The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), representing the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments, hosted its 2019 Preparedness Summit on March 26-29 in St. Louis. More than 1,900 gathered to hear presentations from experts representing the healthcare and emergency management fields, in addition to public health preparedness professionals, to address the gaps between these life-saving industries in an effort to work more collaboratively and efficiently in the face of emerging threats.
Ntasiah Shaw is the Emergency Preparedness Program Manager in the Communicable Disease Control Services/Emergency Preparedness Program with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. Her responsibilities include leading and managing a team of emergency response planners who develop disaster response and exercise plans in accordance with state and federal response guidelines regarding biological (especially acts of terrorism), natural, man-made, chemical, nuclear and radiological incidents, and hazardous materials.
In 2013, Shaw developed the Basic Infectious Disease Training for Law Enforcement course to educate the St. Louis area law enforcement professionals on the basics of the most common infectious diseases and how to protect themselves while on patrol or when they encounter a person who may have a dangerous or communicable disease. The course has since been added to the permanent roster of courses at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy and has become a certified course with the state of Missouri. Her experience also includes working as an Emergency 911 police/fire/EMS dispatcher over the last 17 years, and serving as a former Emergency Communications Supervisor and dispatch instructor at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy.
A current member of the NACCHO Incident Management Workgroup, Shaw was a presenter at the Preparedness Summit.
Q: Ms. Shaw, tell us about your professional background and what led you to develop a course on basic infectious disease training for law enforcement. Was this material already available in Missouri?
A: Currently, I am the Emergency Preparedness Program Manager at the Saint Louis County Department of Public Health. We are a part of the Communicable Disease Control Division, and our job is to have emergency response plans in place in the event of a large-scale public health emergency or disaster – particularly a bioterrorism attack. We continuously exercise our written plans to be able to more effectively and quickly respond to help St. Louis County and the St. Louis region prevent the public from developing a communicable or dangerous disease. Before becoming an emergency response planner, I was a full-time police/fire emergency dispatcher.
I am currently still a part-time police dispatcher with the city of Ferguson, Mo. In late 2012, a former Ferguson Police captain, who was aware of my role with the public health department, asked me about infectious disease training for law enforcement officers. At the time, it was needed for state accreditation. So I researched the topic to see if that specific type of training was in our local area or anywhere in the state of Missouri, and found there was no such training that was designed for law enforcement.
Next, I broadened my search throughout the country and found a curriculum online that was designed for training law enforcement in infectious diseases, but it was only on a website. I thought that this type of training would be of greater value to law enforcement if it were in a classroom setting.
I began to design and develop a classroom course based on that previously existing written document and eventually wrote our own curriculum. I reached out to the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy and sent them the completed presentation. It was very well received by the academy staff and is now offered there twice a year.
Q: Talk to us about the infectious disease risk to law enforcement personnel. You gave the example in your Prep Summit presentation of a police officer getting blood on his uniform during an arrest, wearing it all day and then taking it home to his family and exposing them to possible blood-borne infection. What other examples can you cite?
A: While law enforcement faces a higher risk of being injured or killed in a highway incident or being the victim of a homicide while on duty, they also face serious risks of being exposed to someone who has a dangerous disease. This occurs while making arrests, conducting investigations and searches, collecting samples, etc. These are all ways an officer can be exposed to a dangerous or deadly pathogen. Officers also get into physical altercations with suspects where they are bitten, scratched, spat on, and cut with something sharp, or a suspect can bleed on them.
We ask the law enforcement officers who have attended the training, “What do you do if you have gotten blood on your uniform during your shift?” Shockingly, the majority of the answers are that they continue to work with someone else’s blood on their uniform. They go home, take off their uniform and toss it directly into the laundry with their family’s clothes. And if they’ve been walking through a crime scene that is bloody or has other bodily fluids, they may walk right into the home with remnants on their shoes or on other parts of their uniform. That is because law enforcement is conditioned that way; they’re trained to respond first to ‘neutralize the situation.’ Our curriculum helps to bring biological awareness to law enforcement officers while they are responding and offers recommendations for keeping themselves safe after they encounter these situations. For example, we recommend keeping an extra uniform in their work locker, removing their shoes or boots before entering their home, if possible, and keeping a soiled uniform separate from the family laundry.
Q: What were your considerations when you designed the curriculum? How did your local health department pay for your and your staff’s time?
A: The curriculum was designed in a way to easily inform law enforcement professionals of the most common blood-borne and airborne diseases that they can possibly come into contact with during their normal patrol or shift, and how they can better protect themselves. It is written in a very clear and understandable manner for those who may not be too familiar with medical terms and conditions. And, it is set up in a way to easily incorporate short, informative videos, have hands-on demonstrations, and to encourage questions and comments.
I developed the course, and two of our communicable-disease registered nurses instructed. They both have strong communicable-disease professional backgrounds and are very passionate about the subject. The twice-a-year academy courses are taught during regular business hours on a weekday, so there is no additional compensation for the presentations. After the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency certified the course to be taught across the state, this allowed us to become state-level instructors and the state covers the cost for our travel, meals, and time when we teach the course in other parts of the state.
Q: Can other local health departments offer similar training to their law enforcement community? What would they need to consider to replicate your success?
A: Absolutely! Other health department professionals have asked me about our curriculum, as well having our nurses conduct a ‘train-the-trainer’ for their staff. This is something we are willing to do. I would also suggest that local health departments inquire with their local police academies or other law enforcement training facilities to certify the course and have it as an ongoing course for Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST) or Continuing Education credits. Agencies can also look into having their state emergency management agency certify the course through their exercise and training division. It is good to have the course taught by the subject matter experts in the communicable diseases – those who are very knowledgeable and well-versed in the field. We have found that the audience is more trusting of and more receptive to the information that is being delivered to them from those who actively work in the field every day.
The Preparedness Summit is the first and longest-running national conference on public health preparedness. Since its beginning in 2006, the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) has taken a leadership role in convening a wide array of partners to participate in the Summit; presenting new research findings, sharing tools and resources, and providing a variety of opportunities for attendees to learn how to implement model practices that enhance the nation’s capabilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other emergencies.