Environmental Factor, June 2007, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Olden and Patterson Recognized for 9/11 and Katrina Response
By Eddy Ball
It came as a complete surprise to Ken Olden, Ph.D., and James Patterson on April 23 when colleagues called them in for an unscheduled Monday morning meeting in the main conference room at Nottingham Hall. However, when a smiling Chip Hughes took the floor, it soon became clear to the unsuspecting honorees that the gathering was anything but routine.
Hughes, the director of the DERT Worker Education and Training Program (WETB), had brought special medallions to present to his friends and colleagues in recognition of their exceptional efforts in the aftermath of America's greatest disasters in the twenty-first century.
"There are two people we wanted to honor who weren't able to be at our New York ceremony [recognizing contributors to the Institute's 9/11 response on the fifth anniversary last September]," he said. "In both cases, James and Ken, you guys really came through for us at certain important times."
Olden, as director, had spearheaded NIEHS Disaster Response Training efforts in the days following the World Trade Center bombing. In 2005, as a principal investigator and director emeritus, Olden had also provided leadership in the Institute's efforts to help victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita overseen by Director David A. Schwartz, M.D.
Unlike Olden, Patterson, an Office of Acquisitions contract specialist, performed his part behind the scenes, expediting requests for purchases and expenditures. Because of his efforts and the efforts of his colleagues in Acquisitions, NIEHS moved with unprecedented speed to recruit, train and supply the men and women who helped to contain the environmental damage resulting from both disasters.
The need for help after 9/11 came, Hughes noted, almost literally "at the last minute of the fiscal year." With Olden's help, the WETP request for $12 million bypassed layers of approval to go straight to the Secretary of State's Office. "We had done some supplemental something or the other," Hughes recalled. "And we just need[ed] to do this thing right now." Once funding was approved, Patterson and his colleagues made sure money and supplies fell into place as quickly as possible.
"We don't ever get to say 'thank you' enough," Hughes reflected. Not surprisingly, Olden played down his own role and pointed to the importance of collaborative leadership. "It's not one person or two people," he told the group. "It's a community effort." Likewise, Patterson turned his time in the limelight into an opportunity for thanking his colleagues in Acquisitions for their work making the Disaster Response Training a success.