Training for terror
Local agencies take part in statewide effort to prepare for the worst
September 16, 2003
Health officials across the state, including Craig, are participating in a week-long emergency drill that simulates a bio-terrorism event, causing statewide illness.
The goal of the drill is to test communication among state and local agencies and improve the state’s response to a large-scale health crisis.
Only two days into the exercise, officials have learned that people all over Colorado are getting sick, showing similar symptoms, suggesting a spreading illness not likely through natural causes.
The drill is carried out by means of emails, called “injections,” sent to healthcare personnel statewide, keeping them abreast of developments in the situation.
“The last one I got was injection number 238, which tells me they’re putting out a lot of information,” said Beka Warren, patient care planner at The Memorial Hospital. Warren personally has received more than 20 of the injections.
Warren said the injections she is receiving outline the number of cases being reported in Colorado and which counties have reported cases. As of Tuesday night, many Colorado counties were reporting the outbreak. Mesa and Eagle counties appear to be the nearest affected counties, Warren said.
Also, she has received information that describes “what kind of information doctors should ask that they might not normally ask,” Warren said.
As the illness spreads, doctors are urged to cull information from sick people about where they have been and what they have eaten recently as officials try to pinpoint the cause and the location of the outbreak.
Although doctors are encouraged to assist in the investigative process, the bulk of that burden falls on the shoulders of public health officials, especially Susan Bowler, the public health nurse manager at the Visiting Nurse Association
“If we saw sick people here, Beka (Warren) would let me know and I would go interview patients,” Bowler said.
The latest injections sent to Bowler include an epidemiological report that breaks down the demographics of the reported cases and the key symptoms to look for.
While the illness is loosely defined at this stage in the exercise, one thing is for certain.
“One hundred percent of the people have a fever,” Bowler said.
Officials still need to determine the cause of the illnesses and work out a treatment plan.
“The agent has not been identified,” Bowler said. “Sometimes that can take days.”
Once the illness is identified, state health officials would notify doctors of treatment and prevention options, which Bowler said could include mass immunizations.
Moffat County’s bio-terrorism plan includes protocols for such possibilities, Warren said.
Clyde Anderson, the county’s emergency manager, said arrangements have been made for
law enforcement officers to provide secure transportation and
storage of critical pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics or smallpox vaccines.
Anderson receives different messages than healthcare personnel throughout the drill. Injections sent to Anderson hint at a sinister terrorist plot striking Colorado residents at “the outdoor festivals and events” we enjoyed recently.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.