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Last Updated

05 Jun 2003

Source: San Francisco Examiner, June 5, 2003

Disaster drills

BY J.K. DINEEN, The Examiner Staff

In what will likely be the largest emergency vaccination drill in history, the Department of Public Health is gearing up for a mock health disaster exercise that will involve as many as 2,000 volunteers.

The June 17 drill, which is being paid for with federal funds, is aimed at helping prepare public health workers to respond to a massive health emergency.

Thus far the DPH has 800 volunteers lined up, according to Amy Pine, immunization program manager for the department.

Many more volunteers are needed, however.

"We need individuals from all over The City who reflect the diversity of people who live and work here," Susan Fernyak, MD, director of communicable and infectious diseases, said in a release. "We're looking for families, elderly, children, people with disabilities, and mono-lingual Spanish and Cantonese speakers to help us train our staff to respond to any number of medical emergencies."

Since the attacks of 9/11 and the anthrax scare that followed, public health officials across the country have been holding exercises to simulate the worst that could occur should this country be attacked by bio-terrorist weapons. Seattle did a dirty bomb simulation; Chicago did an exercise of what would happen if a plague were to break out.

In the event of an outbreak of any number of communicable diseases, The City needs to be able to vaccinate as many as one million individuals within a five-day period, Pine said.

"We can only go so far in planning our response," said Fernyak. "Now we need to challenge ourselves with a drill and see where we need to make adjustments."

Pine said the drill should help prepare The City for an outbreak of influenza, meningitis, anthrax, or smallpox.

Volunteers will not be stuck with any real needles (plastic coffee straws will be used) nor will they be expected to disclose any real medical information (although some will be asked to simulate various illnesses.) The volunteers will receive some sort of gift and will be entered into a raffle for larger prizes.

"I think every heath department across the country has had to focus more on bio-terrorism and think about post-event planning," said Pine. "For something like small pox, in a worse case scenario, we'd have to immunize 1 million people in five days."

The mock exercise will take place Tuesday, June 17 at Bill Graham Auditorium, 99 Grove St at Larkin, beginning at 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Interested volunteers should call 206-2358.