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Washington University public health conference to focus on emergency preparedness and response

Public health emergencies can range from weather-related emergencies to disease outbreaks to civil unrest.
Robert Boston | Washington University

The St. Louis region faces a wide range of potential public health crises, including natural disasters like tornados and floods, infectious disease epidemics and civil unrest.

Our ability to respond to such emergencies will be the focus of a conference on Thursday hosted annually by Washington University’s Institute for Public Health.

Dr. Bill Powderly, who directs the Institute, said this year’s gathering will attract public health professionals, medical students and others with an interest in emergency preparedness. “It’s an opportunity for people who work in different areas to come together around this theme and identify where the opportunities for further collaboration might be,” Powderly said.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Dr. Stephan Redd, will deliver the keynote address.

The conference will also include a panel discussion and question-and-answer session about preparing for, and responding to, public health emergencies. The director of St. Louis County’s Department of Public Health, Dr. Faisal Khan, will moderate the panel, which will include the City of St. Louis Emergency Management Agency's Gary Christmann, the United Way's Regina Greer, BJC Healthcare's Debbie Mays and Washington University's Jean-François Trani.

Khan said the lessons learned from Ferguson will be a central focus — including the impact of civil unrest on mental health. "People feel traumatized when there’s a large law enforcement response," Khan said. "And so what happens in that acute situation, who’s there to deescalate that from a psychological and counseling perspective, is there a safe space that we can create to take people so that they can talk to counselors."

Khan said addressing mental health and other basic human health needs should be an integral part of responding to any civil unrest situation.

The conference is free and open to the public. It will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Eric P. Newman Education Center on Washington University's medical campus. As many as 500 people are expected to attend. You can see the agenda and register for the conference, here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience