BY MELANIE BUCK –
A mass outbreak of disease can be deadly to any community and to combat such a case, the Arkansas Department of Health has been practicing mass outbreak drills. During this year’s Mass Flu Clinic, held at the Polk County Fairgrounds, sponsored by the local Department of Health, a Preparedness Drill was executed to insure that Polk County’s branch will be ready and trained in the case of an outbreak.
Andy Threlkeld is the Southwest Regional Public Health Coordinator and works with 17 counties in southwest Arkansas. He headed up the Public Health Preparedness drill in Polk County to practice First Responder Prophylaxis. During the drill, a van was set up with necessary components to undertake such a task and they practice dispensing ‘pills’ for first responders and their families. Taking care of first responders is the first step in dealing with mass outbreaks. First responders would receive vaccinations or medicines first, because they are caring for everyone else. Without them being healthy, the rest of the community would suffer more.
Threlkeld explained, “We are tasked with mass fatality incidents. We would provide supplies, whether it would be pills, vaccines, or equipment.” He said that during the Albert Pike Flood in 2010, the Department of Health showed up on scene to give DTaP vaccinations (Tetanus shots) to those first responders who were not up to date.” In situations like those, the more practice that’s been had, the better off the department and the public are. The Albert Pike situation brought to their attention some of the ways they could be better prepared next time. “In the Albert Pike incident, they went with no trailer and had to utilize other facilities. We recognized a hole in our response capability,” said Threlkeld.
Brenda Huff, Polk County Health Unit Administrator explained, “When the 2009 tornado hit Mena, we had to pull around ice chests to give DTaP shots to workers and first responders.”
Polk County now has a trailer that is stock with a refrigerator, generator, lights, extension cords, heaters, fans, tables, chairs, and supplies. “The trailer allows for mobility in dispensing aid, as a mobile pod,” Threlkeld explained. The funding for the trailer and the preparedness drill comes from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “They send us the funding and we have to figure out how to use it to best protect our citizens and employees,” said Threlkeld.
That’s where the preparedness drills play their part. They give first responders a chance to see how the system works and to brainstorm new ideas to make the system flow more efficiently and effectively.
“The flu clinic is how we prepare for responding to a disease outbreak in our community. It’s our practice run to protect the community. This trailer and the First Responder Prophylaxis training not only helps us practice for an event to dispense medicines to first responders and their families, but it also tells many of them that never knew what we do, that this is part of our plan in case something happens. That they know we have their best interests in mind to take care of our first responders so that they can help take care of the rest of our community.”