If a terrorist attack or a ravaging tornado occurred in central Indiana where would Clay County go for help?
"The State has said 'You own your own disaster,'" Clay County Emergency Management Director Gerri Husband said while discussing Clay County's terrorism and disaster preparedness plan. "They made it clear that each county is responsible for its own boundaries. And Clay County does have a plan."
According to Clay County Health Nurse Jennifer Lucas, Clay and other counties, with the State of Indiana, had started having meetings and addressing plans for a mass disaster, mass immunizations and terrorism attack before 9/11. But after the attack the process was speeded up.
Husband called together all local and adjacent county agencies that would share responsibility for carrying out a comprehensive emergency response plan in Clay County.
Included, but not limited to, were the Clay County Health Dept., Clay County Emergency Management, law enforcement, fire departments, Emergency Medical, Red Cross, Clay Community School Corp., St. Vincent Clay Hospital, the utility companies, the city safety director, veterinarians and the county commissioners.
"According to Indiana Code Title 36 the county commissioners are ultimately responsible for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens," said Husband. "So final decisions would rest with them. But every organization must know what each agency's capabilities are and who is responsible for what action. We meet as needed to continue growth of the plan and every department has input."
When asked if Clay County was prepared for a terrorist event or a mass disaster, Husband said "We're better prepared than a year ago because the lines of communication are open and various responders are working together. With assistance of the state we have a terrorist plan in place and we can make sure that the various agencies don't duplicate services.
"On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning no plan and no resources and 5 meaning having a well understood and tested plan in place, I would rate Clay County at 3," Husband continued. "We're making progress but have more to do."
Husband was asked to explain what planned emergency action would take place if a terrorist attack or a killer tornado hit Clay County.
"Immediately law enforcement, fire and medical units would be dispatched to the area," Husband said. "The county commissioners would be called as they are in charge. They would meet at the County Sheriff's Office.
"If the event occurred in Brazil City, of course the mayor and Brazil law enforcement and fire department would be involved. Then, depending on the type of disaster and the location, other support agencies would be notified and dispersed as needed. The commissioners would make their decisions with the help and input of the expertise of the various agency leaders."
The county had a tabletop mock disaster last May. A representative from each agency met face-to-face and planned out strategy if a terrorist attack or mass disaster should occur. They hope to have a hands-on mock disaster simulation in the future.
Lucas was asked about the controversial federal policy to initiate smallpox vaccinations. Indiana is divided into 10 bioterrorism districts. The Vigo County Health Dept. is designated as the coordinator to implement the vaccination plan in this district.
The first phase is for public health response and health care response personnel. That would encompass emergency and critical care personnel in hospitals and health departments. Phase one is the only phase implemented at this time. Vaccination for targeted personnel is recommended but not mandatory.
Phase two will involve emergency response personnel for fire and police departments, including larger numbers of emergency medical service personnel.
Phase three would include the general public. Lucas explained that an individual would have four days from exposure to get vaccinated to protect him or herself from that exposure. If someone has a severe reaction, vaccine immune globulin from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available. There is a health risk involved with the vaccine.
It is recommended that the public become as informed as possible about the vaccine and its risks verses the benefits before they make a personal decision about it. The last time the vaccine was used for the public was in 1972.
Lucas and Husband agreed that a lot of community assessment has been done in Clay County regarding terrorism and mass disasters.
"There is always a great fear of the unknown," Husband said. "We are preparing for what we know and the likeliest possible attack or any other disaster that may occur. The key to any response is to communicate who has what responsibilities and where to go. We and the other agencies are working together to meet the needs of the citizens of this county."