Legal Preparedness for Emergencies to be Symposium Topic

Release Date: November 2, 2006

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In the event of an emergency or disaster -- be it a devastating hurricane, sudden infectious-disease outbreak, terrorist attack or freak October snowstorm -- an array of legal issues will arise affecting the speed and effectiveness of emergency response.

And when a crisis occurs across borders, international legal obligations and restraints present challenges that can further affect emergency response.

This is why "legal preparedness" is key among many factors essential to an effective emergency response, explains Sheila Shulman, research associate professor in the UB Law School and the School of Public Health and Health Professions. 

"Public health officials, health care providers, private entities, institutions and corporations, as well as the broader community need a clear and fundamental understanding of basic public health law, clarity about the broader legal obligations and constraints that will govern in the event of a community crisis, and recognition of the complex ethical challenges that inevitably will emerge," Shulman says.

To address these issues, the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy in the University at Buffalo Law School will hold a day-long public symposium Nov. 17 on "Public Health Emergencies and Legal Preparedness: A Cross-Border Challenge." To be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Screening Room in the Center for the Arts on the UB North (Amherst) Campus, the symposium will feature presentations from public health attorneys and officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Homeland Security and the Canadian government, among others.

The symposium is intended for public health officials, health law attorneys, hospital and corporate risk managers, and law enforcement personnel.   

According to Shulman, the symposium's organizer, legal preparedness for an emergency involves all levels of government—local, state and national. Gaps in legal preparedness among these entities have become apparent, in part because the task is complex, she says. 

"Serious work in re-evaluating our public health laws has been under way for some time, but we believe it's helpful to continue the conversation, which is one of the reasons for our symposium," Shulman adds.

Symposium keynote speakers will include Dan Stier, public health analyst for the CDC, and James Young, who directs public safety and emergency preparedness for the government of Canada.

A morning panel discussion will focus on "Cross-Border Public Health Emergencies: Legal Issues -- Past, Present and Future," moderated by Douglas Sider, associate medical officer of health for the Niagara Region Public Health Department. Among panel participants, Jane Speakman, a Toronto-based attorney, will discuss "SARS, The Toronto Experience: Moving Forward," and Richard Buck, border health manager for the New York State Department of Health, will discuss "The Great Lakes Border Initiative: Cross Border Communication in Practice Today."

An afternoon panel discussion on "Privacy Concern: Legal Protections in Community Crisis Situations" will feature a presentation by Kenneth Mortensen of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

A second afternoon panel discussion will analyze legal preparedness for a hypothetical emergency. "Incident at Airport X: Quarantine Law and Limits" will be moderated by Frederic Shaw from the Office of the Chief of Public Health Practice, CDC. Panel participants will include Mary Ann Buckley, senior attorney, Bioterrorism and Emergency Response, New York State Health Department; Anthony Billittier, Erie County health commissioner, representing Western New York Public Health Alliance; Kevin Corsaro, public affairs officer, Buffalo Field Office for Customs and Border Protection; Justice Kevin Dillon, New York State Supreme Court; Wilfredo Lopez, general counsel for health, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Paul Edelson, Federal Quarantine Officer, Kennedy Airport; Michael Marszalkowski, special counsel, Damon & Morey LLP; and Kenneth Mortensen, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The cost of attending the symposium is $30 for the general public. Admission is free for UB faculty and students, but registration is required. For more information about the symposium and to register for it, go to or call 645-2102.

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