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June 4 event draws 253 people and provides enough data to find ways to improve preparation for true emergency

JASON CHANEY - Crook County Health Department staff and other community partners conducted the infectious disease exercise at Crook County Fairgrounds on June 4.

The first-ever infectious disease full-scale exercise held by Crook County Health Department and local partners early this month was deemed a success.

The event, held on June 4, was designed to simulate the spread of an infectious disease for which no one was immunized and to distribute as much medication for that illness as possible in a four-hour period.

Members of the public were invited to drive down to the Crook County Fairgrounds where people received "medication" at simulated medical stations. Event organizers counted 253 individuals who were "treated" at the exercise, 179 of whom were adults, and 50 others were youth under the age of 18. Eighteen participants were senior citizens age 65 or older, and six others were military veterans.

"We are very happy with the results of the exercise," said Crook County Preparedness Coordinator Vicky Ryan. "It wasn't being conducted under the premise of how many people showed up, it was whether or not we as a health department could pull it off."

Ryan noted that public health crisis exercises such as this train and keep the skills of the health department staff and partners fresh. She said that they need to be ready to keep people in Crook County healthy through a coordinated response in the event an infectious disease outbreak occurs.

"It was very positive. Everybody had a good time," Ryan said of the event. "Everybody had an opportunity to talk with the medical staff who were at the medical stations, and coming out of the exercise, people said that their comfort levels were much higher in knowing exactly what to do when this happens as a real incident."

The health department feels it met its two primary goals going into the exercise. They managed to successfully conduct the exercise, and they were able to educate the community and increase their comfort level in knowing what action to take if an actual outbreak occurred.

The exercise also gave the health department knowledge of how staff can improve future exercises as well as actions should a real outbreak happen. Using a basic survey, staff collected data during the exercise to help them better understand how to communicate with the public. Organizers learned that most people heard about the exercise through social media, and partners telling their clients was a close second. Traditional news outlets ranked the next highest, followed by email, friends and family, and health department programs.

"I want to better understand how we reach the masses," Ryan remarked.

Other areas for improvement include how medical staff interact with the public. Ryan said they need to provide more consistent scripting for people who visit the medical stations. Also, organizers need to add some more training components, and the health department needs more grant funding to purchase additional supplies such as radios and emergency response equipment.

This recent exercise was the first of an ongoing series the health department will conduct in and with the community. The next preparedness function will be at held the Crook County Fair, and people are invited to visit a health department booth and pick up emergency preparedness survival tools. In addition, organizers will ask residents in public surveys how best to reach them.

"We are going to continue to talk about this, and we are going to continue to exercise on this type of scenario," Ryan said.

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