Preparing for terrorism

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2005

Karen Chase, nine months pregnant, collapsed after learning she may have been exposed to the bubonic plague.

Jane Aston’s scream pierced the room, as she clenched her chest.

Emergency workers rushed forward to treat the two women, preparing to transport them to Obici Hospital. Meanwhile, dozens of other people who may have been exposed to the deadly disease were give preventative treatments of antibiotics.

Email newsletter signup

Actually, they were given M&M’s-peanut or plain, depending on which antibiotic they were prescribed. And Chase and Aston are both perfectly healthy.

The two were among more than 160 Western Tidewater Health Department employees, local public safety workers and Medical Reserve volunteers who spent Wednesday participating in a bio-terrorism drill at the National Guard Armory.

Drill participants were told that a speaker who visited a local church last weekend had died of the bubonic plague. The health department, along with dozens of volunteers, is charged with dispensing preventative antibiotics to anyone who may have come in contact with the plague victim.

The health department sponsors similar training exercises at least once a year, said Pat Winter, nursing supervisor at the Suffolk Health Department and drill’s coordinator.

The event is a dress rehearsal meant to help participants team up to effectively deal with large numbers of people needing medical treatment, Winter said.

&uot;It lets us evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it,&uot; she said. &uot;Things went okay on Wednesday…although I think we need to better define the job descriptions we give to people manning the stations.&uot;

Participants organized themselves and work well together, she added.

Events like Wednesday’s drill are good training for the real thing, participants said.

&uot;It helps us work out the kinks and see where we need to improve in case there is a real disaster,&uot; said Nicole Polka, who works at the Isle of Wight County Health Department. &uot;It lets us see what we need to do better to make sure everything flows smoothly and people remain calm if something does happen.&uot;

Linda Fuller, a pharmacist and volunteer with the Medical Reserves, agreed.

&uot;We are trying to iron out the bugs now,&uot; she said. &uot;This is good practice in case something really does happen.

&uot;I feel like I would be able to help if there was a real emergency.&uot;