Dr. Mereish honored by Homeland Security

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC strategic communications | October 26, 2020

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Kay Mereish, PhD

This summer, the husband of Kay Mereish, PhD, told her that a few friends were coming over for a socially-distant, masked visit.

He failed to mention that they were high-level officials bringing with them the Department of Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal, to honor Dr. Mereish, a UNMC Graduate Studies alumnus, for her transformational public service. It's the highest award granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security.

Was she surprised?

"She was speechless," said her husband, Doug Litke.

Dr. Mereish is the embodiment that, "You have an idea what you are going to do when you graduate, and then you graduate, and things go a little bit different," her husband said.

(He helped facilitate the interview and passed along her written answers to questions, as her voice was weak after chemotherapy to fight a reoccurrence of cancer.)

It's been an adventure since she earned her doctorate at UNMC in 1984.

She's worked at USAMRIID, or the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. She first got into what is known as "medical intelligence" in 1986.

She was a United Nations inspector looking for chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. She did that duty twice, first for what was known as UNSCOM, or United Nations Special Commission, in the 1990s, following the first Gulf War. She later was chief inspector for biological weapons for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which looked for these weapons in 2002-03, before the second Gulf War.

We can ask a firsthand expert: did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction in the leadup to the second war with the U.S.?

"They did not," Dr. Mereish said.

Dr. Mereish later joined the newly established Department of Homeland Security and "has been a driving force in developing DHS capabilities on protecting the United States from emerging infectious diseases," according to a citation from Brian Murphy, former principal deputy under secretary in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (who has since been in the news as a whistleblower).

She also "led a groundbreaking effort to create a DHS-led Homeland Health Intelligence unit within the National Center for Medical Intelligence, which provided a new national capability to blend all-source intelligence and deliver unique analysis on infectious disease threats to the United States."

She asked to give credit to colleague Dustin Raszi, PhD, for his teamwork, cooperation and support.

Much of her work has been in analyzing "state actors" - but, she also has leveraged her expertise in the H1N1 and current COVID-19 pandemics.

She's been the "voice of DHS" within the intelligence community.

It all began at UNMC. She thought she was going to work on finding another drug. But, in medical intelligence the science is the same.

"Every class you take and every experiment you do will have value in your future career," Dr. Mereish said.

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Catherine Mello, Alumni Director
October 26, 2020 at 1:37 PM

Thanks for sharing this exciting news regarding Dr. Mereish!