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Public Health Student Lends Perspective to the Training in Risk and Crisis Communication Program


Hilary Franke, Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) Program

As I spoke with my colleagues in the Health Services Administration Department at the University of Maryland about our internships, I found most them would be joining typical public health organizations, such as Johns Hopkins, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  However, my internship appointment was not as expected; I would be interning at START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. 

At first glance, applying health services administration to terrorism and disasters does not seem like an easy translation.  However, in the aftermath of most crises, impacted persons need emergency health services, and public health professionals coordinate appropriate responses for victims. Public health professionals need to communicate with various stakeholders, including government agencies, private businesses, healthcare organizations, and the general public. Working at START this summer modified my vision of how communication and public health are related.

I contributed to several risk communications and resilience projects during my internship. One project, focused on older adults’ social media use during disasters, directly applied my public health background to propose a new research project to NIH. I led a literature search, proposed health behavior theories to guide the study, generated hypotheses, and outlined potential research methods. Working with Drs. Liu and Petrun on this project, I gained first-hand experience with grant writing. This process let me incorporate relevant public health theories and methodology to propose solutions to real world problems. 

During my internship I worked with fellow interns to also develop a mobile application for the Training in Risk and Crisis Communication (TRACC) program. TRACC is a training program serving local, state, and federal emergency managers. The goal of the application is to make training information more accessible (and maybe even fun) for players. The application is a game in which players manage either a natural or a man-made crisis.  The game mirrors real life because public health officials must effectively manage crises in ways that promote the physical and mental health of the populations they serve.  Working on a multi-disciplinary team was an invaluable learning experience, which will be very helpful considering the interdisciplinary nature of the public health field.          

Working with the Risk Communication and Resilience team was exciting, despite doubts about how my background would apply to the internship. Throughout the internship I realized that my supervisors and coworkers respected me as an expert in public health, just as I respected them as experts in risk and crisis communication.  While I absorbed as much as I could about communication theory and crisis management, they took in my contributions about public health theory and practice. 

My internship at START has allowed me to truly stand out among my colleagues-- especially given the field work, the interconnectedness with government agencies, and the collaboration with other motivated individuals.  However, my favorite aspect was being able to apply my coursework to meaningful tasks.  START’s internship expanded the scope of my expertise in public health and provided insight into possible future career paths that are much more expansive than I had envisioned prior to my START internship.   


In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. 

This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.