Archive for March, 2010


Health Care Reform and Future Graduates


A new identity as a “young professional” comes with expectations and responsibilities that are often unfamiliar and intimidating for graduating seniors. A job and regular income is step one; but even for soon-to-be grads with job offers in hand, there are other factors beyond salary such as retirement funding (nothing could seem farther away, but there’s absolutely no better time to start) and health insurance.

The latter need is particularly timely with health care reform becoming law just last week. Ideally, a job offer will include employer-subsidized health insurance. But what is a new grad who is still job hunting or an employed grad whose job offer didn’t include health insurance to do? The new law (effective six months from now) will allow children ages 26 and under to be covered by their parent’s plan. Indeed a great benefit for those whose post-college transition may take longer than anticipated. And while other aspects of the law will not be relevant to this year’s graduates, starting in 2014, future graduates will we be covered by the public Medicaid program if their income is under 133 percent of the federal poverty line. For those without access to employment-based insurance, insurance costs will be heavily subsidized for those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty line. But given the time delay before implementation, it’s important for job searching students to seriously take into consideration the entire compensation package (especially health insurance) of any job offer.

UMBC students interested in getting assistance with their current job search and/or learning more about salary negotiation and weighing job offers are invited to connect with the Career Services Center (


Chilean Earthquake “Rapid Recon” Mission


Click here to download the full presentation
The 8.8-level earthquake that hit Chile in the early morning hours of February 27 was one of the strongest earthquakes ever measured, and the strongest recorded since 1964. Given that Chile uses essentially the same anti-seismic building codes as California, this event provided researchers with a unique opportunity to learn how different building designs withstood a very powerful earthquake.

On March 13, I joined the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) as a health expert on a nine-day “rapid reconnaissance” trip to investigate Chile’s structural earthquake damage. I was part of a subgroup that investigated the types of damages that occurred to hospitals and how the structural damages affected patient care. We also looked at how the Chilean authorities worked around the damages to their facilities and provided care to both emergency patients and those who were already in the hospitals. We witnessed much of the earthquake zone first-hand, particularly in the areas of Biobio, Talca, Los Angeles, Concepción and Talcahuano (See my slideshow above to get an idea of the extent of the damage).

Chile is now ranked by the World Bank as a “First World” country due both to its economic productivity and stability, as well as its excellent education and health care systems. Because of this, the experience in Chile can do a lot to inform us here in the United States regarding systems that worked, and those that did not perform as wished. We inspected hospitals, large and small, for structural damage, and interviewed hospital directors and medical directors to find out how they managed the response to the earthquake, and the on-going response to meet the public’s healthcare needs with diminished resources available. I was highly impressed with the resourcefulness of Chilean healthcare personnel under often horrifying circumstances, especially in their ability to flexibly develop new ways of doing things while still maintaining priority for patient safety and positive outcome.  With the communications systems down, hospitals learned to use EMS (ambulance) radio systems to communicate with the outside world. They also did an excellent job of making space for new patients while evacuating current patients from damaged sections of their buildings without resorting to the potentially dangerous (under the conditions) practice of massively transferring patients to other hospitals.

I am now working other members of my group from Johns Hopkins University – Dr. Tom Kirsch and Engineering Prof. Judith Mitrani-Reiser — to submit to a proposal the National Science Foundation (who funded the EERI trip) for additional funding for some in-depth research in Chile. The Chilean Ministry of Health will be using our findings as part of their assessment process.

Learn more here.

— Rick Bissell, director of UMBC’s Center for Emergency Education and Disaster Research.


KAL brings cartoon diplomacy to the Middle East


I have just returned from a 12 day visit to Amman, Jordan and Beirut, Lebanon as part of a strategic speaker initiative sponsored by the US Embassies in the region. During my visit I addressed a wide variety of groups including University students on six campuses, cartoonists, animators, journalists, and civic leaders. Our discussions centered on the opportunities and limitations of political cartoons in promoting freedom of expression. There was great interest in the region in the program particularly in light of the controversial Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

My visit garnered a good bit of media exposure. There were numerous press and television interviews. Links to some of the news stories along with photos and observations from the trip will be available on my blog ( in the days ahead.

I also would like to announce the launch of the first KAL iPhone App. Created in conjunction with RevelMob, the iKal-Book is just $.99 and available at the iTunes store. Please see our press release here.


spaceflight’s murky future


When I asked Joseph N. Tatarewicz, associate professor of history, to write a post for Talking Heads, I knew that he was one of the leading experts on the history of NASA and no stranger to writing about the institution. Joe outdid himself, however, and his blog post seemed too good to keep to ourselves. I’m not an “unapologetic space cadet” like Joe, but he broke the history of the space program down so that I understood the context of what’s happening with NASA funding now.

So we decided to share Joe with the world, and we sent his piece to the Baltimore Sun as a potential Op-Ed. The editors there saw what we did, and added Joe’s grounded and knowledgeable voice to the debate over the fate of NASA.

As Joe explains:

“Presidents have tossed out grand visions easily over the years, few seriously, and they have continued those of their predecessors only with solid popular support or compelling policy reasons… Presidents have always used space as an instrument for their broader programs and agendas, but usually without much public debate or even notice. This is different. The old, well-worn paradigms and plans are probably off the table, but the new ones are just emerging, in piecemeal fashion.”

What’s the future of human spaceflight? No one is sure, but Joe gives us the background we need to make an educated guess. Read his full Op Ed here.

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