NEHA's 2006 Annual Educational Conference & Exhibition, San Antonio, Texas: A Special Report
What do you call a four-day experience of back-to-back educational sessions, armadillo racing, Tex-Mex food, networking, and line dancing? To over 1,400 environmental and public health professionals, this experience was a typical--but far from ordinary--NEHA Annual Educational Conference (AEC) & Exhibition.
NEHA's 70th AEC & Exhibition was held June 25-28, 2006, in San Antonio, Texas, and featured 177 educational sessions and seven pre-conference workshops, on topics ranging from terrorism and all-hazards preparedness to onsite wastewater to food safety and protection. Other highlights of the conference included a panel discussion on pandemic and avian flu, an impressive poster session, and numerous networking and social events.
For many of our attendees, expectations for the conference were not only met but also exceeded. Stefanie Woods of the Combined Health District of Montgomery County reported: "The conference exceeded my expectations by bringing in and inviting spectacular people who are experts in their field." Ann Mayo of the Lyon County Health Department added: "I expected excellence and that is what I got."
Opening Ceremony, Conference Panel, and Special Presentation
At the opening ceremony, President Ron Grimes welcomed everyone to the conference, recognizing NEHA's international guests, new NEHA members, first-time AEC attendees, and the AEC's generous sponsors. President-Elect Rick Collins offered the invocation.
Conference Panel -- Pandemic Flu and the Environmental Health Profession
Few issues on the horizon of public health concern public health professionals as much as pandemic flu does. Worst-case but entirely plausible scenarios suggest millions of deaths throughout the world, communities coming to a standstill, and community infrastructures barely able to function. Throughout it all, countless public health professionals--including thousands of environmental health professionals--will be working on the front lines in all-out efforts to maintain the integrity and functioning of our communities.
NEHA is aware that in our lifetime, this issue may never materialize. On the other hand,... it might. And if it does, environmental health professionals are going to be playing key roles in keeping our communities going and in minimizing the pandemic impact.
To help the cause of preparedness in our profession, NEHA changed its keynote event this year so that we could offer a probing look at the pandemic-flu issue. A series of presentations was followed by a panel discussion moderated by NEHA Executive Director Nelson Fabian. The purpose of this unique keynote event was to stimulate in conference attendees a realization of what might be lying ahead and what we can do now to prepare.
Conference Panelist -- Dr. Cynthia Morgan
As the pandemic-influenza program coordinator for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Dr. Cynthia Morgan has much knowledge to share on pandemic-flu planning. She led the development of operational guidelines for the Texas Pandemic Flu Plan, and she is working to prepare the Texas community for a possible pandemic.
Morgan discussed the progress and challenges in pandemic-influenza planning. She began by focusing on three challenges in planning: containment, prevention, and treatment.
The challenge of containment measures, according to Morgan, comprises the challenges of population-focused interventions--the second line of defense offered by the environmental and public health profession. These challenges include determining what population-focused interventions should begin when; being sure people in charge understand how interventions are done and what their roles are; communicating with the public early so that they understand why, who, what, and when; being sure support systems are in place; and controlling communicable disease. …