The Northeast Texas Public Health District (NET Health) recently recognized its senior deputy director for Public Health Emergency Preparedness, Harold Higgins, as the 2012 W.T. “Doc” Ballard Award for Excellence in Public Health.

In a statement, public health officials said, “Mr. Higgins has contributed outstanding service and dedication to promote, protect and provide for the health of the community” for more than 35 years.

As the program manager for the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Region 4/5 North Immunization Program, Higgins provided direction and implemented population-based vaccine preventable disease immunizations.

In 2002, after retiring from DSHS, he was recruited to develop the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Depart­­ment for the health district following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City. The department was established to ready a group of people and supplies to address a possible biohazard attack such as smallpox.

Higgins was later charged with providing leadership and resources in the event of natural disasters. He was instrumental in the sheltering of thousands of special needs evacuees during hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. In 2009, NET Health’s public health emergency preparedness department received a Model Practice award from the National Association of Coun­ty and City Health Officials for their work in sheltering special needs evacuees. During the H1N1 flu crisis, Higgins and his team provided more than 20,000 vaccinations against the virus throughout East Texas.

“The relationships that Mr. Higgins has built and grown through the years have enabled the Northeast Texas Public Health District to grow, sustain and become recognized as experts in the field of public health,” a NET Health statement read. “Mr. Higgins has been a true champion for public health and the Northeast Texas Public Health District is honored to present him with this award.”

The award is the district’s highest accolade for outstanding service contributing to the enhancement of public health. Doc Ballard, a registered professional engineer for the Texas Department of Health and mentor to NET Health, was a leader in protecting the public’s health. Health district officials said his expertise and administrative skills ensured the quality and safety of public drinking water and public food service, the proper disposal of wastewater and solid waste, and the monitoring of radiation.

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