Certificate program prepares students for disasters like the Haitian earthquake

Emily Auerhaan Frant (left), Nick Schaad, and Colleen Scott

Emily Auerhaan Frant (left), Nick Schaad, and Colleen Scott are among the first students to receive a Complex Humanitarian Emergencies Certificate at Rollins.

By Kay Torrance


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The ground shook violently for 30 seconds or so, and in that short period of time, a small Caribbean nation was upended. Buildings crumbled, more than 300,000 people died, and many more were injured and left without basic necessities.

The devastation from the January earthquake in Haiti was just the type of emergency for which RSPH students train. Beyond the initial response to provide medical care, water, food, and shelter, they can assist with long-term efforts to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. And they can assess how well federal agencies and nonprofit organizations responded.

With every emergency that passes, there are lessons to be learned and incorporated into planning for the next one. Public health schools have responded with formal curricula on wide-scale humanitarian disasters and emergency preparedness. For example, the RSPH offers a Complex Humanitarian Emergencies Certificate program, which accepts 10 to 15 students each year who have international experience and who wish to work in emergency response after graduation.

The five classes in the program cover a range of issues, including epidemiology, food and nutrition, water and sanitation, and infectious disease. Students learn from case studies and from instructors with the CDC's International Emergency Refugee Health Branch (IERHB).

"The goal of the branch is to prepare people to respond to complex emergencies globally, and its partnership with Rollins is essential in carrying out this mission," says Theresa Nash, assistant director of academic programs in the Hubert Department of Global Health.

The emergency preparedness courses form the foundation of the certificate program. Emily Auerhaan Frant 10MPH will receive one of the program's first certificates in May. She served three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger before enrolling in the RSPH to prepare for a career in international programming in the nonprofit sector.

"The emergency preparedness courses added a different dimension to what I thought I wanted to do," she says. "I see the spectrum of work that I can get into."

Like other students in the certificate program, Frant works at the CDC, helping staff the Emergency Operations Center, where she gathered field reports and population lists after the Haiti earthquake. In the classroom, she discussed case studies and heard how IERHB staff overcome similar problems in the field, providing a mix of best practices and real-life experience.

For Colleen Scott 10MPH, the courses showed her the depth of coordination needed for organizations to respond to a crisis. "Before taking the courses, I thought responding to an emergency was somewhat fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants," she says. "The classes have taught me that the greater the planning, the greater the impact. They have definitely broadened my knowledge in areas that I didn't know I was interested in before."

In one exercise, the classroom was turned into a refugee camp, with instructors playing various roles, from refugees to the health coordinator for WHO. Students were responsible for gathering information on a particular issue and assessing and responding to the situation at hand. They also had to find a way to work together that satisfied all parties.

"The classes are extremely case-oriented, and I'm coming out of them with tangible skills," says Nick Schaad 10MPH, whose family moved around the globe with his father's work for the World Food Programme. "It was almost as good as being in the field."

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