GW gets homeland security grant

A federal grant will enable the University to train nurses from across the country on how to react to an emergency involving weapons of mass destruction.

The $2 million grant, awarded jointly to GW and George Mason University last month, addresses a historically overlooked area of homeland security training, University officials said. By focusing on nurses, the trainings help a sector of the medical community often left out of loop in preparations for large-scale emergencies.

“The strength of the grant is that we looked at a group that mostly has been ignored in first response and in healthcare in general in terms of weapons of mass destruction,” said Barbara Porter, director of communications and marketing for the GW Medical Center. “Nurses, whether they’re in the ER or at an elementary school, need to have this kind of awareness.”

The training will tell nurses what they can expect if their communities were to suffer a crisis resulting from terrorism or unconventional weapons. To ensure all medical professionals are on the same page in case of an attack, it is vital that nurses receive the same type of training as any other medical responders, Porter said.

“Nurses are usually the first defense,” Porter said. “They’re the healthcare professionals who usually see the patient first, even before the doctor, so it’s critical that nurses receive the same sort of awareness training that our doctors do.”

The project was one of just 14 selected for inclusion in the Department of Homeland Security’s Competitive Training Grants Program, which will dole out $33.6 million in funds. More than 200 institutions applied for homeland security funds this year.

Porter said the program, which is still being developed, will train nurses in all different working environments, reaching out to not only those stationed in hospitals but nurses in assisted-living and elementary schools as well.

The broad scope of the project, she said, is an example of the range of medical training programs the University has to offer.

“This shows that we are bringing training to all sectors of the healthcare community, not just the traditional first responders,” Porter said. “We’re focused on training all kinds of professionals.”

Paul Maniscalco, deputy director for the University’s Response to Emergencies and Disasters Institute, said the program was one of the first of its kind in the country and that he hopes it will spur similar projects at other universities.

“We would expect that (the program) will result in this being viewed as the best practice, and the best form of flattery is imitation,” Maniscalco said. “The more people we have ready to lend their assistance in times of crisis, the better prepared we’ll be as a nation.”

Maniscalco said he believed the unique focus of the program, along with the University’s strong reputation in the academic medical field, allowed GW to secure the grant.

He said the program will play a major role in expanding the range of medical emergency response nationwide.

“I think the end product that’s rolled out of this is going to have a tremendous impact in helping nurses to be better prepared to respond to acts of terrorism,” Maniscalco said. “That in turn means a better prepared nursing cadre, which means a better served population in times of need.”

Officials noted that higher education institutions have historically played an important role in the nation’s security

Frank Cilluffo, associate vice president for Homeland Security, an academic department, said he believes GW has a responsibility to train professionals to fight the war on terror.

“I think universities can and should play an important role in marshalling and mobilizing our resources for terrorism,” Cilluffo said. “If you look traditionally back to World War II, universities in conjunction with the private sector and the Department of Defense played an important part in enhancing our capabilities for national security.”

Officials said that GW is constantly looking at ways to assist in training professionals in the area of homeland security. CilluFfo said he sees the nurses program as just one of many projects to be developed at the University.

“Here I think we have the opportunity not for just training but to build out some other education programs on the research side,” Cilluffo said. “We have disparate expertise throughout the University … and we’re trying to build on all those different entities.”

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