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Alexandra Arriaga: Hello and welcome to another episode of I AM GPH. My name is Alexandra Arriaga and in this episode we talk to Becca Glenn, who is a second year MPH student in the epidemiology concentration. Join us as we talk about her multiple internships, the latest being at the Department of Public Safety where she worked on Ebola modeling and infectious disease preparedness. We also learn about her take on potential disasters and her suggestions to stay safe. If you want to learn more, please stay tuned.
Alexandra Arriaga: Hi Becca, how are you today?
Becca Glenn: Hi. Good. Thanks for having me here.
Alexandra Arriaga: Of course. Our pleasure. So, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and tell us what drew you to do public health at NYU?
Becca Glenn: My name is Becca. I'm a second year MPH student in epidemiology. I'm originally from Columbus, Ohio, and then I went to Virginia Tech for my undergrad and I had an environmental science degree. I took a gap year and then I did my research and I decided to come to NYU. What attracted me here? Well, one, we live in New York City. That is an attraction in itself and there's so much diversity. There's so much to do. There's so much to experience. I feel like my mind just explodes here all the time. And also with NYU, specifically the College of Global Public Health, I really liked the global aspect. I mean I feel like it is highlighted a lot, but it is so important just because that is one of my passions is like geopolitical crises in the world and international affairs. So that really drew me here and it's been great. It's been wonderful.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. And you actually ended up surrounded by people that come from all these different places.
Becca Glenn: Oh my gosh. And you go to these, like NYU in general has such good talks and good speakers and you go to these speakers and yet, and they're talking about something on the other side of the world. Like for example, I went to a Russia-U.S. conference the other night and there's people standing up in the crowd who are like, I'm from these places, I'm from Russia and from Georgia, I'm from all these places and they have a real-world perspective. And I feel like that's so, I mean, I called my dad immediately afterwards. I was like, this is insane.
Alexandra Arriaga: I fully agree. I think that's such an important aspect of being here at NYU. And so speaking of your trajectory here at NYU, you recently completed an internship at NYU's department of public safety. So can you tell us more about how you landed the internship?
Becca Glenn: Yes. My first semester here I took a global disaster preparedness course with Dr. Robyn Gershon and it basically, it's an online course and it laid out, it was a lot of case studies about different disasters and the effects of them and how people respond to them, how people prepare to them. And I'm actually TA-ing the course right now, so shout out to that class and it just kind of opened my eyes to this. I've always been attracted to disasters and events and stuff in the news like this, but I didn't know that it was a whole world in itself and I didn't understand that people were out there preparing for this stuff. And so I feel like that class did a good job of opening my eyes to it. And I developed a real relationship with Dr. Gershon. She's wonderful and she has pretty much hooked me up with every internship I've had here. She hooked me up. I was interning at Mount Sinai for a little bit with their emergency management. She hooked me up with William at NYU Department of Public Safety and we got coffee and it kind of went from there and I just, I started in the fall and I worked with them all semester, and it's right here on campus. It was very easy to do with school and she also, Dr. Gershon, connected me to NYU Langone. That has been wonderful too and another great aspect of NYU because she has really taken me under her wing and I am so grateful for that.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah, it's the importance of having a good mentor.
Becca Glenn: Oh definitely. Yeah. Yeah.
Alexandra Arriaga: And as an intern you worked on some really cool projects, like a new NYU Shanghai pilot project and a new Ebola disease model. Can you tell us more about some of the projects you work on there?
Becca Glenn: I was a little bit extra? I did three projects there and just because I was just so motivated and so excited about them, it was really easy to kind of chug through them all. So it was three-pronged. I did the Student Health Center infectious disease annex, so that was my main kind of project when I came in and that was what I was going to do. So I wrote a plan. It ended up being like 50 pages long and it basically is infectious disease. What does NYU do? What does the Student Health Center specifically do if someone walks in with Ebola today? What does the student health center do if someone walks in with measles? So how do you quarantine them? How do you make sure that everybody else in the waiting room is not infected? How do you protect your staff? How do you transfer those people to the nearest hospital, which would probably be NYU Langone?
Alexandra Arriaga: And actually how would they, because when I worked at a hospital previously, I feel like they required this insane permit to work with Ebola virus, not even with infected people, just to deal with the virus and the research on it.
