Public health issues following a disaster are all too familiar to U.S. Army Col. Michael Brumage. He is commander of the Public Health Command Region-Pacific and he dealt with several issues following the Japan earthquake this year.
He was responsible for leading military crews in addressing public health issues such as testing for radiation.
Brumage is a WVU grad. He returned to campus Thursday to talk about his experiences following the disaster.
About 125,000 military members, families and locals who work for the military live in Japan, Brumage said.
Brumage said that when the earthquake hit, his office in Japan shook for about five minutes. The earthquake wasn’t the end of their problems: A tsunami hit the islands soon after. The wave also caused a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima power plant.
After the 11th of March, there was a new normal in Japan,” Brumage said.
In a coincidence, Brumage gave his lecture in the Health Sciences Campus’ Fukushima Auditorium, named to honor Dr. Takanori Fukushima, a university neurosurgeon.
He gave his talk as part of the School of Medicine’s Public Health Grand Rounds.
“This is certainly a high water mark for the grand rounds,” said Art Ross, dean of the School of Medicine. Ross said Brumage is a very accomplished man and he has done well since leaving WVU. He said Brumage was responsible for the safety of many people following the disaster.
Brumage said the pictures on the television didn’t do justice to the “mind boggling” destruction. He showed pictures of crews clearing debris from an airport and rubble scattered throughout various areas.
“It’s pretty emotional when you walk around there and see children’s toys lying around,” Brumage said.
One of the biggest lessons learned from the experience was the importance of communication, Brumage said. The staff had a Facebook page it used to get messages out to the public. They had to combat fear with science and facts.
The radiation fears after the nuclear disaster were also present in the country, Brumage said. He said the Army passed out iodine tablets but they were never used because radiation levels were primarily low. Iodine tablets can be used as a preventive measure against radiation. For Army personnel, the highest levels of exposure found were the equivalent of the natural radiation one would receive if flying from the U.S. to Japan.
Military members also tested radiation on and in food and ruled that food from certain areas should be sold to troops, Brumage said. It will take a year to audit the different prohibited regions to see if the food is OK.
He also said there was a lot of miscommunication. For example, there were physicians telling people they should leave the country after the disaster because of radiation. But, Brumage said, someone getting a full-body CT scan was receiving more radiation exposure than many residents.
The U.S. Army also is the only military branch with veterinarians, Brumage said. His command had to issue health certificates for dogs sent by many countries to help with search and rescue. They also issued health certificates/exam for 2,760 pets that were leaving the country with military families.
Brumage also weighed in on WVU’s effort to create a School of Public Health. He said he supports the decision. He said many of the public health issues facing the country are present in West Virginia, such as diabetes and obesity.
Brumage, a 1986 WVU graduate, was in town for more than the lecture. He is also visiting WVU for his class’ 25th-year reunion. He said he volunteered to give the lecture because it was such an unusual experience.http://ee.dominionpost.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=RFBvc3QvMjAxMS8wOS8zMCNBcjAwMTAy&Mode=HTML&Locale=english-skin-custom