This Is Only a Test
Thousands of ‘victims’ arrive for bio-terror drill in Sulphur Springs

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

A cameraman from the Centers for Disease Control records an initial interview with a simulated victim of an act of bio-terrorism Tuesday morning at the Civic Center. The CDC videotape will be used in training people in other areas around the nation to deal with large numbers of people exposed to disease.

Staff Photo By Kerry Craig

Aug. 9, 2005 -- Bio-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and other acts of violence that could be brought against the population of this country and state are something everyone hopes will never happen, but federal, state and local emergency response planners must be prepared to deal with.

In a simulated release of “the plague,” Hopkins County Regional Civic Center and Sulphur Springs High School took on new roles Tuesday, when as many as 2,000 people converged on Sulphur Springs to participate in a training program to prepare responders to support activities for public health preparedness and planning.

The scenario involved the release of a bio-terrorism agent -- in this case, the plague -- over widespread areas and the movement of people from the affected areas to Sulphur Springs to receive an oral vaccine to counteract the disease.

More than 700 volunteers wearing purple T-shirts identifying them as “victims” were processed through interviews, screenings and vaccination for exposure to a biological agent each hour in one of seven simultaneous exercises being conducted in Texas Tuesday. The “victims” came from neighboring counties as well as from the Dallas area.

Staff Photo By Kerry Craig

The exercise in Sulphur Springs is one of seven similar exercises occurring simultaneously in the state in which the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] and Texas Department of State Health Services, in conjunction with several state and federal agencies and four councils of government, conducted the state’s first full-scale Strategic National Stockpile exercise. The exercise is a simulation of a public health emergency in which an entire community will need to receive medication for a potential exposure to a harmful agent.

As the “victims” drove to designated parking areas in Sulphur Springs, they were shuttled by bus to the high school-Civic Center complex for screening to identify any pre-existing health issues and to determine if they had become infected by the simulated “plague.”

The volunteer participants were then moved through additional screenings and, finally, to receive the vaccine against the disease.

Public information spokeswoman Gale Roberts said planners were hoping to process as many as 700 people per hour through the necessary interviews and stations.

CDC representatives from Atlanta, Ga., also participated in the exercise, working with state and local emergency management and homeland security officers. CDC also serves as the agency that would provide the necessary vaccine for victims in an actual event.

Because the exercise in Sulphur Springs was one of the first to be conducted, CDC film crews were videotaping the exercise, interviewing workers, participants and observers. The final video product will be used by CDC and the Department of Homeland Security as a training tool for other areas that will host similar exercises.

Although the exercise involved emergency response workers from nearly every agency in the county, there was no change in the routine levels of service normally available from fire, emergency medical or police.

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