Environmental response team is the first of its kind for military in the Pacific
CAMP ZAMA, Japan — When disasters strike, U.S. military response often involves medical care, food drops and recovery crews.
In Japan, Army officials now can also offer help with testing for airborne illnesses, insect-borne diseases and water contamination, according to Col. Nancy L. Vause, commander of the Pacific’s Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine at Camp Zama.
“We’ve been working for a year to stand it up,” Vause said of the Special Medical Augmentation Response Team-Preventive Medicine, or SMART-PM, at Zama. “We want people to know we are here.”
The team, which conducted its first field training last month on Okinawa, is the only one of its kind in the Pacific, according to Vause.
This team of public health experts is able to take lab equipment to a disaster aftermath, testing on the spot for sewage leaks, disease outbreak or other health concerns that can arise during disasters.
The group includes about a dozen people, including a doctor, a public nurse, an entomologist, an environmental scientist, an industrial hygienist and an environmental technician.
The makeup can be tailored to fit the response need, Vause said.
SMART teams aren’t new to the Army. One responded at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
There also are SMART teams specializing in preventive medicine — like the one at Zama — in Hawaii, Europe and the continental United States, Vause said.
Vause hopes the team in Japan will be able to help in emergencies for both American and Japanese militaries.
She also met with U.S. Embassy officials this month to offer services if needed.
The team is a small part of the health promotion center’s mission.
The center also tests work, training and living environments for potential contaminants and diseases in Japan, South Korea and other parts of Asia.
The staff of about 60 also tests drinking water at Army housing areas, looks for disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks, and educates troops about sexually transmitted diseases, Vause said.