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Since 2002, the Mecklenburg Health Department has been greatly involved with planning, training, and exercising activities in our community to better prepare us to handle biological agent attacks or massive disease outbreaks. Working with our national, state, regional, and local response partners, we have greatly improved our means to notify key partners, develop response strategies, and carry out plans.
Planning Efforts - Several major planning efforts have been undertaken during the last few years by the Health Department that illustrates some of our activity. These include:
Practicing - Throughout the year the Health Department conducts community services that would occur during a biological attack or massive disease outbreak. Seasonal flu vaccination clinics develop the planning skills and operational knowledge that would be necessary for massive vaccination programs that would be needed to protect our citizens during a pandemic influenza outbreak. The Health Department has conducted large-scale dispensing of potassium iodide (KI) to the general public, an activity that would be similar to a response to an agent requiring antibiotics (pills). The Health Department also took part in the Hurricane Katrina response by sending staff to the impacted gulf region and by providing health-related services at the shelter set up in Charlotte to receive Katrina evacuees. Several disease outbreaks have also increased our staff's ability to respond, including a Norovirus outbreak at an elementary school, pertussis outbreaks in schools, and a shigellosis outbreak in day cares.
Ongoing Training - The Health Department staff also receive training related to disaster response. Of particular note is training related to the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS is a management structure that all response agencies will use in a large disaster. Less confusion will be generated and a more efficient response will occur by having all agencies understand and follow the principles of a single management structure. Health Department staff has been trained:
Exercises - In addition to training, the Health Department has participated in many exercises related to preparedness. Examples of these exercises include those conducted for smallpox, plague, pandemic influenza, anthrax, dirty bombs, nuclear explosives, call down drills, and nuclear power plant emergency exercises.
Communication - To better be able to respond, the Health Department has made purchases or acquired equipment that would improve communication within the Department as well as with other response agencies. The Health Department has satellite radio capability, 800 MHz radios, UHF/VHF radios, and other communication devices that would permit redundant means to communicate if traditional means of communication (telephones, Internet) fail. Several carts have been purchased to provide mobility of essential materials to locations where they are needed. Also, the Health Department has purchased a large supply of personal protective equipment (gloves, respirators, eye shields) that would be used by staff to safely conduct their tasks during a response.
There is still much to do to better prepare our community for a massive health-related event; however, much has been accomplished in a relatively short time. The most important of which has been the development of crucial working relationships among all the response partners of our community (police, fire, medic, hospitals, Red Cross, mental health, social services, school system, and others). These relationships will strengthen our response capacity and capability. We look forward to further developing our response strategic and working with our partners to better serve and protect the citizens of Mecklenburg County .