Becca Glenn: Yep.
Alexandra Arriaga: They had this like crazy protocols.
Becca Glenn: Well, and what's the hard part about it all is the PPE, the protective personal equipment because nobody or not a lot of people are trained in it. And actually when Ebola came here in 2014 the supply chain for buying the proper equipment was totally overwhelmed. So there wasn't enough. There wasn't enough of the right equipment and there wasn't enough people who were trained to use the equipment properly. So like donning and doffing and making sure you're not exposing yourself to the virus, negative pressure feedback room. So basically it's a room where the air sucks out, so it's less infectious. Identifying those rooms, knowing where those rooms are, directing your staff to the right route of how to get to those rooms and the less contact route. Oh, I wrote 50 pages about it. It's a complex process and it's really easy to write it down on a piece of paper and be like, Oh, this is what you're going to do and then it sits on a shelf. So that's you've got to do. You've got to train your staff. They have to be familiar with that and it has to be a live document. It's all well and good to write it down and we do need to write it down, but it has to be living.
Alexandra Arriaga: It has to be implemented for sure. I agree.
Becca Glenn: That was my main project was the Student Health Center and that, I mean it took me two and a half months to do that. And then the next thing I did was a business continuity pilot in Shanghai. So William Conardy, he is wonderful and basically has built this system from the ground up. It's a software database called VOG and he piloted it in Shanghai. And it's basically getting people to think about what are my critical functions, if something were to happen, what do I need to make sure I'm still doing and that gets completed and how long would that take? How long can that not be working and the university can continue basically. So he's making people think about that and identify it and really putting it in the department's hands of this is what you need to do, this is what you need to think about, and he's now, because it was successful in Shanghai, he's now implementing it for all the departments at NYU, which is a gigantic undertaking. Like I can't even, it was, it's a lot. And the third project I worked on was this, this is my pet project. This was kind of like at the end and I was really excited about this. So the current outbreak and the DRC, the Ebola outbreak. My question was how fast is this disease if there's no interventions, if there's no PPE, there's no proper burial, how fast will it get to Uganda? So taking Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda and Burundi. I looked around, I did my literature review and there wasn't, I couldn't find a lot of stuff on how to do it or even like kind of a plug and play, this is the reproductive number, this is how many people, this is the population, how quick will I get there. So I pretty much just made it just using an Excel sheet and it's actually very exciting. I just saw the first time actually on a map and I did it from the days of the initial outbreak. So August 5, 2018, was the first time it was identified in North Kivu and so I had a date in mind for when it was going to get to you Uganda. And that's important of when it's going to get to Uganda because there's an international airport there. We have a lot of student population that's from there. And because the infrastructure is so much better there and people are fleeing from the DRC to Uganda, in the geopolitical side of it too, it's pretty intense. Yeah. So those were like the three that I did at Department of Public Safety.
Alexandra Arriaga: So question, how long did you calculate that it would take for Ebola to get to Uganda?
Becca Glenn: I got to like a year and I was using different reproductive numbers. So I used 2, which from past outbreaks, that's what's happened. A basic reproductive number is if I'm infected with Ebola, I'm going to infect two people. Those two people are going to infect two people and so on. So I did 2 based on past outbreaks and then I did 3.5 just because it was in between 2 and 5 because 5 is the average family size. So worst case scenario, basically everyone's infecting their whole family. How quick will it travel? I can't say the exact date off my head, but I think it was like a year it's going to take to get to Uganda and I mean it started in August, so we're getting ...
Alexandra Arriaga: Close to that.
Becca Glenn: Yeah. And if you're watching the news, like it's just getting worse. And with the election they had in December, people are fleeing even more. And with the ADF burning down villages, the distrust of the government, people thinking that the government planted Ebola. It's a very, it's a perfect storm, really.
Alexandra Arriaga: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Well, I'm glad that at least you are working on a project that hopefully will, you know, shed some light on this issue.
Becca Glenn: That's how it affects NYU of the special assessment wise for people going on J-terms or summer break. Is it safe to go? Should they go? I think there is actually a program that they delayed because they're like we don't know, but the tool was made to make that decision easier or at least have more information when making that decision.
Alexandra Arriaga: Just like a more informed decision. Makes sense. And for our NYU students that are here in New York, are there any emergency management best practices or maybe things we should keep in mind to stay safe in this big crazy city?
