07/27/07 — Emergency exercise allows agencies to practice response

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Emergency exercise allows agencies to practice response

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 27, 2007 1:45 PM

A recent emergency preparedness exercise hosted by the Health Department was a positive learning experience, said one of its organizers.

David Hesselmeyer, bioterrorism planner coordinator with Wayne County Health Department, said the event allowed those involved to see the benefits of collaboration and teamwork.

The all-day regional exercise took place at Southern Wayne High School. In attendance were 106 people, representing 13 county Health Departments, two county emergency management agencies, six local agencies, two state agencies, the Public Health Regional Surveillance Team 3 and North Carolina Public Health Preparedness and Response, which sponsored the event.

The scenario, Hesselmeyer said, was that there was an infectious disease that affected between 1,500 and 2,000 people, requiring rapid response.

"This exercise was meant to test how we mass dispense medications," he said. "It was a traditional style dispensing with our added limited mobility access drive-through."

Acting on the premise provided an opportunity to learn several lessons, Hesselmeyer said -- rapid mobilization of arriving volunteers, incident management, communicating with the public through the media and cooperation between agencies, to name a few.

"The main purpose was it showed us that we can sustain dispensing operations to the public over several hours, maintain is pretty well over the time period and not slow down," he said.

There were admittedly a few setbacks, such as notifying staff of changes, but they were all minor, Hesselmeyer said.

Wait time was also a concern, he said, "but finding these out now and fixing it, next time it will be better."

Representatives from EnviroSafe assisted with the exercise and was responsible for compiling a report and evaluating the outcome.

"EnviroSafe will be getting the after action report describing what went well and did not go well," Hesselmeyer said. "We have already talked, and they had a lot of positive comments for us."

It's also likely that another exercise will be held, he added, probably within the next six months.

"We believe in being as prepared as possible."