Laboratories and First Responders: Collaborating for Effective Response

Click to listen to the Collaborating for Effective Response Discussion

Every day an event occurs somewhere in the United States that triggers a myriad of activities engaging first responders, public health laboratorians, physicians, and other personnel tasked with protecting the nation from all hazards threats.  In the case of an event with an unknown substance, screening and testing are needed to determine the safety of the area. First responders on the scene work quickly with multiple partners including public health laboratorians to assess potential threats. Often, first responders use field devices for screening samples to locate threat agents. From a safety standpoint, it is important to know the specifications and limitations of such field devices and also to establish working relationships with all partners well in advance of an emergency situation. Even though laboratorians, police officers, firefighters, and hazmat technicians wear different uniforms, they all share the common goal of protecting the public and thus have similar concerns including:

  • Safety of first responders and laboratorians;
  • Integrity of the results on which important decisions are made;
  • Need for standardized training and competency assessments;
  • Need for an approved list of evaluated field devices for purchase;
  • Identification of a lead federal agency in charge of regulating the devices, ensuring the delivery of training and implementation of ongoing competency assessments, and providing grants to purchase equipment.

Bonnie D. Rubin, MLS, MBA, MHA, Associate Director for Planning and Development, State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa, and Major Michael Simpson, Chief Science Officer, 71st Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, join Maureen Sullivan, MPH, Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit Supervisor, Public Health Laboratory, Minnesota Department of Health and Chair, Public Health Preparedness and Response Committee, Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), in discussing the vital collaborations underway between public health laboratories and first responder communities to protect the nation’s health. The discussion also addresses some of the hot button issues such as field testing versus field screening and lack of comprehensive guidance and training from a lead federal agency.

This podcast provides information on: (a) the partnerships between first responders such as Civil Support Teams and public health laboratories; (b) the issues regarding the use of field devices; and (c) the activities in progress to better integrate public health laboratories and first responder communities to leverage unique expertise from both groups.


For additional information on: APHL, visit:

“Partners in Preparedness and Response: Connecting Laboratories and the First Responder Community,” visit

“The Role of the Civil Support Team in Support of the Laboratory Response Network (LRN),” contact your LRN state, local public laboratory, or Civil Support Team.

“APHL Policy/Position Statements: Standardized Validation of Screening Kits and Devices for Use in the Field identify Hazardous Biological and Chemical Agents,” visit

Maureen Sullivan

Maureen Sullivan, MPH, is currently the supervisor of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Laboratory Unit at the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory (MN-PHL), where she has worked for the past 19 years. In addition, she is the Laboratory Bioterrorism Coordinator for the CDC Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement.  Nationally, she is the chair of the Association of Public Health Laboratory (APHL) Public Health Preparedness and Response Committee.  Locally, she has worked with the National Guard 55th Civil Support Team, FBI and Homeland Security Emergency Management on developing plans and exercises for first responders and the laboratory.



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