Becca Glenn: Yes. So New York City, like I was saying, it's insane. It's a completely unique place in terms of emergency management. And I heard Ramon and the CPR's podcast and they kind of hit it all on the head, preparedness wise. So FEMA says that you should be prepared to be on your own for 72 hours, but if you read the actual FEMA preparedness checklist, it says 14-day supply of water. Now ...
Alexandra Arriaga: Jeez.
Becca Glenn: We live in New York City. Where are you going to put that water in our apartments? Like where? It's not feasible. That's why it's such a unique place that we live in.
Alexandra Arriaga: A cozy place, others would say.
Becca Glenn: Yeah, because there's just not, you can't prepare like you can everywhere else. They said 14-day supply of food, 14-day supply of medication. That one you could probably do. I think the important things for New York City and NYU students in particular is the cash. I don't know. I never have cash nowadays.
Alexandra Arriaga: Same.
Becca Glenn: So having the cash out of the ATM, at least $50 worth and it's so tempting to, you see $50 in a backpack, you're like, oh I'll just take that, you know, I'll replace it later. So I think that one's key to think about. Writing down the contact information. I know they talked about that too, because we all, I'm very dependent on my contact list. I don't know anybody's number anymore. Having a plan, having a designated location and also practicing it. Again, it's so nice to have a written plan, but if you're not drilling it, if you're not practicing it, if it's not active, it's kind of, you don't think about it. So.
Alexandra Arriaga: Absolutely. In your opinion, on the macro level, what is the biggest threat we face and what do you think we're least prepared for?
Becca Glenn: So what I think we're least prepared for is climate change. I don't think we're prepared for the effects of that in the emergency management. It's unique because it's slow moving. I mean it's constant. In New York City, there's an emergency every day, but it's this overarching issue that's going to continue to keep coming up and flood zones and refugees, climate change refugees. What do you do with these people? Where do they go? How do you compensate them? I don't feel like it's getting talked about enough right now because it's, I mean, the whole lower Manhattan lives in a flood zone. So what do we do? What do we do when the water rises and a lot of people and then environmental injustice aspect of it. A lot of the people who are living in the flood zones aren't financially, they're lower SES are not financially stable. They can just pick up and move. So I think it's a very broad emergency management task and it seems overwhelming, especially when emergency managers are doing stuff every day, winter storms, MCIs, all this stuff. So it's kind of overwhelming to think about. But I think that's the big one. That's one I think will continue to come up. But also I think chain event disasters. So, for example, the 2011 Japan mega disaster, so it was an earthquake and tsunami and then a nuclear meltdown. So it's like these chain, we just think of all those in isolation. So I feel like we need to think more-
Alexandra Arriaga: The relationship.
Becca Glenn: Yeah. The relationship between them. What if all this happens, what do we do? And Japan is one of the most prepared countries in the world.
Alexandra Arriaga: Ever.
Becca Glenn: Yes.
Alexandra Arriaga: I thought it was impressive how it had been, what like two days since the tsunami and they were already like on cleaning duties, getting rid of all the debris just to start building again.
Becca Glenn: I mean it's insane. And I've worked a lot in the healthcare sector in emergency management and there's a video on YouTube and the walls are shaking, the earthquake is happening and as it's happening, the workers are holding onto their chairs and delegating what exactly to do as the earth is literally shaking and they are so prepared that they, and they're so drilled that they know what to do. They reach under their chairs, they get their vests and they go exactly to where they need to go. So I recommend watching that YouTube video cause it's, I was mind boggling. I can't imagine that happening anywhere else in the world.
Alexandra Arriaga: Do you remember the title of the video?
Becca Glenn: I'd have to look. I don't remember. I mean I think it's just literally 2011 Japan mega disaster in YouTube and it will be one of the first ones.
Alexandra Arriaga: Okay.
Becca Glenn: And it's in the hospital that was right outside. I think it was outside the nuclear meltdown and they had just changed their tsunami practice. They just moved their hospital more inward just in case a tsunami happened.
Alexandra Arriaga: Wow.
Becca Glenn: So, I mean, think about how many more people would have died and no one would've had healthcare access if they would've kept it in the same location. So that much preparedness of changing our infrastructure I think is another thing that we're not prepared to do. That as a big city planning task in itself is overwhelming.
