Lab Matters Fall 2018 | Page 20

PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE Scientists and First Responders: Partnerships for Preparedness and Response By Samuel Abrams, MPH, specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response Beyond their realm of culture plates and microscopes, public health laboratories (PHLs) serve with federal, state and local first responder partners to respond to threats in their communities. These first responders include police, firefighters, hazardous material teams, FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinators and National Guard Bureau Civil Support Teams, and they are often the first to enter harm’s way or encounter suspicious and potentially dangerous substances. To ensure the safety of all involved, the APHL Public Health Preparedness Committee (PHPR) works with laboratory professionals to develop guidance aimed at enhancing and maintaining vital relationships with first responders. For example, APHL has promoted the need for a quality assurance program for kits and devices used in the field to screen for hazardous biological and chemical warfare agents. Such a program would encompass performance verification, field validation, proficiency testing, training and annual competency assessment in the application of kits and devices. Its goal would be simple: ensure that devices have a measurable standard to make certain that they provide consistently reliable results, and that personnel are properly trained on how to safely use them. In doing so, first responders would be protected from potentially dangerous samples and be able to maintain sample integrity during transport to the PHL for confirmatory analysis. APHL is partnering with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Department of Homeland Security to conduct an inter-laboratory study to evaluate yeast cell material as a surrogate powder for field biological sampling and assessment. 18 LAB MATTERS Fall 2018 APHL has promoted the need for a quality assurance program for kits and devices used in the field to screen for hazardous biological and chemical warfare agents. External partners are actively involved in similar efforts. One example is the Stakeholder Panel on Agent Detection Assays (SPADA), a group funded by DHS and managed by AOAC International. Supported by DHS and other partners, SPADA efforts led to the development of a framework that describes standards for how public health and first responder groups can coalesce to achieve the common goal of protecting the public through preparedness and response initiatives. The framework establishes standards for training, proficiency testing, sampling and handling, assays and specific procedures. Through the years, APHL has supported the endeavors undertaken by SPADA, working closely with professionals on the panel to promote the interests of PHLs. APHL has developed its own framework checklist for PHL outreach to first responder communities. This valuable resource aids laboratories to identify key stakeholders in the first responder community and to provide sample handling methods and training programs. It encourages laboratories to facilitate open communication with their first responders so that all parties will know who to contact when faced with a potential threat. In doing so, personnel will remain protected and dangerous situations will be resolved faster. n PublicHealthLabs @APHL