Being proactive in the event of a medical crisis such as a flu pandemic, natural disaster, anthrax threat or bioterrorism is a collaborative effort, one which requires in depth planning not only at national and state levels, but also at the county level. May 21 the Arkansas Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control presented a Sharp County Preparedness Summit at the Sharp County Courthouse in Ash Flat.
Richard Taffner, coordinator for the Strategic National Stockpile Preparedness and Response Branch Center for health protection with the Arkansas Department of Health made a presentation to officials with the Sharp County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) office, area fire departments, health clinics and nursing homes to increase their awareness of the protocols and chain of command in the event of a health related crisis. Taffner discussed the federal Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) and its relationship in respect to both the Arkansas SNS and how this affects Sharp County.
Taffner said the SNS at the federal level is defined as "large quantities of medical counter measures to protect the American public if there is a public health emergency severe enough to cause local supplies to run out." He said this could include such things as terrorist attacks, influenza outbreaks and natural disasters. These supplies can be delivered to any state within 12 hours once the Federal and local authorities agree on the immediate need.
Taffner said that other than antibiotics, chemical agent antidotes, vaccines and wound care supplies, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) can also deploy Federal Management Stations (FMS). These centers, which were considered for Sharp County during the recent ice storm, is similar to a hospital type shelter. These are utilized when a hospital has met its capacity or for a special needs shelter to house those who are displaced due to a disaster or medical crisis and have chronic diseases or limited mobility. The FMS also is capable of being a quarantine unit to isolate persons with infectious diseases. Taffner said it is important to consider the chain of command when requesting supplies for this type of emergency situations to prevent potential double or triple orders.
In addition to the FMS, the CDC also has available to the public Push Packages (PP). These are comparable to the world's largest first aid kit, and fills up the body of a cargo aircraft or seven or eight tractor trailers. These units contain over 170 items to care for large groups of people in medical emergencies and are strictly managed in an inventory system. The logistics of these PP has proven to be a problem in some cases due to the large size, storage requirements and security issues. Once the PP's are delivered to the county, the county is responsible for recording the inventory.
Recently the H1N1 (Swine Flu) outbreak PP came as a direct push to Arkansas from the CDC containing 48 pallets containing 288,000 units of the antiviral Tamiflu and Relenza. The shipment also included personal protective equipment, respiratory protection devices, and dispensing and vaccination clinic supplies. An additional shipment of 105,000 doses of the antivirus came later in the month.
When asked by an audience member about expiring lots of supplies, Taffner said, "I would rather have an expired lot that we don't need than needing supplies and not having them."
Throughout Taffner's presentation he continually stressed the importance of not only having an emergency plan, but also making sure the right people are trained to react to a potentially catastrophic health emergency. He said this plan should also be coordinated with hospitals, alternate care facilities. Implementation is not enough, Taffner stressed the importance of practicing the plan and continually training and retraining as warranted.
James Tanner, Sharp County Health Department environmental specialist said that the January ice storm which was unprecedented in the area, taught many lessons to county heath and emergency personnel and forced the county to reevaluate their current plan and implement changes in the event that this type of disaster were to occur in the future.
Taffner said that "I can not stress enough to plan for the worst case scenario, because I guarantee you that snake will rear its head quickly." He referred to an incident that occurred in Mountain Home during the recent ice storm. He said he had a double amputee who had just had heart surgery, was on oxygen and was a diabetic at one of the shelters and they did not have supplies to adequately care for the patient due in part to lack of power.
Both Taffner and Tanner agreed that preparedness is the key to success in this type of emergencies.
Some of the proactive measures Sharp County has began to take include the mass flu clinics and drive through clinics conducted by the Health Department last fall.
Tanner said you have to think of a way to realistically vaccinate nearly 18,000 people if the need be, within 48 hours.
Sharp County currently has three potential locations in which this might be possible, the Highland High School Gymnasium, the Sharp County Fairgrounds and Highland Assembly of God Church.
Tanner said there are some problems that need to be solved in the plan in regard to a mass dispension plan and having enough people to administer the vaccines or antibiotics in the event of a natural disaster. He again referred to the ice storm and the fact that even the most reliable radio system, AWN, was down during the storm and some people did not get out their homes for five days.
Tanner said, "it is overwhelming but we need a plan and we need for people from every community to be involved."
Other possibilities for safety Sharp County could implement to protect its citizens are to have designated shelter areas with proper equipment registered before a disaster to avoid mass confusion regarding where the locations of these shelters are. Tanner said that Sharp County is a receiving area for those who could be displaced by a hurricane, so the shelters are an important consideration, not only for Sharp County residents, but also those who might be forced here by natural disasters.
He said although it is hard to write a generic plan that would be clear cut for any medical situation, he would like to see regular meetings established to coordinate the safety needs of the county with the Office of Emergency Management as well as health care providers.