Officials cope with bioterrorism scenario

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 5, 2003

Imagine &045;&045; bioterrorism has struck Dallas County. Vaughan Regional Medical Center has been shut down and barricades set up.

Crowds outside the hospital are beginning to riot. What’s the plan? Who’s in charge?

That situation was presented to local schools’ representatives, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), among others, at the Alabama Department of Public Health Tuesday morning.

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Representatives of agencies responding to a bioterrorism incident gathered Tuesday to form a plan of action. A scenario involving Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) had hospital employees, school principals and Enhanced 911 members working together &045;&045; and hammering out a plan.

School administrators said numbers that small wouldn’t have made an impact on their absence reports. Brett Howard, Dallas County EMA director, said his office wouldn’t have been notified unless the hospital called.

Sherer agreed, adding nothing reached reportable levels.

Stages two and three changed.

Stage two saw more patients at the hospital and a shortage of beds. An Air Force officer &045;&045; who also had flu-like symptoms &045;&045; is examined by an infectious disease specialist and SARS is determined as a possibility.

Stage three has patients worsening and tests indicating SARS is probable. The hospital enters a level four bioterrorism alert and is locked down.

Howard said his office still hadn’t been notified as discussion on locking down the hospital began, and added that he wanted to be one of those first notified in a bioterrorism incident. He has the resources to get needed equipment to the scene.

Sherer said agencies should be coordinated by EMA during a bioterrorism incident.

Howard liked Tuesday’s exercise.

The same plan would be used for any outbreak; agencies would go through the same motions. Agency coordination becomes easier when everyone knows what to do, Howard said.