Thursday, June 1, 2006
Exercise helps officials prepare in case of flu outbreak in county
A hypothetical county pandemic flu tabletop exercise was conducted in Holly Springs last week.
Players included officials with the Mississippi Department of Health, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security, Mississippi Department of Public Safety, Mississippi Highway Patrol, and staffers and elected officials from local schools, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, emergency responders, health care workers and county governments.
The four-hour exercise was used to initiate local leadership on how to think about planning for a hypothetical pandemic; what the responsibilities of all participating agencies would be; and whether current plans adequately address such an event; and to promote advance planning between health departments, hospitals and other agencies.
Kent Buckley, with Mississippi State University, explained that planning does not always cover all eventualities.
“Like a storm coming through, you will come across some things you have not had before,” he said. “Get rid of turf battles and concentrate on the local response. The state and federal agencies will concentrate on their own things.”
Planning for emergencies means planning for the supplies needed for an event, he said.
“If something hits and you are in short supply, you are pretty much stuck with a short supply.”
A hypothetical bird flu pandemic was used as a practice exercise. The goal was for agencies to plan who would take responsibility for obtaining vaccines and anti-viral medicines for the hypothetical flu outbreak, who would be responsible from the national level on down to the local level.
Buckley said in a disaster, every emergency worker and volunteer should check on their family’s safety first so they can stay focused at work.
Vicki Reese, with the state health department, added that as they are developed, disaster plans should be shared so agencies can be familiar with everyone’s plan.
The players learned that medical supplies in a disaster would come from a national stockpile, would be limited, and would be mobilized and controlled by federal agencies.
In a flu pandemic, vaccine stocks would not be adequate to immunize the entire U.S. population, as a supply would be available for probably 30 percent of the population. Who would get the vaccine first has not been settled, said Dr. Robert Trotter with the health department.
The mortality rate of the more pathogenic strains of avian bird influenza virus in such a hypothetical pandemic cannot be determined based on the data collected from identified cases in Asia, Indonesia, and elsewhere, he said.
Although a hypothetical bird flu pandemic was chosen for the sake of this tabletop exercise, the discussion of which agencies would take certain responsibilities helps local partners understand the planning process for any other pandemic. In the case of spread of highly contageous infections, the local hospitals, health department workers, first responders, law enforcement and local leaders all are players in the planning process.
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