Texas A&M University has launched an emergency management group consisting of dozens of its scientists, researchers, engineers and other experts to develop countermeasures for the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The newly formed Texas A&M Emergency Management Advisory Group (TEMAG) brings together more than 85 experts from a variety of disciplines, including infectious disease, virology, medicine, emergency management, supply chain management, international affairs and more. TEMAG will support the state through the Texas Division of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of State Health Services.
In a Thursday afternoon phone interview, TEMAG Co-Chair Allison Ficht said that the university has been in contact with state and local officials and entities — including Nim Kidd, who serves as the chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management — in recent weeks to find ways to assist. A pharmacy group is working with supply chain engineers to address drug shortages, Ficht said, and soil and crop scientists are partnering with electrical and computer engineers on coronavirus-related X-ray imaging, among other collaborations.
“This effort brought together people who might never have worked together or have collaborated together — or even met each other,” said Ficht, who is senior associate vice president for research at A&M. “They’re learning to direct their research in completely new and novel ways.”
“When you get these different disciplines together, they think very differently about problems — and they come up with amazing solutions,” Ficht said. “I think faculty are really stepping up to direct their research in these new ways and contribute to the greater good. That’s what we do at A&M.”
Texas A&M Vice President for Research Mark A. Barteau shared a similar perspective on the group, which he said is growing daily and now has more than 85 members from various fields of expertise.
“This is an all-of-society challenge, and I think we have the expertise here that matches that challenge,” Barteau said. “We have people stepping up every day and saying ‘Oh, yeah, I can contribute.’ I think it is already having a significant value and will continue to have more — not just on producing materials, but on providing modeling information and things that can help decision-makers to make more informed decisions.”
In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Brazos County Alternate Health Authority Dr. Seth Sullivan praised the Texas A&M School of Public Health for its help in modeling potential COVID-19-related trajectories.
According to an A&M press release, Texas A&M scientists are creating an infectious disease model to assist state officials in their decision-making process as they work to combat COVID-19. TEMAG member Murray J. Côté, associate professor at the School of Public Health, leads the research team that is creating the model.
“State officials asked for the model,” the release reads, “which will improve their ability to better anticipate the spread of infectious disease as well as sudden stress on the availability of medical supplies, equipment and personal protective gear.”
Additionally, engineers at Texas A&M have responded to the dearth of personal protection masks by developing a method to construct N95 masks out of air conditioning filters and other readily available materials.
Gerald Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program within the Bush School of Government and Public Service, chairs the emergency management group along with Ficht, according to the TEMAG website.
Barteau, A&M’s vice president for research, said that the multidisciplinary nature of the emergency response group could lead to long-lasting benefits.
“I think that a lot of the connections that are being made now are going to continue to pay off after this crisis is over — that people will discover new collaborators and resources within the university that will help increase the level of our research and our public service, as well as grow our ability to respond to future crises,” he said.