Alexandra Arriaga: I totally agree. And to follow up, why do you think people not prepare?
Becca Glenn: So it's easy not to, right? It's like why do people not recycle? It's the same thing. It's easier to not prepare or not think about it than it is to think about it. And how do we as emergency managers or just people in this field, how do we make it easy for people to prepare, make it that they want to prepare and that they're thinking about these things. Kind of the saying, and it's kind of a rough thing to say, but it's, you don't waste a disaster. So when something happens and it's fresh in people's minds, that's when you can create the most change. And that's when you can change people's habits and then people, the glass is kind of broke. People are, oh, it can happen to me. And I think with a lot, and I've seen this at department public safety at NYU Langone. The thing that's really been kind of changing people's perceptions of disasters or emergencies is active shooter prep. So because it's so prevalent in our news and because it's happening so often, people want the training, they want to know what to do if this happens to them. And so I kind of feel like that's a way in for us to create excitement about getting prepared for this and for it to not be a dangerous thing to be I feel better. I feel I'm, I'm less anxious because I feel like I'm prepared instead of, Oh my gosh, I'm thinking about an earthquake and it's making me ...
Alexandra Arriaga: Anxious.
Becca Glenn: Yeah.
Alexandra Arriaga: Well, it's like you're learning it in hopes of never needing it.
Becca Glenn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly.
Alexandra Arriaga: But if you do need it, then it's better to be prepared.
Becca Glenn: You know you're trained and you know you're ready.
Alexandra Arriaga: Exactly. And what advice would you have for prospective students who may be looking at studying public health and they would like to get involved in emergency management as a career?
Becca Glenn: Use your resources. We go to NYU, which has more resources than anywhere else I've ever been. So taking advantage of the professor that the class you're really interested in and building that connection and also you never know where stuff is going to pop up. For example, I went to a conference that had nothing really to do with emergency management and I met a woman who is doing work in the DRC with the Ebola outbreak crisis. So it's like you just never know where you're going to find people and if something sparks your interest at all, recognize that in yourself and go after it. So I think that's like the best advice I could give to somebody coming in and just wanting to get involved in the field and take advantage of volunteer opportunities. Like Team Rubicon is a great example. William at Department of Public Safety is very involved with them and that's a volunteer. Basically they send people out when a disaster happens and you just take the time to go to the trainings and take the opportunities.
Alexandra Arriaga: So how could anyone contact Team Rubicon?
Becca Glenn: Google it. Literally it's right there and we actually have trainings at NYU. I think there's one coming up here soon and it's a Saturday morning and you have to do your FEMA trainings, but you get to meet people who are like minded and who have the same ... And the organization's more veteran based, but they are as a citizen aspect to it too. And it's compensated. They pay for you to fly out and go to these places in Houston and all that stuff. So the only thing is just getting the time off work really.
Alexandra Arriaga: Well, obviously very dedicated to this line of work. So what drives you to do this work and put in the long hours at all of these internships?
Becca Glenn: I think it's, I think it's the aspect of when this stuff happens, it is the worst day. It is somebody's worst day. And so if you can help them in some aspect of making something easier, like for example, in an active shooter situation that is somebody's worst day and if you can make the process of family reunification easier, if you can make the process of a parent finding their child quicker and easier, I think that is a win for everybody. And I think in any situation, hurricane, climate change, earthquake, whatever it is, if you can alleviate some of that pain that people are having, I think it's totally worthwhile.
Alexandra Arriaga: I completely agree. And lastly, where do you think we'll find you in 10 years?
Becca Glenn: Well, so I would like to take my emergency management, and my epi data analysis skills and apply it more to a global aspect. I need a lot more work in system wide. I need a lot more work in local level, but I'd like to be able to implement everything I've learned to a global crisis. So like for example, the Rohingya crisis, what do you do with all those people, those refugees? So more global aspect of emergency management.I'd like to get more into and because it's so, there's always stuff going on. There's always, it's almost hard to pick one crisis or one, one route. So I think a more global approach will help everybody.
Alexandra Arriaga: Well, thank you so much for coming. We've really enjoyed having you here and we cannot wait to see what you do in the future.
Becca Glenn: Thanks for having me.