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Crook County Health Department, other partners to host full-scale exercise to practice mass distribution of medicine in event of a local disease outbreak

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Crook County Health Department and other partners will host a full-scale exercise to practice mass distribution of medicine in event of a local disease outbreak.

What would local leaders do if a widespread infectious disease hit the community, and they needed to quickly distribute medication to the public?

The Crook County Health Department hopes to answer that question soon with the help of a full-scale, county-wide exercise planned early next month. During the exercise, Health Department staff will simulate the spread of a disease — such as the plague — in which nobody has received prior vaccinations, and see how many people they can provide "medication" to in a four-hour period of time.

The exercise will take place on Tuesday, June 4, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"Tuesday is a day that we have no clinical (work), so it's a great day to just go ahead and shut down all of the services so that all employees can play," said Vicky Ryan, the Health Department's Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.

The Health Department staff will be helped by multiple local partners, including St. Charles Prineville, Regency Prineville, Partners in Care, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Mosaic Medical, Crook County Fire and Rescue, Crook County Emergency Management, and Jefferson County Health Department.

The exercise will take place at the Crook County Fairgrounds where people will enter and receive "medication" in the form of gift bags. Those gift bags, which are available to the first 1,000 adults and 500 youth, will include an emergency preparedness item and general information. Everybody who participates will also be eligible to enter a drawing for a three-day emergency backpack.

"People will enter through the main entrance of the fairgrounds," Ryan explained. "We will have signs and staff to help direct people up to the medical stations, where they will get their simulated medications."

Participants will then be directed to exit the fairgrounds at the Main Street exit, the same exit utilized during the Crook County Fair and Christmas in the Pines.

The local exercise follows a recent mandatory state training exercise Ryan completed where county emergency officials are tasked with ordering mass quantities of medication from the Strategic National Stockpile.

"The state supports a base plan for this type of situation," Ryan said of the local exercise. "Then each county initiates the type of exercise that best fits their community, community partners and the public."

Once the exercise concludes and emergency management officials analyze the results, Ryan will take that data and work with community partners to determine how each entity would receive and distribute medication in a live emergency.

The upcoming exercise will feature different time constraints than those the county would face in real emergency. Instead of spending multiple weeks preparing for and advertising the event, emergency officials would have to set up mass distribution of medication in 48 to 72 hours. However, the distribution window would not be limited to just four hours, like the exercise.

"It would be ongoing over a couple of weeks, probably, in order to get out as much (medication) as we could," Ryan said.

If participation is as strong as intended, Ryan anticipates a long line into and out of the fairgrounds. She therefore stresses that participants be patient and went on to note that the line should move rapidly.

"We will be timing how long it takes to get each car through," she said.

Ryan pointed out that the exercise is not only intended to train and prepare local officials for an infectious disease outbreak, it is meant to prepare the public, so that people "have a sense of security knowing what they would actually have to do in the event of a live emergency."

Though this will be the first exercise of its kind conducted in Crook County, it is not necessarily the last. Ryan said that future efforts may differ in certain ways, but officials will continue to prepare for a widespread outbreak going forward.

"We will continue full-scale exercises," she said.

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