Remembering 9/11 and Anthrax: The Last Class
I had the pleasure of serving as a mentor in the Tom Burnett Advanced Leadership Program this past spring. The program focuses on identifying and nurturing future leaders. Offered free of charge to selected students, it features life and career mentoring by a faculty member or a leader in business or the non-profit sector; weekly leadership workshops; and in-depth assessment of each student’s personality traits, potential career paths, and leadership skills.
I was paired with Adam Cox, a College of Biological Sciences senior who is now working on a Masters of Public Health in Industrial Hygiene from the University of Illinois at Chicago. As Adam and I talked about Tom Burnett and his legacy, Adam shared, "I think mine may be the last class to remember the events of 9/11." I was shocked to hear him say that, but simple math makes the case. Of course, we still have graduate students, staff, and faculty on campus who will never forget the events of 2001. But I feel we have reached a symbolic turning point
The events of September 2001, including the subsequent anthrax letters changed my career, and more importantly, changed much of the nation’s public health landscape forever. We realized our vulnerabilities to terrorists and experienced the reality of what, until then, had been just a concept, “bioterrorism.” Those events also sparked the creation of this department and the U of M Medical Reserve Corps.
Since then, extensive planning and drilling has been done at the local, state, and federal level to prepare for another bioterrorism attack, as well as other terrorism and natural scenarios. As I write this update, state and local public health officials are engaged in scenario-based planning as our communities prepare to host Super Bowl 52.
Tomorrow’s public health leaders will, no doubt, face many new challenges - climate change, population growth, new microbes, just to name a few. Those of us who faced 9/11 and the anthrax attacks as public health leaders at that time must share our stories and lessons learned including those about response, dealing with public fears and uncertainty, and how to build resilient communities. Time has created a turning point – we are all educators now.
Jill DeBoer, Director
Academic Health Center Office of Emergency Response
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