May 2, 2014

Preparing for the worst: Local agencies, volunteers execute public health emergency drill

Local agencies, volunteers execute public health emergency drill

by Mitchell Kirk Staff reporter

---- — One by one, Suzy Leicht, a nurse with the Cass County Health Department, went over the health information of Logansport High School students playing the roles of victims suffering from an exposure to anthrax in a terrorist attack at the Logansport Mall.

Some of them were more exposed than others, some had medical allergies and some had children and family members relying on them who had been exposed. Leicht and the other volunteers at her table had to take all of these variables and more into consideration when determining what kind of medication and how much of it to give to each person they spoke with.

During a public health emergency like a large-scale disease outbreak or bioterrorism event, the Cass County Health Department would need to provide antibiotics or vaccines at a point of dispensing, or POD, to quickly distribute preventive medications to a large number of people. About 30 volunteers hailing from the health department, Logansport Fire Department, Logansport Police Department, Cass County Sheriff’s Department, Cass County Fire District and Cass County Emergency Management Agency gathered at the Berry Bowl Thursday to practice for such an event should it or anything like it ever occur.

”This is one thing we’ve got to be prepared for and hope we never use,” said Bob Vernon, office administrator of the Cass County Health Department.

The goal of Thursday’s exercise was to get a 10-day supply of the proper medication to those who had been exposed to the deadly spore. Vernon explained that in a real-life situation, another POD would be established eight days later to provide victims with more.

Logansport High School students and other volunteers taking on the roles of the victims started out at a check-in table, where clipboards with health information forms were waiting for them to be taken to tables in a registration area. From there, they were escorted to a screening table, where they spoke with nurses and other medically trained volunteers, who determined which medication and how much of it they needed. Their final stop was at a dispensing table, where they received their medications, which for the purposes of the drill consisted of crackers and candy.

Susie Bennett, a nurse with the health department, said she has participated in drills with the department in the past but that Thursday’s was one of the most in-depth. She said the drills are important to keep health department staff and other volunteers sharp during a worst-case scenario.

“The more you do them and practice them, the more prepared you can be,” she said.

In order to qualify for future grant dollars that would help fund public health emergency response efforts, the health department had to ensure 75 people made it through the process in an hour. About 30 Logansport High School students volunteered, meaning some went through more than once, choosing different scenario cards to dictate how they filled out their registration forms each time. The quota was reached with about 20 minutes to spare.

David Vides, a senior at Logansport High School, was one of the volunteers who went through the cycle.

“They said I wasn’t going to die,” he said thankfully with a laugh, adding that volunteers gave him instructions on his medication.

Vides went on to say the drill put him at ease knowing that local officials are prepared should a public health emergency occur.

“I hope it doesn’t happen, but if it does, we’re ready for it,” he said.

Jose Rivera, also a senior at the high school, played a father whose children had been exposed to the agent in the attack. He said volunteers instructed him on which medications to give to which kids. He called the exercise “a really good idea.”

“Not everyone knows how to take care of a situation like this and they help a lot of people know how to take action if this ever happened to this town,” he said.

Cierra Morrison, a junior, played a mom picking up medication for herself and her three children. She said the drill was “really beneficial.”

“You never know what’s going to happen, so you need to be prepared in these kinds of situations,” she said.

Vernon said if an event occurs requiring a POD, the health department would get the word out through the media. Such efforts require a lot of work from volunteers, he added. Anyone willing to assist the health department in an emergency requiring a POD is encouraged to contact Mike Collins or Kim Hendrix at the health department at 574-753-7760. Volunteers can also sign up online at