Nome participates in statewide preparedness exercise
What if a deadly virus arrived in Nome and people began to die in large numbers? How would the city react? How would the city mount an effective fight to stop the virus?
Well, that’s already happened. It was 101 years ago in November and the Spanish Influenza devastated the Seward Peninsula, in some cases wiping out entire villages. The recently installed monument at West Beach commemorates those who fell victim to the Spanish Flu.
On Friday, the City of Nome, Public Health Nursing, Norton Sound Health Corporation and Kawerak held a preparedness exercise called Ragin’ Contagion as part of a statewide effort to be ready for a fictional epidemic or biological terrorist attack. The idea was to test local and statewide emergency response services to a large number of patients. The Emergency Operations Center operated at the Nome Public Safety Building and included the city manager, chief of police, fire chief and others representing the city organizations that would be called into action. At the Rec Center a point of dispensation clinic, POD for short, tested its ability to rapidly pass out or administer medication to the public.
”Our main goal for this exercise was community collaboration,” said Deanna Stang, the POD manager. She’s normally at the Nome Public Health Center, part of the state’s Section of Public Health Nursing. “We worked very closely with the City of Nome, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Kawerak, and Shaktoolik and their village clinic as well. We have what we call a Nome point of dispensing plan and that gives us everything we would need to know to set this operation up.” A representative from Kawerak flew with medicine to be dispensed to Shaktoolik with a National Guard Black Hawk to simulate bringing the medicine to the community.
A lot of planning went into the exercise. Meetings determined who would be responsible in which areas, formulated a volunteer call down list, and visualized how the event would happen. “The point of today’s exercise is to see how many volunteers showed up, how quickly can we get community members through our line here, and also did we have a bottleneck here, was the flow good, did we not have enough of this supply or that medication and testing communication,” she said. “We need to be able to communicate on a local, state, and federal level. The City of Nome has set up their Emergency Operations Center so we’re doing our unified command.”
At the front door of the Rec Center gym a greeter asked people if they were sick or not. Those who identified as sick were directed immediately to a First Aid or EMT group to keep them away from the rest of the citizens. “We don’t want any sick people at this pod,” said Stang. If not sick they’d move to the first table and pick up the forms to fill out. Next a screener at the table with the pharmacists would review the forms and the type of and amount of medication needed. Then it’s to the table where they pick up the medication.
At the city’s Emergency Operations Center officials were dealing with questions like managing large numbers of people coming in from the villages, feeding the citizens should the epidemic last a while, and who has the authority to quarantine those who are infected.
“It was a good day,” pronounced Acting City Manager John Handeland. “I think it went relatively well as these type of things always do in Nome.” Handeland was also incident commander for the exercise. “Nome has a different way of doing things. We don’t always follow the incident command guidelines precisely as they’re laid out. But we use the framework at least and always have a lot of willing participants and community members that help us fill in all the gaps. It was a good opportunity for us to exercise our own plan and also to identify some places where we can improve upon it for future utilization in the event of a real emergency.”
“We’ve been through a plague,” he said. “We definitely do not want a repeat of what we have seen in the past.”
The EOC officials will meet again in late May or early June to go through the documents page by page to condense them down into a manageable form.
The organizers found the POD was able to process a citizen in three minutes, 158 per hour. “Our community is roughly 3,800 people so if we stood up a POD in a 12-hour period we would want to get at least 158 people an hour through the pod so we could get all of the community of Nome,” said POD manager Deanna Stang. “This is definitely an exercise that is overdue. We haven’t done one for a long time and we have been impacted by devastating flu that took out whole communities.” She added they’d like to do a flu POD in which they’d actually be administering vaccinations for flu.