Bioterrorism drill hailed a success by county officials

June 15, 2001|By ANTHONY LONGORIA, Staff Writer

The situation: A terrorist group releases a lethal cloud of anthrax spores over Calexico along the international border.

Twenty-four hours later, the terrorist group makes an anonymous call revealing its deadly act.

The sequence of events following a major public health emergency was the backbone of a bioterrorism disaster exercise the Imperial County Emergency Medical Services Agency sponsored Thursday morning.

Several local law enforcement agencies participated in the two-hour roundtable discussion exploring the "what-ifs" of a medical emergency that would threaten public health.

Thursday's exercise marked the end of a two-year grant the county received from the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.

Under the grant, the county received $60,000 to develop and organize a medical/health branch within Imperial County that would respond to and make decisions for a coordinated response to a major medical health emergency such as floods, earthquakes or as displayed in Thursday's exercise, acts of terrorism.


"Any time there would be a major public health crisis, this team would be here," said John Pritting, manager of Imperial County Emergency Medical Services.

Pritting played a lead role in the organization and implementation of Thursday's exercise.

Also during the roundtable discussion, presentations were made by officials representing the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control.

"I was very pleased with the turn out and very satisfied with the outcome," Pritting said of the exercise.

The medical health branch consists of all medical, behavioral and emergency response agencies in the county.

"We're basically utilizing our scarce resources as efficiently and effectively as possible," Pritting said.

The plan includes worksheets and checklists for plans of action and establishes mutual aid plans and resources available in the event of an emergency.

When asked why an anthrax bioterrorist act was used for the exercise, Pritting said, "We wanted to pick an exercise that was a medical health emergency."

Regarding the likelihood of an anthrax attack, Pritting said, "I would like to think it's very unlikely, but as the FBI has indicated to us we have some enemies out there who have the capabilities to hurt us."

Pritting said before the grant was awarded, the county did not have an organized medical health branch that could handle significant medical emergencies.

"This is a new resource to the county that was never available before," Pritting said.

Staff Writer Anthony Longoria can be reached at 337-3452.

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