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County officials prep for possible pandemic; distribution drill goes smoothly

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By Angye Morrison

Gadsden County Health Department employees, along with others from the county’s emergency management department, partnered last week to hold one of the first supply point of distribution drills in the state. The drill was held to simulate a mass distribution of anti-viral medication to the county’s population.

The drill, which was held at East Gadsden High School, falls on the heels of the county’s first confirmed case of swine flu, but officials say it isn’t in response to that case, and that the drill was planned before the case of swine flu was confirmed.

“No (it’s not in response to the local case). Swine flu is a threat to the nation and the world,” said Charles Brinkley, emergency management coordinator. “Gadsden County has prepared its plan and exercised its plan through two training events: a table-top exercise (held July 14) and the drill (held July 16).”

Officials called the drill necessary to see whether the county’s plan would work, identify its shortcomings and revamp the plan to improve participant performance.

County health and emergency officials are also acutely aware that swine flu is spreading rapidly, and with a case already confirmed, the threat is all too real.

“We could be facing this type of thing this fall,” said Maj. Shawn Wood, Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office.

Participating in the drill were Gadsden County Health Department employees, five Gadsden County Sheriff’s deputies, one Leon County health department employee, an area health department coordinator, a state emergency management coordinator, and employees from emergency management and emergency medical services. Also participating was the Quincy Fire Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Florida Department of Health, Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Transportation, Gadsden Correctional Institution, DaVita Dialysis and Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.

Volunteers from GCSO and the Quincy Kiwanis Club each made three passes through the drive-thru setup to receive medication. Each participant was given a “play card” that served as identification, and provided information regarding medical conditions and number of family members.

Each participant was given simulated medicine packs for adults and children, dependent on the needs his or her play card indicated. In the event of an actual scenario of swine flu, Tamiflu or Relenza would be dispensed.

Brinkley called the drill a success.

“Gadsden’s preparedness level for an actual event is excellent,” he said.

Max Martinez, Gadsden County Health Department executive director, agreed that the drill went exceptionally well.

“I believe that the drill was executed very well. Gadsden County Health Department has a great pandemic flu plan. We are constantly looking for ways to enhance/improve the implementation process,” he said.

Marlon Hunter, health department administrator, said he feels it’s important for the health department to work with local emergency services to get refreshed on emergency planning training.

“Each year, we prepare for hurricanes, but there are a lot of other areas we should be preparing for,” he said. “This is one of them.”

In the event of an pandemic event, East Gadsden High School will serve as the primary point of distribution, with West Gadsden High serving as a secondary point if needed.