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ISU wants to help you be prepared for natural disasters with new conference

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The following is a blog post written by Idaho State University Student Isaac Dayley.

IDAHO FALLS – The first-ever Disaster Preparedness and Response Conference in collaboration with Idaho State University’s Continuing Education and Workforce Training and ISU Community and Public Health will be held at the Disaster Response Complex in April.

But what is it? How did it come to be? And why should you care?

The beginnings of the conference

Gary Salazar, Director of Continuing Education and Workforce Training, had an idea. He wanted to start a regional conference similar to the annual Emergency Medicine Conference focused on disaster response. He took this idea to Dr. Mustafa Mashal, Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at ISU as well as the Director of the Disaster Response Complex.

Dr. Mashal loved the idea, taking it to his collaborators at the DRC to discuss it. They quickly set about assembling colleagues at Idaho State University and elsewhere to serve on an organizing committee.

One of those people was Dr. Rajiv Khadka, a visualization researcher at the Idaho National Laboratory.

“I was interested in the idea because there is a growing interest in disaster management and understanding the usage of emerging technologies to prepare for the disaster,” Khadka said.

He also adds the conference “aligned with my research interest of using virtual reality and augmented reality technologies for disaster management.”

In addition to Dr. Khadka, Dr. Mashal also reached out to Dr. Irene van Woerden, Assistant Professor in the Department of Community and Public Health at ISU, and her graduate student Dr. Meesha Iqbal. In August of 2021, these two had spearheaded a one-day Disaster Response Workshop. Wanting to continue their efforts to help residents of Idaho prepare for potential disasters, they readily agreed to help.

With the support needed, the Disaster Preparedness and Response Conference was ready to be planned. There was a multitude of things that needed to be done, from advertising, gaining sponsorships, finding speakers, and of course, choosing the date.

Both Dr. Mashal and Dr. Khadka have been impressed by how well everything has gone. They have received interest and support from all across the region from both private and public entities. Dr. Khadka notes that each conference committee member was assigned specific tasks, which has helped smooth out the process. Additionally, the Center for Advanced Energy, INL and academic institutions have also thrown in their support, which Dr. Khadka calls an “immense” help.

Dr. van Woerden and Dr. Iqbal, who are the Chair and Co-Chair of the Disaster Response Conference, respectively, have talked to many experts about what topics should be covered. For Dr. van Woerden, “It has been fascinating talking to the speakers and learning more about disaster preparedness and response.” Dr. Iqbal adds, “It has been wonderful being the fulcrum of this much-needed engagement.”

Eventually, the date was set for April 8 and 9. While there is still work to be done, the conference is set up to be a resounding success.

What the conference is about

Taking place over the course of two days, the conference will cover a variety of topics ranging from disaster politics, transportation and communication options amidst disasters, community vulnerability and resilience, among others. The conference is being led by its Chair, Dr. Irene van Woerden, and Co-Chair, Dr. Meesha Iqbal.

The first day will be focused on disaster preparedness and response, while the second will cover recovery and mitigation. As Jared Cantrell, Research Engineer and DRC Project Manager, states, “The conference is aimed to advance understanding among emergency responders in various fields from the local levels up through the state and federal levels.”

Dr. Khadka adds that the main goal of the conference is to “provide a platform to the interested participants to share their experience, challenges and opportunities.” Each day will have a variety of speakers, each of whom are experts in their fields.

At the end of each day of the conference, there will be a training session on disaster preparedness that the general public can attend.

“We would be thrilled to have anyone who is interested to learn more about disaster preparedness and response attend these sessions,” Dr. van Woerden says.

Outside of the presentations, the conference will also have opportunities for networking, exhibitions, and showcasing of the facilities and programs at ISU. Jared hopes to see “collaboration, partnership, and advancement in various knowledge and projects result from the vast participation that can potentially take place.”

Why you should care

If you are in any way interested or involved in disaster management and first response, this conference is for you. This includes everyone from law enforcement, firefighters, military, academia, healthcare professionals, and students.

Dr. Mashal states this conference “will be a good venue for the participants to learn about disaster response and preparedness from nationally-renowned experts.” In addition, there will be plenty of time for networking and experience sharing, which is valuable especially for those looking to enter a field related to disaster response.

From Dr. Iqbal’s thesis research on disaster preparedness in Idaho Falls, she found that around 30% of people are not prepared to deal with disasters. She hopes that people who attend the conference “will recognize disaster preparedness as a necessary…component to deal with potential disaster.”

The planners of the conference have kept registration costs low in order to attract as many participants as possible. So if anything has caught your attention, you can check out the registration page for more information.

All those involved in the planning and preparation of the conference are hoping it will be a great experience for all who attend. And Dr. Mashal adds, “We would like to…learn from this year’s conference in order to make the future conferences better for everyone.”

To purchase tickets or learn more, click here.

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