DENVER -- One of the largest bioterrorism exercises in the state's history will be staged on Oct. 16, 2004, when public health workers in nine southeastern Colorado counties conduct a mass vaccination clinic exercise.
Participating in the exercise, being held to practice the scheduling of the kind of mass vaccination clinic that might be needed in the case of a bioterrorism attack or natural disease epidemic, are Baca; Bent; Cheyenne; Crowley; Huerfano; Kiowa; Las Animas; Otero; and Prowers counties.
The clinics are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. on Oct. 16, with actual flu vaccinations for emergency responders and members of their families. Then at 9 a.m., the clinics will be opened to the public, who also will be able to receive free flu shots as part of the exercise. In the event of a real incident, emergency responders would have to be immunized first so that they would remain healthy and be able to care for the public.
Jacqueline Brown, the director of the Prowers County Public Health Nursing Service who also is a key organizer of the exercise, said that as many as 10,000 people, or approximately 10 percent of the population of the nine counties, may receive flu shots during the exercise, scheduled to conclude at 3 p.m. The staff participants will discuss and critique the exercise as a group at the end of the day.
The goals of preparedness plans nationwide include being able to immunize all residents of an area within a few days in the case of a terrorism incident involving a biologic agent.
According to Brown, public health officials in the nine counties have been working with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness Program since January 2004 to plan the exercise. This exercise is part of the state's overall Homeland Security strategy, which includes training and exercising emergency responses to acts of bioterrorism.
That planning, Brown said, has included many levels of preparation, including a table-top exercise at which such an event was simulated and an August regional warehouse drill at which the receipt and distribution of medications from the Strategic National Stockpile, a national repository of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, was simulated.
The 10,000 doses of flu vaccine, being donated by the Department of Public Health and Environment for the exercise, will not actually be delivered until close to the time of the event.
According to Brown, in addition to local public health personnel from the nine counties, law enforcement officials; fire departments; emergency medical personnel; local hospital staff; and local elected officials have been involved in the planning and will be a part of the exercise.
The participating public health agencies are the Baca County Nursing Services; the Bent County Nursing Service Authority; Cheyenne County Public Health; Crowley County Public Health Nursing Service; Kiowa County Nursing Service; the Las Animas/Huerfano Counties District Health Department; the Otero County Department of Health; and the Prowers County Public Health Nursing Service.
Volunteers also have been recruited in each county to help staff the clinics. In Prowers County, members of the Lions Club will direct parking and bilingual senior citizens will help obtain needed information from persons who want to receive flu shots but don't speak English. Local physicians and other medical personnel also will be available to examine persons who exhibit some kind of illness when they arrive to receive a flu shot.
Brown explained that law enforcement personnel will provide security at the clinics, to simulate the assistance that might be required in a real incident in which there is high demand for the available protective vaccines. Such vaccines could be in limited supply in the case of such an incident.
In Bent County, the Las Animas Police Department will assist with parking and traffic control at the clinic where members of the local Lions Club will serve as greeters. The Kiowa County Ministerial Alliance will provide lunch for the volunteers at the Kiowa County clinic in Eads while the county van is being made available to transport seniors to the clinic from the east and west ends of the county.
In Baca County, the Longhorn Steakhouse in Springfield will provide lunch for the volunteers.
Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) ham radio operators from throughout the area will serve as communications links for the nine counties and the various agencies involved.
Brown said, "It has been great to strategize as a region as we would have to in a true emergency. We have learned that we can depend on each other and have developed new-found respect among all of the involved agencies. I have learned that I can depend on them and they have learned they can depend on public health. We also now know that, regardless, we are all committed to doing everything we can to keep our communities safe."
However, Brown also emphasized, "I think we are all going to learn so much from the exercise. We all know that we aren't going to do everything perfectly. That's the point of an exercise - to identify areas that need improvement. And, the community will learn what emergency preparedness is all about."
Kris Stokke, the Lamar-based regional public health preparedness planner for the state Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness Program, said the exercise is the outgrowth of discussions that began after the region completed the required plans for organizing mass immunization clinics in the case of a bioterrorism incident or natural disease outbreak, such as pandemic flu.
The region then sought and obtained a $30,400 grant from the Office of Preparedness, Security and Fire Safety, which is part of the U.S. Office of Homeland Security. A $75,000 contract with the Department of Public Health and Environment also helped fund the planning, development and execution of the exercise.
Explaining that planning began in earnest in January 2004, Stokke said, "When you know there is going to be a full-scale exercise, you look at it very differently than when you have just written a plan."
Activities on the day of the exercise will be coordinated from an emergency operations center at the Otero County Health Department in La Junta.
The center will be staffed by the Otero County Sheriff's Department; the Otero County public health director; and by representatives of various other segments of the community, including legal, medical, pharmaceutical and emergency medical services.
Several other mass vaccination clinic exercises also are planned in Colorado in October:
Tuesday, Oct. 12, Boulder County Health Department.
Saturday, Oct. 16, Pueblo-City-County Health Department.
Wednesday, Oct. 20, Jefferson County Health Department
Saturday, Oct. 23, Weld County Health Department and Larimer County Department of Health and Environment.
Thursday, Oct. 28; Saturday, Oct. 30; and Friday, Nov. 5, Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.
The 2004 mass immunization clinic exercises are a follow-up to the 2003 tabletop exercise conducted by the Department of Public Health and Environment's Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness Program. More than 400 agencies from throughout the state were involved in that exercise, including public health; law enforcement; county coroners; emergency medical services; and hospitals.
Clinic locations for the Oct. 16 event in southeastern Colorado are:
Baca County: Baca County Fairgrounds, 900 block of County Road 24, Springfield.
Bent County: Las Animas High School cafeteria, 300 Grove St., Las Animas.
Cheyenne County: Cheyenne County Community Building, 425 S. Seventh St. West, Cheyenne Wells.
Crowley County: Ward Middle School, 1001 S. Main St., Ordway.
Kiowa County: Kiowa County Courthouse, 1305 Goff St., Eads.
Huerfano County: Huerfano County Community Center, 928 Russell Ave., Walsenburg.
Las Animas County: Trinidad Community Center, 1309 Beshoar Ave., Trinidad.
Otero County: La Junta Middle School, Ninth Street and Smithland, La Junta.
Prowers County: Lamar Community/Senior Resource Center, 407 E. Olive St., Lamar.
Source: State of Colorado