. So yeah, there is, there is a disconnect there. But hopefully is people like me who, are interested in emergency management but also have the public health or medical background. Hopefully, we’ll help, you know, change that. For example, in my cohort alone, my doctoral cohort, we have I think at least three or four people who have medical and public health backgrounds. So that’s huge. Like out of about seven people, three or four,

Todd DeVoe:      What can we do as a profession to encourage more collaboration between EM and public health?

Paula Buchanan:               I think one thing, and this is a, I don’t know if it’s above your pay grade, but it’s above my pay grade, is to reach out to them. You know, CDC does all types of works, work in disaster and emergency preparedness. They have entire divisions of the. That’s all they do. I would; I don’t know how you would reach out, to be honest. Like I said, it’s above my pay grade, but just say, Hey, we have this conference. We would love to have, you know, some people from CDC, who specialize say in, you know, keeping our water, free from bio terrorism for example. To use something more specific. We’ve heard, we’ve heard that you had these colleagues at CDC who are doing this work, you know, what can we do to get you to submit an abstract to have a session at IAEM? I also think that you know, people who are in emergency management can also attend some public health conferences.

Paula Buchanan:               the big one, which is the American Public Health Association, I doubt severely they have an emergency management track. So you might almost have to create your own caucus or special interest group, which, you know, you could do, academy health, which is an organization that I prefer to APJ. They have a lot of special interest groups. They actively encourage special interest groups, and it’s smaller, so you can actually get to know people. A personal and a professional basis easier than something like an APJ, which is just massive, knowing that these different respective entities and organizations exist is one thing. But then also trying to actively engage people from both sides of the proverbial aisle, so to speak. Emergency management, public health, getting them to actually know each other and present at each other’s conferences is really important. , if there are, say, schools of public health for example, that offer emergency management coursework or a school’s of emergency management that offer public health coursework, that is also, you know, strongly encouraged and try to get people interested in the field earlier, you know, that can strongly consider undergraduate certificates or undergraduate coursework to try to get people like me who are interested in both areas but didn’t really understand how they would work together until much later in my career.

Todd DeVoe:      So not only are you a student, but you’re also a teacher. So if somebody is interested in learning more about your programs, how could they find you? Paul?

Paula Buchanan:               They could find me on LinkedIn. I don’t have my, exact URL memorize, but, if you find me, Paula R Buchanan and I have, let me see. And I do use Twitter. I do prefer to try to connect with people on LinkedIn though. I will be coming to, IAME every year now, so I will be there if anyone does plan on going to, IAEM in Savannah. A lot of my classmates will be there as well because we truly in the what, but the ones of us that didn’t did go to Grand Rapids really enjoyed it, so I’ll be there. So yeah, LinkedIn and Twitter are probably be the best ways to get up and get a hold of me.

Todd DeVoe:      And of course we’ll have that information in the show notes. So, if you’re driving down the road and your pencils, not sharp, don’t Fret, you can just click on the links in the show notes. All right, so I’m going to ask you the toughest question of the day. Okay. What book, books or publications do you recommend to somebody who is interested in the topic of emergency management? And let’s just give it a twist to it Public Health?

Speaker 1:           Public health. You know what? I have yet to find one. To be honest, I will say when it comes to public health; there are so many different books out there. To me, it’s kind of one that as a friend of mine said; it’s one of those hot and sexy fields that everyone’s interested in. One thing I would say though is coming from two different areas that are basically based on more quantitative research, you know, finding the finding, you know, the incidence and prevalence of whatever disease or whatever are going on. I would try to focus on the stories behind, uh, the disaster so to speak. There’s a lot of; there’s a lot of raw data that can be transformed into information and then knowledge, the factual stuff, right.

Paula Buchanan:               I think you should focus more on the stories, the data., there is one book. I think it’s called disaster cities that discusses how different cities have responded to recover from disasters. However, it’s more emergency management base. It doesn’t really go into public health as much. so yeah, learn about the, what the why the stories behind it because I think we were discussing earlier the concept of climate change. And one thing I heard one day, of course, I believe as a scientist, I believe it’s real. But there’s a lot of people who, for whatever reason, do not believe it. So one thing you have to, I think maybe there’s a speaker IAEM who said this. So it doesn’t matter whether you believe climate change is real or not in emergency management, you have to focus on, okay, something happened.

Paula Buchanan:               Now you must deal with the after-effects of that climate change. And so that’s what you really must focus on. And you know, you can’t really get people to understand something with facts and, and data unless you’re like nerdy people like us. But most people don’t. You know, it could be a reality show based on disasters. I don’t know, maybe that maybe people would be interested in that. And then that sounds Gaudy and tacky, but you know, you have to, yeah, the formulate stories and different visual ways to communicate information that might not be interesting that people, unless you like looking at excel spreadsheets all day

Todd DeVoe:      Okay Paula it is getting down to the end and do appreciate your, your time today. Is there anything else you’d like to say directly to the emergency manager before we let you go?

Paula Buchanan:               I really enjoyed the conference. I love being at IAEM thanks to everyone who gave me constructive criticism about my poster, and I really look forward to working with people out there to form that bridge between public health and emergency management because I think both fields can become better if we work together.

Todd DeVoe:      All right, Paul, you have a wonderful rest of your day and thanks for being here.

Paula Buchanan:               Same to you. Thank you.






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