Health and incident teams train for crises

Megan Hell prepares for a shot from Bobbi Lock as her children, William and Lucas, watch the action. A mass inoculation was part of the emergency medical service training at the county annex. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Megan Hell prepares for a shot from Bobbi Lock as her children, William and Lucas, watch the action. A mass inoculation was part of the emergency medical service training at the county annex.

Dramatic emergency situations are often played out on television, and we watch the panic, confusion and destruction from the comfort of home.

But a crisis may happen outside your front door. Locally, it has been fire and drought.

But it could be a medical crisis as well, a pandemic of some sort, requiring mass inoculations of all citizens.

To prepare for such a scenario, the Southwest Incident Management Team, in cooperation with the Montezuma County Health Department conducted a training exercise during a recent free Tdap shot clinic.

“In a real emergency, the health department would not have enough staff for crowd control and security so the incident management team helps to assist,” said Karen Dixon, regional emergency preparedness coordinator for public health.

Diseases such as West Nile, bird flu or Hantavirus may require a mass dispensing of a medical product for the public. At the county annex residents waited in line, as SWIM Team members observed and imagined how to organize large crowds in a panic situation because of a medical emergency.

“If the community knows we are training for such an unfortunate event, I think they will feel more confident,” Dickson said. “It shows us how to organize a point of dispensing, whether its medical treatment like administering a vaccine, or it could be dispensing food and water for thousands of citizens.”

The crowd at the free shot clinic looks bewildered at the phalanx of security personnel wearing flack jackets, and heavy presence of emergency medical personnel.

But the opportunity to train during a real-world medical event with a lot of people is what the SWIM Team looks for. Studies show how much a community trains depends on how well they get through a public crisis, explained deputy emergency manager Paul Hollar.

“We're testing our dispensary plan, testing the flow and set up so we have experience if we need to distribute a lot of medicine fast,” Hollar said. “The ideal rate is one person through each minute. We're here to make sure the supplies are arriving, to keep people calm, and work out clogs in the line to keep people moving through.”

Hollar said that even for a small county, the goal of getting 25,000 citizens through the line in a 48-hour period is a monumental task.

“I think what we have learned today is that we would need additional nursing staff, and because we are a rural area, bringing in enough critical medical supplies is going to be paramount,” he said.

Towaoc Indian Health Services did a recent exercise, said Jauna Mills, a resident standing in line for the free shot.

“I see they're doing the same training here, but I'm just taking advantage of the free medical care,” she said.

Emergency training is ongoing, Hollar added, and takes place on a yearly basis.

“In the future, we are planning a hazardous material exercise and also how to respond if there is a pipeline explosion.”

Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal Donna Lee Pettingill directs people in line to the next open space for a