Cham Dallas, director of the Institute for Disaster Management in the College of Public Health, has shared his expertise on the threat of nuclear disasters and terrorism with Congress, the United Nations and media outlets around the globe. His research presents numerous opportunities for students to be involved in memorable and professionally useful research.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin and my master’s and Ph.D. in toxicology and health administration from the University of Texas School of Public Health. I am currently a professor in the department of health policy and management in the UGA College of Public Health. I also am director of the Institute for Disaster Management in the College of Public Health.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I have been at UGA now for 30 years (I plan on staying for quite some time). I came here directly after my Ph.D. completion at the University of Texas.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I have two favorite courses. The first is DMAN 7200, “Disaster Management for Health Professionals.” Having taught this course every year since the 9/11 attacks, I know that I am helping to prepare future health professionals for the very uncertain future that we now face. In this course, the students receive a number of federal and private professional certifications that are recognized by their future employers, so I feel like I am preparing them for the real world in a more realistic fashion.
I also enjoy teaching DMAN 7500, “ Understanding Terrorism and Homeland Security.” The growing asymmetric threats faced by the U.S. and the rest of the world make for a challenging and interesting educational experience, both as instructor and student. I find the balance of civil liberties, security needs and health care requirements very interesting.
What interests you about your field?
I have found emergency preparedness and response in an academic setting as ideal in meeting my goals of centering on scholarship, significance and students. There is an enhanced degree of interest in academia, government, media and the general public in this field, which has been reflected in the high visibility of my publications and media presentations, extramurally funded research and quite unique opportunities for students to be involved in memorable and professionally useful research.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
For seven years, I was the director of one of the largest university toxicology programs in the country, with 50 professors at the University of Georgia. I am also expert in issues regarding radiation contamination, which has been established after a decade of research, teaching and humanitarian efforts in Chernobyl-contaminated areas. This included over a dozen scientific expeditions to the areas with the highest degree of radioactive contamination at Chernobyl, and six trips to the radiation-contaminated areas resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
CNN broadcast a one-hour documentary on my Chernobyl research on the 10th anniversary of the accident. In addition, I have appeared more than 50 times on national and international television over the last several years on issues of disaster management and emergency preparedness. I was the host of 40 television episodes of “Public Health Impact,” an educational television series on the many aspects of public health impacting people today.
I was tasked to develop the mass casualty plan for the G-8 annual economic summit at Sea Island, Georgia, in the summer of 2004. I also was asked to address the United Nations in 1996, 2006 and 2007 on what we’ve learned from the Chernobyl nuclear accident that will better prepare the world for the use of terrorist nuclear weapons. I have testified before the U.S. Senate and House Homeland Security committees and the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.
I have been the recipient of several teaching awards, including the Richard B. Russell Award for Undergraduate Teaching, a university-wide award. For five years I was the director of the Center for Mass Destruction Defense, a CDC Center in Public Health Preparedness, for which I received $2.6 million in funding from the CDC. This CDC Center has now become the UGA Institute for Disaster Management and is tasked with the emergency management exercises for all hospitals and nursing homes in the state of Georgia, in addition to other national training and research responsibilities pertaining to mass casualty medical response. The institute has a successful collaboration over the last 12 years with the American Medical Association and the CDC for the initial development of the National Disaster Life Support family of courses. The NDLS has been accepted as a national standard for mass casualty training by the AMA and has been taught to over 200,000 medical and public health personnel in all 50 states and 17 nations.
Finally, I have received a total of over $11 million in funding as principal investigator over the past decade for emergency response research and training.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
The unique field of research that I have participated in with extraordinary disasters has had a definitive impact on my teaching, and the input subsequently received from students has helped me design my next field experience. This was particularly demonstrated after a decade of research, teaching and humanitarian efforts in Chernobyl-contaminated areas. This included over a dozen scientific expeditions to the areas with the world’s highest degree of radioactive contamination at Chernobyl and six trips to the radiation-contaminated areas resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I have always endeavored to interact with students so that they know that I care about them, and that they are actually being prepared to enter the real world after their college experience. It is my sincere hope that they can discern my heartfelt faith in Christ in the way that I treat them, and that I am approachable when they might need me.
Describe your ideal student.
There is a lack of critical thinking and intellectual courage today among students (and elsewhere). I am encouraged by students who can stand firm and defend important principles essential to a free and rapidly developing society.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
… watching football games with my family.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
… be with family. My wife of 32 years, Lenda, is a great joy and blessing to me and the love of my life. I like to spend my time when I can with my eight children (two on campus right now) and four grandchildren (so far). Beyond my UGA career with its successes, the excellent and productive relationship with my wife and all of my children and grandchildren is what I consider my greatest blessing.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am an elder (pastor) in Grace Fellowship Baptist Church, where I very much enjoy serving the families of this wonderful local church body in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
“The Lord of the Rings” book and movie trilogy. Tolkien’s inspiring story of small, seemingly insignificant characters making the critical difference in a clear battle between good and evil is even more significant today in a world that seems to be spiraling downward. We need such people today to stand in the breach as the flood comes in.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I had a student at UGA who had reached the bottom, personally and professionally, and after taking time and effort with this young man I had the joy of seeing him completely turn around. He ended up getting two degrees here at UGA and he is in a doctoral program elsewhere now, happily married (I introduced them), and he is on his way to becoming one of those dynamic individuals that am I certain will stand in the breach when disaster strikes. Watching this dramatic turn-around student leave for doctoral studies with his wife (after this multi-year process) would be my proudest moment at UGA.