MARCE conference addresses public health response to biological emergencies

November 30th, 2009

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The Middle Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research (MARCE) represents a consortium of 45 scientists from 15 research institutions located in the Northeast United States who collaborate to research and develop new or improved therapeutic, vaccine, or diagnostic products that can be used by the public health community.  When the MARCE wanted to improve its presence and promote its services to public health responders and officials, they naturally turned to CHHS. CHHS organized and hosted, on behalf of MARCE, the 2009 MARCE Conference, “Training in Law and Policy Issues Related to the Public Health Response to Biological Emergencies,” in order to bring members of both the scientific research and public health communities together to engage in candid dialogue about the public health response to biological emergencies, most relevantly to H1N1.  Speakers and attendees alike engaged one another in conversations that addressed not only the nation’s “big picture” emergency preparedness efforts but also regional public health issues that dictate the day-to-day lives of all levels of public health professionals.

The MARCE training conference took place on the evening of Nov. 10, 2009 and morning of Nov. 11 at the George Mason University, Prince William Campus.  Conference attendees ranged from public health officials and first responders from local, state, and federal jurisdictions; public health responders from private organizations such as the American Red Cross and American Academy of Pediatrics; medical professionals from the capital region’s top medical institutions; and of course, MARCE researchers from the Northeast’s preeminent biomedical research institutions.  The keynote speaker and panel of experts were as professionally diverse as conference attendees.  Professor Michael Greenberger, CHHS’ director and founder, delivered the keynote address, and the expert panel included Dr. Kevin Gerold and Mr. Craig DeAtley, who spoke to the federal emergency preparedness efforts; Meghan Butasek, who addressed city-level public health preparedness as well as issues faced by first responders; Dr. Reuben Varghese, who spoke to the local county level public health response; and Dr. Larissa May, who touched on emergency preparedness and response at academic institutions.

Professor Greenberger’s keynote address poignantly explored the tension between emergency response laws, those authorized to enforce them, and those subject to them.  As Professor Greenberger touched on various legal and policy topics, tables composed of representative bundles of public health and medical professionals buzzed with quiet reaction.  At that point it became clear that although all public health professionals gathered in the room were working towards the same overarching professional goal – to improve and protect the public health – each type of professional brought with him or her a different perspective of the how to achieve the common goal.  The lively Q&A session that followed the keynote address and the interactive panel session the next morning made it clear that a vital, yet underdeveloped, element of emergency preparedness is providing forums, such as the MARCE conference, where players from various levels of state, federal, and private entities and scientific researchers can openly and candidly converse, thus identifying and laying the ground work for developing dynamic solutions to gaps within public health emergency response frameworks.

Public health professionals left the conference armed with knowledge of the tools available to them in the event of a biological emergency or bioterrorist attack, including trained microbiologists available for surge capacity; local experts trained in communications who can serve as media spokespersons; and education and training to improve preparedness for dealing with infectious disease outbreaks.

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