Philip Navin Jr.
Position: Director, Emergency Operations Center, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Best known for: When public health emergencies arise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is one of the primary federal agencies that must respond. Mobilizing and equipping doctors, epidemiologists and other scientists to cope with infectious disease outbreaks and natural disasters requires planning, coordination and support.
The job falls to Navin, the CDC’s director of emergency operations.
A retired Army colonel, Navin heads the emergency center, which is always on call and is the agency’s central point of contact for reporting and responding to public health threats.
Navin and his team find experts to answer requests for assistance from state and local health departments, federal agencies, public health practitioners and even officials from overseas. Between 2004 and 2012, the emergency center handled an average of 23,000 requests per year. The center staff disseminates timely information and provides equipment, supplies and travel arrangements to crisis respondents. The center transports life-supporting medications, samples and specimens around the world.
It was created in 2003 after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and has responded to more than 50 major national and international emergencies with public health implications. Included in that long list: foodborne disease outbreaks, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the H1N1 influenza outbreak, the Haiti cholera outbreak, the global effort to eradicate polio, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and the multi-state outbreak of fungal meningitis.
Prior to Navin’s arrival, the response center consisted of available conference rooms with limited equipment. Today, it can accommodate up to 230 personnel for each eight-hour shift to handle situations ranging from local emergencies to worldwide incidents. Colleagues said Navin has created a professional, disciplined operation and greatly improved the CDC’s ability to respond to emergencies.
Government work: Navin joined the military in 1973 as a second lieutenant in the Army’s Medical Service Corps and retired as a colonel in 2003. He went to work for the CDC that same year to establish and run its emergency operations center.
Motivation for service: Navin said his parents instilled a sense of service and a willingness to sacrifice for others, basic principles that led him first to the Army and then to the CDC.
Biggest challenge: While many federal agencies have had systems in place to respond to emergencies, a coordinated incident command structure has been a new undertaking for the CDC, and it has required time to educate the workforce and implement a finely tuned operation.
Quote: “Serving your country is tantamount to serving your next-door neighbor. Every day, I look in the mirror and ask myself if I did the best I could today.”
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