Fall 2004 Table of Contents
Grants and Philanthropy
NYU Medical and Dental Schools Awarded
$2.7 Million for Catastrophe Response Plan

Dr. Walter J. Psoter









Imagine if a terrorist strike, natural disaster, or other public health crisis were to overwhelm the capabilities of the very physicians we depend on to treat casualties during a catastrophe. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for coordinating the federal government’s response to terrorist attacks, currently has only limited contingency plans in place for having other healthcare practitioners step in to help treat the anticipated surge in casualties. But Homeland Security has now taken the first step toward developing a comprehensive plan by awarding NYU a $2.68 million grant to examine how best to prepare additional first responders for a disaster, using NYU dentists as the primary test group. The NYU School of Medicine (SOM) and NYU College of Dentistry (NYUCD) are jointly administering this two-year grant under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Martin J. Blaser, Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine, Chairman, Department of Medicine, and Professor of Microbiology at SOM. Dr. Walter J. Psoter, an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Health Promotion at NYUCD, is a coprincipal investigator, as is Dr. Marc M. Triola, the Associate Director of SOM’s Center for Health Information Preparedness (CHIP). Dr. Neal Steigbigel, the Director of CHIP, is also an investigator.

“Most dental procedures do not deal with life-threatening conditions, so dentists can be quickly mobilized in an emergency,” says Dr. Blaser. Adds Dr. Michael C. Alfano, Dean of NYUCD: “We know that with some additional training, dentists could become skilled at recognizing the signs and symptoms of chemical, radiological, and biological attacks, and assist in triage, as they do in the military.”

Under the grant, SOM faculty members will prepare dentists for the medical responses to chemical, biological, and radiological injuries, said Dr. Psoter. Dentists will also be taught advanced life-support skills to supplement their basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation training. To help address the urgent need for authoritative information in an emergency, the task force will also train dentists to act as a public health information resource. Finally, a model dental continuing education curriculum encompassing these training principles will be developed.

Working under the aegis of NYU’s Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response (CCPR), physicians, dentists, and public health experts will conduct mock terror disaster drills, train dentists to administer vaccines and treat bioterrorism-related injuries, and instruct dentists in triage (the process for prioritizing injured people into groups based on their treatment needs). Up to 15 NYUCD faculty members will train as a test group in a plan that could eventually become a model for training dentists nationwide.

CCPR will integrate recommendations from the trial into a broader plan that it will submit to Homeland Security and local government agencies outlining how healthcare practitioners, fire, police, and other emergency personnel can better coordinate their efforts. Podiatrists, veterinarians, and pharmacists are among the other healthcare practitioners who might use the dental model for their own preparedness plans.

The grant comes at a time when dental schools, led by NYUCD, are beginning to incorporate terrorism preparedness training into their predoctoral curricula. In fall 2003, NYUCD became the first dental school in the United States to implement a full, four-year terrorism preparedness training curriculum that all dental students must complete to graduate.

Dr. Psoter, who has dedicated much of his career to serving communities with unmet dental needs, says, “Becoming involved in terrorism preparedness is another way of helping those in need. It gets dentists involved in their community’s broader health.”