Massive Week-Long Bio-Terror Drill Announced Beginning Today
Written by Trevor Montgomery
Eleven Southern California counties and thirteen public health agencies are taking part in the state’s largest bio-terrorism drill ever. The drill is set to begin today, Nov. 16, and continue through Friday, Nov. 20, according to Jose Arballo Jr., Senior Public Information Specialist for Riverside County.
The training event has been called the Southern California Regional Exercise for Anthrax Disaster Incidents, or SoCal READI. The planned week-long training event includes members of state and county public health agencies, hospitals, law enforcement officers, hospital workers and countless volunteers.
Counties participating in the massive, multi-county and multi-agency drill include Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and several others throughout the state.
In discussing the planned drills, Susan Fanelli, assistant director of the California Department of Public Health said the scenarios are intended to simulate a large-scale, aerosolized, anthrax bio-terrorism attack and to test local agencies abilities to deal with the potential crisis.
According to officials, the mock attack will occur on Monday and cover a vast area throughout Southern California. By Tuesday, hospitals and other health and local agencies and organizations will begin to become aware their region is in the early stages of a regional anthrax outbreak.
From that point on, the drill is intended to both test and train those who would be at the forefront of combating a crisis of this scope and nature.
Officials have said a large part of the stated goals and objectives for this massive, multi-county exercise is to practice and prepare for the potential need for large-scale distribution and dispensing of life-saving medications. Those medications would initially be provided to emergency first responders and then later to members of the public.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacteria that causes anthrax would be one of the most likely biological agents used in a potential bio-terror attack. Inhaled anthrax is the most deadly form of the disease, with survival rates of only 10 to 15 percent, increasing to a mere 55 percent with aggressive treatment.
In San Bernardino County, the area’s 18 acute-care hospitals will all be involved in the drill. According to Claudia Doyle, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health in addition to the county’s hospitals, several volunteer organizations, a number of cities, law enforcement officials and school districts will be involved in the training.
“The exercises basic goal is to test the county’s response to activate emergency plans, use redundant communications and coordinate receiving and distributing medications and other medical resources within the county,” Doyle said about the drill.
According to Fanelli, one of the stated strengths in this mass-scale exercise is that it has already brought executives from 13 different health department agencies together for joint planning activities. The large-scale cooperative skills learned from planning for this event could be translated to a real disaster of natural or man-made origin.
In a press release from the County Of Riverside, Arballo Jr. wrote the parts of the drill Riverside County will be participating in will involve a simulated response by hazardous-materials teams after anthrax has been detected at multiple locations throughout the county.
According to Arballo Jr., law enforcement officials and media could expect to potentially receive calls from the public, who might be concerned if they see participating teams wearing full bio-protective suits and associated gear, such as breathing apparatus and other safety equipment in public. The press release also warned of potential activities at locations where participants might be seen dispensing mock medications and treating volunteers playing “sickened” patients.
Arballo Jr. wrote that Riverside County agencies involved in the drill include the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the California Emergency Services Medical Authority (EMSA), the county Department of Public Health, Emergency Management Department, the Riverside County Sheriff and CalFire.
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