Public Health workers stage a practice 911 response

DOVER — Hitting the books and studying about how to be best prepared for an emergency is OK.

However, Shawn Foster, the medical countermeasures coordinator for the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services Division of Public Health (DPH), said nothing beats a real-life practice scenario and actual hands-on experience when it comes to getting ready for an unexpected event that could possibly affect the state and region.

That’s why the Division of Public Health held a pair of emergency preparedness exercises, one at Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus in Dover and another at DelTech’s Stanton Campus in Newark, on Saturday to test the readiness of its staff and partners.

The 2019 Delaware Medical Countermeasures Distribution/Dispensing Exercise, organized by the DPH Emergency Medical Services and Preparedness Section, involved around 300 individuals at the two locations.

“It’s basically for us to evaluate our ability to request support from the federal government and to distribute and dispense things to the population of the state,” Mr. Foster said.

“When we’re doing a full-scale exercise like this, what we want to test is how quickly can we move people and process them through the different areas — registration and then where they would actually receive the medication.

“This process, or this exercise, helps us simulate what that would be like in a real-world situation.”

Mr. Foster said the DHS conducts these kinds of preparedness drills every five years. The drills also involve the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, Department of Transportation, National Guard and the state’s Medical Reserve Corp volunteers.

The intent of the exercise is to show how DHS is ready to respond to a public health emergency. There were two days of training prior to Saturday’s distribution event.

“In this scenario something has happened, and people are getting sick and we have to respond to keep more people from getting sick,” Mr. Foster said, at Saturday’s event in Dover.
“We go through the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to request a supply of medications and those medications came in over the last two days (for the simulated exercise).

“All this was done starting Thursday when we stood at the State Health Operations Center and that’s where did an evaluation of what was being seen out in the field. So, we took that information and made a determination that we needed to request supplies from the federal government.

“(Friday’s) part of the exercise was us receiving that medication and processing it to be delivered to the point of dispensing it to the population.”
Melissa Campino, taking part in her first preparedness exercise for the DPH, said it was an excellent opportunity for staff to test the agency’s response capability and address any areas that need improvement.

“Actually, this is really exciting,” Ms. Campino said. “It’s very important for us to all be on the same page. It’s important to learning these exercises so we know where we’re at and so we can go and better ourselves with the next exercise.”

During the exercise, volunteers fill out registration forms and proceed through a line five to seven times to simulate the medication dispensing to a large segment of Delaware’s population.

There are also support areas for those volunteers who are told to simulate an individual with a variety of medical or mental health issues.

Mr. Foster said their participants on Saturday in Dover were simulating the dispensing of two medications, doxycycline and ciprofloxacin, dispensing empty bottles of the medications to the participants.

“In a real-world event, it’s going to be crazy-resource intensive and we’re going to require volunteers and the support of other departments in the state to help staff this function,” he said. “It is very important.

“The agent that we’re fighting for, the scenario, the goal and direction from the CDC is we have to put pills in people within 48 hours. So, by the time we make this request to the federal government for the materials, from the time they say, ‘Yes, we’re going to send it to you,’ that clock starts. We could get the materials in 12 hours and that would leave us roughly 36 hours to do all this.”

Ellen Conway, of Lewes, serves as the regional health services lead for the Red Cross in the area. On Saturday, she was serving as one of the people affected by the health scare.

“I had seen and talked to someone about the emergency preparedness day event and they said they needed volunteers, so I thought this would dovetail in with what I do,” Ms. Conway said. “This is very important. It’s all about training and being prepared.”

That was the overriding theme of the emergency preparedness event — one can never be too prepared for a natural or a man-made emergency.

“This exercise is an excellent opportunity for our staff to test our response capability and address any areas that may need improvement,” DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said. “It is imperative that in the event of a real-life incident, we are as prepared as possible to respond to the situation while keeping all Delaware residents safe and healthy.”

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