The Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, has been working to safeguard the public’s health for more than 50 years by strengthening public health laboratories in the United States and around the world. APHL advances the development of laboratory systems and practices, and promotes policies that support healthy communities. The association’s members include state and local public health laboratories, state environmental and agricultural laboratories, and other government laboratories that conduct testing of public health significance, as well as those who have an interest in public health laboratory science and practice.
Building Laboratory Preparedness On 2-5 June 2013, more than 500 participants attended the 2013 APHL Annual Meeting and Seventh Government Environmental Laboratory Conference that was held in Raleigh, North Carolina. The four-day conference addressed elements specific to laboratory preparedness. In particular, sessions covered emerging threats and technologies, public health preparedness and response, influenza testing, environmental health, informatics, community building and laboratory leadership, biomonitoring, food safety, seafood testing, and global health accreditation.
In addition to discussing trends and technologies for preparedness and response, speakers shared new information on emerging viruses and challenges facing public health surveillance for foodborne diseases in light of the proliferation of culture independent diagnostics. Keynote speakers included William Roper, MD, MPH, University of North Carolina School of Medicine and Health Care System, and Harvey Fineberg, MD, Ph.D., president of the Institute of Medicine.
On 2 June, prior to the start of its Annual Meeting, APHL held a workshop focusing on how to conduct joint criminal and epidemiological investigations. Typically, workshops that have an epidemiological and law enforcement focus are co-facilitated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In addition to epidemiological and law enforcement issues, APHL also addressed the role of laboratories in detecting threats and highlighted the importance of establishing and maintaining working relationships with key stakeholders prior to an event.
Threat Detection, Investigation & Training Over 35 laboratorians, epidemiologists, and law enforcement officials participated in this workshop, which was moderated by Royden Saah, MS, coordinator of the Bioterrorism and Emerging Pathogens Unit at North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health. Saah also provided the laboratory perspective, describing how the United States’ Laboratory Response Network (LRN) detects various threats and serves as a key source of information for law enforcement officials and epidemiologists.
Julie Casani, MD, director of public health preparedness and response at North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, described epidemiological investigational processes focusing on the public health and national security objectives to detect, respond to, and mitigate threats. She also emphasized the role of communications and timely notification to the appropriate officials, especially where medical interventions are needed.
Jill Sheets, FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate of the Bioterrorism Countermeasures Unit, described the FBI’s role in threat assessments. Sheets, who provides this training on a nationwide basis, described criminal investigational procedures and methods for responding to a bioterrorism incident and other public health emergencies. Using specific scenarios, she elicited responses from participants, who provided their unique experiences with responding to biological threats such as Clostridium botulinum (Botulism), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), and ricin. She also mentioned the law enforcement forensic and evidentiary needs and the significance of engaging the local FBI WMD coordinators at an early point in the suspected event.
Information Sharing Between Disciplines The Joint Criminal and Epidemiological Workshop offered at the APHL Annual Meeting advanced interagency awareness and relationships by:
- Providing an overview of criminal, epidemiological, and laboratory investigational procedures and methodologies for a response to a bioterrorism incident;
- Identifying challenges to sharing information; and
- Offering potential solutions that may be adapted to meet the needs of the various agencies and jurisdictions throughout the United States.
To help break through the communication and information sharing barriers between law enforcement and public health officials, the FBI and CDC joined forces in 2011 to create a joint resource for responding to bioterrorism incidents. That resource, Criminal and Epidemiological Investigation Handbook, addresses procedures and methodologies used during criminal and epidemiological investigations and suggests joint investigations model.
Efforts by the FBI, CDC, and APHL are helping to build stronger relationships and to organize national response efforts for all hazards events. As stated in the Handbook, “By increasing information sharing, conducting joint threat assessments, and conducting joint investigation/joint interviews, law enforcement and public health can maximize their resources and achieve their individual and common goals during the response to a bioterrorism incident.”
To learn more about APHL’s Public Health Preparedness and Response Program, visit http://www.aphl.org/aphlprograms/preparedness-and-response/Pages/default.aspx or contact Chris Mangal at email@example.com or 240-485-2769.
________________________ Chris N. Mangal, MPH, is the director of public health preparedness and response at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). The recipient of a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Florida, and of a master of public health degree from the University of South Florida, she is responsible for providing programmatic and scientific leadership for preparedness activities for the benefit of APHL members, staff, and partner organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chris has over ten years of experience working to improve laboratory practice in the detection of public health threats, and to expand and enhance the relationships between APHL member laboratories and CDC, other federal agencies, and private organizations involved in emergency preparedness and response, public health testing, policy, and training.