After Sept. 11, 2001, epidemiology and public health professor Linda Degutis added a lecture about disaster management to her injury control course. That lecture paved the way for a new course on disaster management.
Student interest and faculty support led to the creation of the new course — “The Public Health Management of Disasters” — this semester, Degutis said. The class uses examples from around the world — such as the World Trade Center attacks, bioterrorism attacks in Japan, and recent hurricanes — in addressing disasters from a public health point of view, she said.
“There was a real interest from students at the School of Public Health to learn more about disasters,” Degutis said.
Degutis and School of Medicine professor David Cone teach the 35-student course, which is open to all Yale students. Degutis said they plan to offer the class again next year. In addition, they are also planning a seminar for next semester on the same subject.
Cone said the World Trade Center attacks made the course more meaningful to students.
“I think if we had offered this course two years ago, I don’t think we would have filled it,” he said.
Cone said the seminar next semester would bring in a number of outside speakers with specific areas of expertise.
“It’s not going to be a planned curriculum of material that the students will have to master, but more to show the students what is out there,” Cone said.
He said during this semester’s course, there have been four guest speakers who are either federal or state authorities.
For the lecture on chemical disasters and hazardous materials, Connecticut State Epidemiologist James Hadler spoke to the class about bioterrorism.
Cone said many of his students are interested in being public health officials in the future and may be called on to respond to disasters like last year’s anthrax threats.
“The public health departments are being called on to handle these disasters,” Cone said. “That’s not a role that public health departments have had to deal with before.”
Degutis said with the increase in federal funding from sources like the Department of Homeland Security, there would be job opportunities for students interested in working on issues of disaster management.
Class exercises have included analysis of how the state of Connecticut would distribute its national pharmaceutical supplies in order to counteract bioterrorism and how the media affects perceptions of disasters.
Mark Fenig EPH ’03 , who is taking the course and writing his master’s thesis on collecting medical data at a disaster, said he thinks some students might have been interested in the class before Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s a practical course,” Fenig said. “[Cone and Degutis] don’t really get caught up in the abstract theory — They are very involved and passionate.”
Fenig said it is a survey course that gives students an idea of the issues surrounding disasters and public health.
“You could have a whole course around each lecture,” Fenig said.