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Officials Participate in Anthrax, Hurricane, Flu Drill

Public health officials from Morris, Warren, Sussex and Passaic counties stage exercise.

The idea is to stack the deck so that responders gain experience addressing multiple scenarios at the same time.

So on Saturday, at Morris County’s Craigmeur Recreation Complex, an exercise brought together members of Medical Reserve Corps and Community Emergency Response Teams; members of county health departments from Morris, Sussex, Warren and Passaic counties; and health departments from Denville, Paterson, West Milford, Lincoln Park and Washington Township.

The exercise was called the “4077 POD Exercise,” in honor of the medical unit in the television show “MASH.” POD stands for point of distribution.

Here’s what those gathered had to contend with in the simulation:

  • A Category 4  hurricane with 100-mile-per-hour winds hits the region, knocking out power and damaging roofs. Residents  are being gathered in shelters after their homes were damaged and they lost power.
  • A pandemic flu is circulating through the area, but a vaccine is available. It is decided that to slow the spread of the flu, all shelter residents 6 months and older would be given the vaccine.
  • At  the same time, a hospital reports a white powder has been identified in its emergency room and at a shelter. Testing shows the powder to be anthrax.
  • Once that determination is made, the vaccine clinic is converted to a mass distribution clinic to protect shelter residents from the anthrax. Responders begin to distribute Doxycline and Cipro.

“This is the  side of public health that no one sees,” said Sussex County health officer Herbert Yardley.

There were 100 members of the groups who acted as storm victims, and more than 100 responders who performed the vaccinations and other treatments, Yardley said.

Having responders from across four counties is important, Yardley said, because emergency response protocols vary slightly and each can use a different injection method for vaccines, as was the case Saturday.

Part of the “just in time” training was to familiarize  responders with the different vaccine protocols, Yardley said.

The drill took place in a large tent on the grounds at Craigmeur. If it had not been a drill, such a tent would have  been set up next to a building being used as a shelter, which because of the hurricane, was full, Yardley said.

Inside the tent specific areas were established for the victims to be identified and the vaccinated. The goal  was to vaccinate all 100 victims in 60 minutes, said Arlene Stoller of the Morris County Office of Health Management.

Some of the victims were given instructions to act in a manner that  could slow the procedure or disrupt it, Stoller said. That way the responders  are presented with a scenario that takes on a more real-life feel, she said.

The activity was  overseen by dozens of observers with specific areas of interest. Their goals were to note successes and problems that develop.

Those observations are collected and analyzed to find the flaws in the drill’s procedures, Stoller said.

The drill is a test of the agencies’ ability to get such distribution sites up and running in the first 12 hours of an emergency.

The federal Centers for Disease Control has the ability to deliver medicine to any point in the country within 12 hours, she said. The goals of local responders is to be ready to dispense the medicines in an orderly fashion.

Pete Summers, Warren County’s health officer, said this was the first time  four counties had collaborated on this type of drill.

Planning for the drill began in December, he said.

Stoller said public health management is an important part of a three-pronged  effort to address emergency response,  along with law enforcement and emergency management.

Scott Di Geralomo, Morris County’s director of law and public safety, said cooperation between the counties and municipalities is not uncommon, and in the past few months were evident is the efforts to evacuate homeowners during recent floods.

Since 2001, he said the federal Office of Homeland Security has supported drills of varying sizes and for specific scenarios, he said.

He said in upcoming days, the drivers who deliver meals for Morris County’s nutrition  program will run a drill to see if they can be used to deliver medicine to home-bound senior citizens.

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