Public Health in Action: Erika England
From cleaning up autoclave spills in Lineberger Cancer Center to serving on the emergency response team for Hurricane Florence, Erika England, an MPH student in the Leadership program, can hardly describe her job as boring. She is one of several students who works full-time while pursuing a degree in the Public Health Leadership Program.
“No two days are alike. That’s why I love my job,” said England.
England is a Biological Safety Specialist at the Department of Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) at UNC-Chapel Hill. The department is dedicated to providing a safe working and learning environment for the University community. Although she deals with various cases on campus, she primarily focuses on laboratory safety and bloodborne pathogens. Some of her tasks include conducting laboratory inspections, incident investigations, and teaching safety classes for University employees.
“I train employees on how to safely work in and around labs. For example, I remind people to remove their gloves when they touch personal objects like cell phones while doing research and the importance of washing their hands. It may sound trivial, but small actions like that have the potential to lead to big problems,” said England. She mentions a 2017 CDC report where there was a Salmonella outbreak of 24 cases in 16 states because lab workers were not following safety precautions when dealing with biological products.
“Thankfully, we haven’t dealt with an outbreak like that on this campus, but it demonstrates why education and trainings are important to prevent public health hazards,” England said.
In addition to working with the UNC-Chapel Hill community, England has the opportunity to serve the entire University of North Carolina System. For instance, England served on the Incident Management Team (IMT) for Hurricane Florence on the UNC-Wilmington campus back in September. She acted as the representative for UNC-Chapel Hill.
“We had to be flown in because the roads were closed due to flooding. I was in Wilmington for six days and worked 12 to 14-hour days,” said England. “The EHS staff definitely needed the support because they are only a 5-person team serving the whole campus.”
England and the other members of the IMT arrived on campus shortly after Hurricane Florence was clear to assist the Emergency Operations Center at the University. England was responsible for assessing damage in the biological and chemical laboratories and recommending additional resources.
“There was roof damage and flooding. There was no electricity, so we had to clean out some of the laboratories. We accessed biological products and chemicals to determine what can be saved and what can be thrown out. I did vapor and humidity monitoring inside the buildings to make sure conditions remained safe for people inside,” said England. “Even today, the area is still in recovery. Dobo Hall, the main science building, has to be gutted and renovated. Everyone who worked in the building had to be moved.” England is one of many students, faculty, and staff member who supported relief efforts for Hurricane Florence.
Prior to her time at UNC-Chapel Hill, England worked as a biochemist at NC State University. She also served in the Marines for six years where she worked as an air traffic controller and deployed overseas several times. So, England is definitely no stranger to serving others. Thank you, Erika England, for your continued service both on and off campus.