The Public Health Preparedness Summit is an annual conference held to bring together public health professionals from around the world. March 12-15, 2013 the conference was held in Atlanta, GA at the Marriott Marquis. Presenters, lecturers, and attendees came from different backgrounds, communities, and fields to discuss preparedness aspects of public health. Local, state, federal, and private sector partners were all involved in the summit and made it a great opportunity for Emory SORT students to network, volunteer, and learn about the latest projects that are happening in the world of public health preparedness.
SORT students were invited to assist in the logistics of the conference by either making up goody bags for participants or helping people find their way around the conference. During my volunteer time, I helped out as a “way-finder.” I was given a bright orange sign to hold that said “ASK ME!” This vague sign served not only to help but also as a source of entertainment. The public health world took the bait and did not fail to amuse me. While I was asked practical questions about where to find the free lunches, where particular lectures were being held, and where presenters should sign in, I was also mistaken for a hotel employee and was asked where the hotel bar was, how to get to the nearest Marta station, and whom a visitor should ask to get more towels for their room.
Additionally, the vagueness of the sign and my lack of identification provided a plethora of inquiry and hilarity. Summit attendees would come up to me asking “what should I ask you?” or they would concoct clever questions such as “what’s the weather in South Dakota?” A particular favorite was when asked the temperature outside I replied “52°,” the man then pulled out his iPhone to check the weather and indeed it was 52°. I was asked the score of a baseball game and two basketball games. Some people were very kind and asked me how I was doing, if I would like a chair to sit, and was even offered two cups of coffee and a beer when I was finished volunteering. A woman from Seattle presenting her project on mass casualty incidents was standing behind me for the duration of my volunteer time. She congratulated me on my quick ability to give answers to riddles and boosting the confidence of the public health professionals by laughing at everyone’s jokes. The woman told me she was tweeting some of the best and most random questions people were asking.
It was really nice to not have to take the summit very seriously. While I was there to represent Emory, Rollins, and SORT, being able to relax and just talk to people with whom I one day may work with was refreshing. I exchanged business cards with a few people and bonded with former first responders, as I myself am a paramedic. One man gave me a business card simply for attempting to solve a riddle he asked. Seeing the research topics being presented got me excited about future opportunities in public health, but interacting with all of the wonderful people at the conference was what really solidified my enthusiasm for a future career in public health preparedness.
Emma Paras is a first year Environmental Health MPH student and SORT member