Disaster Drill Will Test State’s Emergency Systems

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(Host) The Vermont Health Department will conduct a large-scale disaster drill next week. The exercise is designed to test the state’s ability to respond to a bio-terrorism attack or an outbreak of a deadly infectious disease.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas says the drill is the largest of its kind ever conducted in Vermont. About 700 participants from the Health Department, area hospitals and state and local agencies will take part over three days next week. The goal is see how well the state’s medical response system handles a large-scale emergency.

David Cote is the Health Department’s director of public health preparedness and response. He says the drill will begin with reports that hospitals are seeing patients with unusual symptoms.

(Cote) “A health alert would be issued to other hospitals in the state of Vermont by the Department of Health saying, ‘We’ve seen something like this at a hospital. Are any other hospitals seeing anything like this?’ And then another hospital responds, ‘Yes they’ve had similar cases like that come in the door this morning.’ At that point, an epidemiological investigation is launched.”

(Dillon) The hospitals and state officials know in advance that the exercise is planned to start Monday morning. Cote says the element of surprise isn’t necessary to make the drill effective. He says one of the goals is to help train emergency personnel.

(Cote) “So you don’t go through the first exercise or drill totally blind as to what’s happening because people tend to repeat the behaviors that they had the first time around. You want the behaviors to be correct the first time around so that those are the behaviors that are repeated in a future event when it’s a real event.”

(Dillon) The exercise is named Operation Red Clover, after the state flower. The drill will focus on northern Vermont and will involve Health Department offices in Burlington, St. Albans and Morrisville, as well as the hospitals in those three communities. Other participants include the National Guard, the state Emergency Management Department and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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