By Kara MacKeil-Pepin, associate specialist, Public Health Preparedness and Response, APHL
At the 2015 Laboratory Response Network (LRN) National Meeting in Atlanta, members gathered to learn from each other, solve problems, and finally put a face to the disembodied voices they’ve heard over hours of conference calls.
The LRN is a system of state and local public health laboratories, sentinel clinical laboratories, federal facilities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), international laboratories, and partners from the intelligence, military and first responder communities. Members train together, share common procedures and standards, and maintain a strong communication network to promote rapid detection and response. Thanks to strong relationships across these varied groups, the LRN is able to respond quickly and comprehensively to a wide variety of deliberate and naturally occurring threats, from the 2013 ricin letters to singular cases of endemic anthrax in Minnesota. The LRN National Meeting is an essential part of building these strong relationships. While members are in frequent contact with each other throughout the year, allowing face-to-face contact and collaboration with members from across the network offers a level of relationship building that can’t be achieved with an e-mail.
Sessions often reflect lessons learned from recent biological and chemical threats. This year was no exception, with several big-picture discussions of the 2014 Ebola Virus outbreak and a presentation on chemical weapons security from Dr. Hugh Gregg, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Laboratory. Practical sessions included topics like data security, training strategies, need for standards for field screening devices, and radiological preparedness. Attendees were also treated to video addresses by Dr. David Nabarro, special representative to the United Nations Secretary-General, and Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.
The National Meeting also gives members a chance to honor a few select agencies and individuals who have gone above and beyond the already demanding work of the LRN. Ebola response featured heavily among the winners: the Dallas County Health and Human Services Laboratory and the Texas Department of State Health Services Laboratory Services Section each received awards for Excellence in Public Health Response for the 2014 Ebola Outbreak, and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) was honored with the Excellence in Partnership award for their work in developing assays to respond to and rule out Ebola in the US.
Partnership continued to be emphasized with the other awards presented. The Indiana State Department of Health State Health Laboratories was recognized with the Outstanding Sentinel Training Program award for their exemplary outreach to sentinel clinical laboratories which paid off when the lab identified the first US case of Middle East Respiratory System Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Office of Laboratory Services was also honored for their partnership efforts in the wake of the Elk River chemical spill in 2014, winning the award for Outstanding Outreach to Poison Control Centers or Hospitals. Finally, the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory received the Innovative Collaborations with First Responder Communities award for their well-known and wide reaching program of training, exercises, and networking with first responder agencies throughout the state of Minnesota.
In the individual awards, Maureen Sullivan of the Minnesota Department of Health was recognized with the Excellence in Leadership honor for her long-standingefforts to shape public health emergency preparedness programs and policy in her home state and at the national level, and her irreplaceable contributions to first responder and clinical outreach programs in Minnesota.
The second and final individual honor, the award for Excellence in Public Service, was presented to Dr. Mary Ritchie, bioterrorism laboratory program advisor for the Florida Bureau of Public Health Laboratories. Dr. Ritchie has almost singlehandedly established and maintained an interagency laboratory workgroup for Florida, bringing together laboratories across Florida to communicate and share critical information.
The awards have a lighter side too, with winners selected at each meeting for the LRN Video and Photo Contest. Contestants submit their own original photos and videos, trying to capture what it means to be an LRN member on film.
This year’s Best Photo Award winner was the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa for their photo of laboratorians hard at work at their Annual Sentinel Laboratory Training Wet Workshop in 2015.
Finally, attendees were treated to a world-premiere showing of the Best Video Award winner, a pro wrestling-esque, Lego-inspired depiction of the Texas response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak submitted by the San Antonio Metro Health District Laboratory.
APHL congratulates all of this year’s winners!