JaNell Octigan – Alumni Profile

As a Greenville native, JaNell Octigan has always bled purple and gold, and when it came to choosing where to go to college, there was no doubt in her mind where she wanted to go. JaNell graduated in 2012 with her bachelor’s in public health and then earned her master’s in public health from ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, while working full time as the Public Health Education Specialist for Beaufort County Health Department. JaNell said that although going to school and working full time was difficult, she graduated in May of 2014, along with a certificate in Rural and Community Health. JaNell now works as the Human Services Planner IV & Preparedness Coordinator with the Beaufort County Health Department.

As of April, JaNell has been working with the Beaufort County Health Department for seven years. In her current position, she has had the opportunity to partner with both local and state partners to better the health and wellness of Beaufort County and the community members they serve. JaNell’s main responsibilities include preparedness, disaster and response, as well as overseeing the health education department. JaNell’s favorite part about her job is the team she works with. The team is dedicated and gives everything they have to serve the community. JaNell’s favorite aspect of public health is how it brings everyone together.

More now than ever before, the Beaufort County community is facing the pandemic, and JaNell is on the front lines. As a preparedness coordinator, JaNell has spent the past seven years planning, training and planning some more for possible scenarios, from hurricanes to high-consequence pathogens and more. Preparedness coordinators across the state have been trained to respond and recover to the best of their ability.

JaNell says, “Our job is to plan for the worst, hope for the best, and work with what we have. COVID-19 is a continually evolving situation, which has made responding quite difficult; the moment we try to make headway, guidelines change, testing criteria is altered, and more. Communication is of critical importance. Communication with incident command, department heads, local and state government, staff, and the community”.

“At a time such as this, emotions run high and rumors and unvetted information run wild. Currently, as part of Incident Command, I serve as Planning Chief and Public Information Officer (PIO). One of my most important roles is creating messages that are disbursed in various ways to the public and community partners. Information distributed must be easy to understand and most important, accurate. With so many inaccurate media posts or messages out there, our goal is to override those with the right messages. It is vital that community members feel information isn’t hidden from them, but at the same time information shouldn’t be used to scare, but to inform”.

Now, JaNell spends her time developing and updating the incident action plan (IAP) for each day, and then sharing the plans with all Incident Command staff. The incident action plan encompasses the objectives, safety plan, organization assignment lists, and work assignments for each branch, such as emergency medical services, public health and law enforcement. JaNell also updates the Community Report daily and shares the reports as needed. JaNell also continuously monitors incoming messages emails regarding COVID-19 and responds appropriately, creating media press releases, conducting interviews, writing articles, developing media messaging for social outlets and more. 

In the midst of all the response, JaNell is also preparing for the recovery and mass vaccination phase, although it is not yet clear when that will happen. As a part of JaNell’s All Hazards Plan, Beaufort County will conduct mass vaccinations utilizing PODs (Point of Dispensing), when the time comes that a vaccine is recommended and approved. JaNell says that, “Responding to a pandemic like COVID-19 is an experience that continues to teach me so much and will continue to be an experience I build on in years to come”.

JaNell’s advice to current students and future public health employees? “To always be kind. You never know what someone is walking through. Whether it’s a client, a colleague, or someone you don’t know… kindness can always make a difference and have an impact. Kindness creates a connection, a bridge, for relationships to grow; whether within an organization or externally to clients and community partners. Kindness is never wasted! There are 1,440 minutes in a day… You might have a hard 15 minutes, but don’t let a bad 15 minutes ruin the other 1,425 minutes. Be kind always.”