MSU Emergency Manager: Communication, education, risk assessment key in control of outbreaks

Courtesy of Murray State University
In rural Kentucky, the students and staff at Murray State University will be well protected in the event of an incident of bioterrorism or an outbreak of a deadly disease, according to Jeff Steen, the director of the university’s emergency management department.

The department regularly monitors information from a variety of sources, including the Department of Homeland Security.

“We have a relationship with state and local emergency management,” Steen said. “We also monitor sites for the CDC.”

If there was a suspected diagnosis of a disease like Ebola or an incident of biological terrorism, the university staff, including janitorial staff and health clinic personnel, are well versed in protection protocols.

“We communicate with the university health clinic, and our janitorial staff is kept in the loop and trained,” Steen said.

The precautions for staff, including the janitorial team, include education regarding hazards and how to handle those hazards, and upgrades to their personal protective equipment (PPE). Some personnel have had special training , such as a 24-hour training session from LSU on response to outbreaks. If a student or staff member begins showing symptoms, Steen said it becomes an issue for public health, hospitals and the ambulance company.

“Ebola can be relatively easy to kill,” Steen said. “We have EPA-registered hospital-labeled decontamination agents we would use to kill non-envelope viruses. It is important to leave behind some layer of disinfectant, because it will continue to inactivate viruses for quite some time.”

When the SARS outbreak occurred five years ago, the university implemented hand-washing protocols and disinfected common areas, especially in student residence halls, two to four times each day.

Steen has a long history in emergency management. In the 1970s he worked as a paramedic until he was injured on the job and no longer able to work in the position. He went back to school and turned what was supposed to be a 20-hour per week 90-day position as the county’s emergency management director into a job he held for 10 years.

Eight years ago, he took a position with Murray State University as the director of emergency management. He has a bachelor’s degree in safety engineering and a master’s degree in occupational safety and health, and said the move to emergency management was a natural progression.

“Everybody wants to be 100 percent safe 100 percent of the time, but that’s not always possible,” Steen said. "You have to evaluate and decide what is an acceptable amount of risk. That’s a tough nut to crack."