Alexander Garza, MD, MPH, former assistant secretary for health affairs of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has been named as the medical director and homeland security advisor for FirstWatch, an Encinitas, Calif.-based company that provides real-time public safety data analysis for 9-1-1, police, fire, EMS, emergency management and public health organizations in the U.S. and Canada.
FirstWatch President Todd Stout says Garza will serve as a liaison to public health and safety communities, assisting agencies to apply FirstWatch situational awareness and early warning tools, improve operational and clinical effectiveness, develop fusion centers, and enhance overall system performance and collaboration.
“This is a very visible way for us to demonstrate our commitment to the EMS industry that we are here to help improve patient care,” Stout says. Part of the company’s plan is to increase the amount of clinical research it conducts. Garza will be heavily involved in that effort, he says.
“It’s a perfect fit with his interest, background and experience,” Stout notes. “He thinks about systems and how to improve them. He also thinks about EMS and what paramedics do because he was one.”
Garza became an EMT in 1986 shortly after starting college. He went on to become a paramedic while attending medical school at the University of Missouri. While a medical resident, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps, serving as a battalion surgeon and Civil Affairs public health chief in Africa and Iraq.
During his time at DHS, Garza managed the department’s medical and health security matters; oversaw the health aspects of contingency planning for all chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards; and led a coordinated effort to ensure that the department was prepared to respond to biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, as well as pandemics.
Before joining DHS, Garza held positions as the associate medical director of EMS for New Mexico, and the director of EMS for the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department. While practicing emergency medicine, he also served as a professor at leading medical institutions, including Georgetown University, the University of New Mexico and University of Missouri, Kansas City.
Garza holds a medical degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia School of Medicine, and a Master of Public Health degree from the Saint Louis University School of Public Health.
A published researcher and recipient of more than a dozen awards, including the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge, he has lectured nationally and internationally on diverse topics related to emergency care, public health disaster medicine and terrorism.
“We help people help people and Dr. Garza helps us do that better,” Stout says.