Public Health Preparedness & Response

National Preparedness Month and Serendipity

By Jim Garrow, Guest Blogger

Jim is the Operations and Logistics Manager for the Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness Program at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. He developed PDPH’s first social media accounts and continues to coordinate and advise on all social media use within the Department. Jim spends his free time writing about social media use in emergencies on the Face of the Matter blog, hanging out with his family and watching zombie movies.

Jim Garrow

I know this is a lab blog. Most of you have either a history with Bunsen burners or can whip up something mean on one of those, um, spinning things you guys use. (Obviously, I have neither qualification.)

So, what the heck am I doing here on a lab blog during National Preparedness Month? What knowledge could an emergency risk communicator, blogger and disaster planner possibly impart to an august group of blog readers such as yourself? Nothing about labs, that’s for sure. If I have one thing to give, that’d be a different perspective.

Every once in a while, those of us that work in preparedness hear a wizened old emergency manager say, “Never exchange business cards in a disaster.” Basically, meet all of your colleagues before you need to know them. Most of us interpret that to mean meeting those in our respective fields: PIOs meet PIOs, lab workers meet lab workers. And that’s a good practice, but during this National Preparedness Month, I say we should think bigger.

Earlier this year, I tried to scrimp and scrounge for money to travel to Seattle. I wanted to travel to the APHL Annual Meeting. Work wouldn’t pay for it because I’m not a lab guy, what could I possibly learn?

Here’s the thing, I have no idea what I’d learn, maybe nothing. But what an amazing opportunity to learn more about things I never had the chance to learn about. What a once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the best and the brightest in a cutting edge, science-focused field. What a chance for serendipity, for kismet, for luck.

And isn’t that really the goal? To meet all of our potential colleagues; people we may never have the opportunity to work with, except for y’know, when the big one hits. To be exposed to ideas great and wide and varied and unusual and, to borrow a trite phrase, out-of-the-box. To learn something that, while it wouldn’t directly relate to our work, will allow us to see things in a new light, or from a new angle.

So I ask you, dear reader, when did you last let serendipity guide you? When did you last put yourself in an unusual situation with a high probability of learning something you’d never considered? When was the last time you tried something just to try it?

Why not try something like that during this National Preparedness Month? Why not collaborate beyond your comfort zone? Exchange those business cards today.

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