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Lessons Learned from September 11, 2001

Doctor Robert Cherry, M.D., FACS
Dr. Cherry, M.D., FACS
"Whether you are a public health official or a business leader preparing to manage a natural disaster or a threat scenario, always realize you may encounter situations and circumstances that challenge the best plans," says Dr. Robert Cherry, Medical Director of the Penn State Shock Trauma Center.

Dr. Cherry learned this lesson first-hand working as Director of a level-one trauma center in the New York City area on Sept. 11, 2001. The doctor now realizes that each day brings unexpected challenges caused by constantly shifting circumstances. Like many New Yorkers on that day, he found the surreal experience tested even the most rehearsed plans.

"We felt the trauma center was prepared for disasters, until we found things that we simply hadn't planned for," said Dr. Cherry. "We had generators for power, but what if we needed them and exhausted our 36 hours of fuel reserve? Did we have a way of refueling?"

While dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, Dr. Cherry and his team faced the reality of not being prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. Like many other hospitals in New York City, they were concerned about the limited number of resources, including staff, equipment, and communications technology, and what is actually needed to adequately plan for and manage a large disaster. Dr. Cherry’s experiences that day deeply impacted his life and later inspired him to develop a Homeland Security program at Penn State’s Medical Center.

"The program teaches students the skills that allow them to be flexible, adaptive and responsive to whatever situation arises during an emergency," added Dr. Cherry. "Cultivating this culture among leaders in medicine or any business will greatly increase the security of the facilities and the employees that are required to survive a disaster and eventually allow an organization to return to normal productivity."

In January 2006, Penn State College of Medicine began this new program, making it one of the first medical schools in the United States to offer a master's degree program in Homeland Security. Dr. Cherry, now serving as the lead faculty member of Penn State's World Campus Master of Homeland Security and Public Health Preparedness, is already planning additional programs that will prepare the leaders of the future.

"You have to adopt an emergency plan that allows for change because it is impossible to adapt an inflexible plan during an emergency situation," said Dr. Cherry. "Whether in medicine or business, I encourage everyone to establish emergency preparedness plans that allow your people to adjust to any situation that comes your way. This skill is learned through training, knowledge of the plans and practice."

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