Mason leads training for first responders

Mason team members trained approximately 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Norfolk, Va., in November. Photo by Scott Alderman, Duke University

Local and national first responders will learn how to protect themselves during outbreaks of infectious diseases or pandemics thanks to training from George Mason University’s Office of Safety, Emergency, and Enterprise Risk Management. A three-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, administered by Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, provides funding for George Mason’s Environmental Health and Safety Office to offer biological safety training to fire and emergency medical services and law enforcement personnel throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Mason is a member of the Duke Infectious Disease Response Training consortium, which, in addition to Mason and Duke, includes Colorado State University, the University of Chicago and the University of Louisville. The consortium received $381,000 over three years to provide infectious disease response preparedness training to workers in health care, transportation, custodial services, law enforcement and emergency response. Through the program, Mason provides information and resources that can be used to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases during an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic.

This training is a natural extension of a program Mason’s Biomedical Research Lab biosafety manager Diann Stedman has offered to regional emergency response personnel since the 2010 opening of the lab on the Science and Technology Campus.

Stedman is leading the training with Julie Zobel, assistant vice president of safety, emergency and enterprise risk management, and David Farris, executive director of safety and emergency management. Collectively, the three have more than 30 years of experience in the health and safety field, much of it focused on biological safety.

First responders learn how to evaluate hazards they may encounter and how to protect themselves and their communities, Zobel said.

“It is essential that we focus on adult learning strategies, hands-on experiences and realistic scenarios to reinforce best practices and safety protocols,” she added.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has a history of funding and offering programs that focus on worker safety, Zobel said. However, this is the institute’s first foray into biological hazards and worker safety.

“Not only is this an opportunity to support our regional emergency response agencies, it also allows us to exercise and evaluate procedures that may be necessary to respond to infectious disease outbreaks that have occurred at other institutions such as measles, tuberculosis and norovirus,” said Farris.

Mason has already trained its first cohort of students. Working with the grant’s lead principal investigator Scott Alderman, director of safety and operations at the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the team trained approximately 40 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Norfolk, Va., in November.