Pandemic Flu Exercise Proves Worthy Drill
Written by Imperial Valley News
Monday, 20 April 2009
Houston, Texas - Most people recognize the value of a fire drill. Adults and children alike recognize the usual fire drill steps include evacuating the building and reaching a pre-designated spot.
What most people do not recognize is that a fire drill is really an emergency evacuation plan and emergency evacuation plans are growing to include drills such as an influenza pandemic event.
The Houston Federal Executive Board sponsored such a drill, April 14-15. The Interagency Continuity Influenza Pandemic Tabletop Exercise was as an opportunity for federal, state, and local emergency coordinators to discuss how their agencies would manage during a pandemic event.
“My goal since 9-11 is to facilitate the preparedness of federal agencies in the Houston area by providing emergency training opportunities,” said Houston Federal Executive Board Director Michael Mason. “Every class we offer, we open it to state and local agencies where the emergency managers can create partnerships during the training rather than during an emergency.”
The training, provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was interactive requiring attendees to break into small groups to discuss the scenario and the current procedures their agency used to manage an emergency. Group members discussed what certain procedures should be implemented at varying stages and why other procedures could wait.
“A primary focus of this exercise identified the operational impact an agency faces when 30 to 40 percent of their personnel are unable to come to work,” said Chief Jeremy Luczkowski, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Developing plans to deal with Pandemic-specific issues is challenging for an agency that deals directly with the public on a daily basis.”
Though this training provided a learning atmosphere, what it did not provide was a rigid, concrete template for dealing with an influenza pandemic. In fact, the trainers for this course explained that this exercise will reach many goals but creating a template is not of them.
“Interaction between all emergency coordinators at the federal, tribal, state and local levels is very important,” said Brad McDannald, FEMA Regional Continuity manager. “We work to get agencies at different levels to come together during an emergency and accomplish one goal. Partnership is key to ensuring every emergency manager at every level gets mutual support to ensure there is continuity of essential services.”
Attendees listened as trainers announced that presently, the influenza strain is infecting only wild or domestic birds outside of North America. As the scenario unfolded to include deaths around the world and the first reported case of the influenza strain in the United States, attendees outlined their agency’s response and answered many questions about their plans.
“What does your agency do when employees are too sick to come to work but feel they need to, possibly passing the illness along to others? Does your agency have a policy on how to deal with this?” McDannald asked as he introduced the scenario.
The tabletop exercise did not require emergency crews to mobilize but it did require managers to reach past their continuity binders to look for answers.
“This training allowed for a good exchange of information,” said Chief Bill Woods, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Every day we see our operation in the same way, yet when we are discussing our procedures in small groups, someone outside the agency with a different view will comment on how well that procedure might work for their own agency and vice versa. It’s a great time to exchange information.”
The information exchange went beyond the 100 attendees participating in the training event.
“I absolutely enjoy these training opportunities because it’s amazing what I learn from the participants,” said Bob Hominick, General Services Administration trainer. “They are resourceful; they understand there is a vested interest in our collective success.”
In the end, the attendees agreed they would make some adjustments to ensure that they have a solid plan into action. A plan is necessary because they already know that not everyone will want to evacuate the building when the fire alarm goes off.