MPA student prepared for disaster

By Kate Smith, CLAS ’12

While many Connecticut residents were camping out in their homes without electricity or water during Hurricane Irene, Department of Public Policy graduate student Patrick Turek was working the longest shift of his life.

Turek, an intern at the New Britain Emergency Medical Services, worked a 24-hour shift as an emergency medical technician and was prepared with five days’ worth of clothing, food, water and sleeping accommodations for himself and his fellow colleagues.

However, none of it was needed.

“I was expecting lots of calls – definitely no sitting down,” says Turek. “But we actually spent the entire time on standby monitoring the changing storm… we were very surprised.

“Without a doubt, I think many if not all individuals throughout the state were well prepared for the storm,” Turek says.  “As to an explanation for why call volume was reduced during Irene; I can’t say for certain.”

Responding to medical emergencies is nothing new for the 22-year old Southington native. After his high school graduation, Turek participated in an intensive five-week EMT certification course at the New Britain Emergency Medical Services Academy, which totaled 140 hours.  Upon the conclusion of the course, he was hired as a part-time EMT in New Britain.

“I got lucky and have been working my way up ever since,” says Turek. “I’ve spent the last four years working with New Britain Emergency Medical Services and it’s been great.  As a 911 responder and educator, I serve as a frontline clinical and EMS instructor.”

After Turek graduated from Central Connecticut State University in just three years with a degree in criminology, his friends and colleagues suggested that he look into UConn’s nationally recognized Master in Public Administration program.  Though he originally saw himself working on a police force, Turek began to entertain the idea of working in emergency planning and homeland security .

“My experience as an EMT showed me that I also have a strong interest in state and federal approaches to emergency preparedness and looking at issues from broader management and policy positions,” Turek says. “I decided to pursue a degree that would give me more of a broad skill set so I could write my own path.  The MPA can be used for almost any type of leadership position across a number of fields and industries.”

Turek’s internship with the New Britain Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Health Department, which he began in June, was a natural progression. In addition to responding to EMT calls 25 hours a week, he also works with the federally funded Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, as well as taking a full graduate-level course load. Responding to immediate health emergencies like Hurricane Irene is an important part of Turek’s fieldwork, but even more important is the extensive planning that goes into that response. Turek has spent a large part of his summer working on New Britain’s Standard Operating Guide, which details the exact action and chain of command should a health disaster befall the city or state, especially threats of bioterrorism. His department recently received a $40,000 federal grant to help prepare a defense against this kind of attack. “One of the primary focuses of this grant is preparing mass medication dispensing plans of anthrax medication and smallpox vaccine,” Turek says. “We have to ask – how do we get medication out to the public if there is a health disaster?” With the grant money, the Health Department was recently able to acquire equipment like a trailer, vaccine refrigerators, vaccine workstations, and laptops used solely for cataloging vaccine-related information. Working with such heavy subjects has changed the way Turek looks at the world. “I definitely have a heightened sense of awareness,” he said. “I always have an exit plan whenever I enter a room.”

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