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Planning for the worst: Exercising emergency preparedness at its best

Planning for the worst: Exercising emergency preparedness at its best

By Erin Corrigan and Lynda Neal
Over three days this May, the Oregon Division of Public Health (OPHD) participated in PACE Setter 2013.  The Portland urban area full-scale exercise (FSE) was designed to evaluate the state’s and the region’s ability to coordinate, communicate and respond to a terrorism incident.  PACE Setter ran concurrently with the 2013 Washington State Annual Bioterrorism Exercise (WASABE), sharing the same bioterrorism scenario.  
This scenario included attacks that threatened citizens in five Oregon counties as well as Clark County in southern Washington.  The intent was to test our ability to share information not only across jurisdictions in Oregon, but also coordinate across state lines with Washington.  Counties, tribes and hospitals outside the Portland urban area were invited to participate in a separate but concurrent functional exercise, Trend Setter, to exercise their own plans and procedures, including OPHD play. 
The first day, OPHD play was limited to decision making and pre-activation activities.  To mimic a real, evolving event, the exercise scenario was designed to unfold without complete information to challenge federal and state public health leaders.  A team of more than 20 OPHD leaders participated in an interstate call facilitated by the CDC to walk through the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) requesting process and to coordinate activities with Washington State Public Health.  Immediately afterward, the Health Security, Preparedness and Response Program facilitated an OPHD Intelligence Briefing to decide a number of strategic issues ranging from the activation of the Agency Operations Center (AOC), and the Receipt, Stage and Storage (RSS) site, to the announcement of a joint epi/law enforcement investigation.  Regional local health departments were invited to listen in on the briefing and encouraged to ask questions.
The next two days focused OPHD play on Agency Operations Center (AOC) and (RSS) operations.  The AOC focused on information sharing, logistics and planning activities, finance tracking and volunteer management.  OPHD staff were deployed to provide expertise in the Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) and to the joint epi/law enforcement investigation.  The AOC function is to manage the overall OPHD response.  This can be challenging during an evolving event when information is coming in constantly that may change the required response.  The scenario provided a few twists to encourage participants to be nimble and able to switch gears when needed.
At the RSS, the medical supplies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shipped arrived early in the morning.  The Immunization Program team worked well with staff while breaking down large pallets of material into smaller lots.  They worked efficiently to receive, inventory, repack and distribute the SNS assets, including monitoring two Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) trucks delivering assets to the metro area local health departments (LHDs). 
An important outgrowth of this exercise was the continuing development of relationships with our partners.  We were very fortunate to have such strong participation by OPHD leadership and staff, as well as the many observers and players.  This included five volunteers, three OHSU doctors, seven CDC employees, two from Region X, and many other federal and state representatives. Our goal in these exercises is just as it is in our everyday work: to improve the lifelong health of Oregonians through our vision of a healthy Oregon.
Next: Preparedness moments to remember