By DIANE DIERKS
The Clay County Health Department participated in an emergency test exercise on Thursday, along with Vigo, Vermillion, Putnam, Parke, Greene, Sullivan and Owen counties, which comprise the Task Force 7 Emergency Preparedness district.
According to Jennifer Lucas, Local Public Health Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, the Clay County Health Department is one of 15 emergency support function groups that are part of the All Hazards County Plan. The Emergency Management Agency of Clay County is the main point of communication for all 15 support function groups.
The drill originated at the U.S. Post Office on Margaret Ave. in Terre Haute and was designed to simulate an Anthrax biohazard emergency. The exercise tested communications in the health and medical community.
Even though the mock Anthrax test originated in Terre Haute, Clay County was part of the response team because it is a neighboring county. During an actual emergency, Clay County could be utilized for extra resources and as a possible point of distribution for medications.
The test also took into account that citizens may flee the exposure site and return to their home communities, necessitating the need for multiple-county disaster plans.
The focus of the health department is to provide information and to coordinate services and resources during emergency situations.
The drill involved nursing homes, hospitals, health departments, ambulance services, health boards and emergency management agencies. Local media were also included because they communicate information to the public during emergencies.
The main purpose was to test effectiveness and response time of communications. Test messages were sent out using faxes, phones and BlackBerry devices. The health department will later analyze results in an after-action report.
Overall, Lucas said the exercise was successful. The department did learn that notifying groups by telephone was time intensive and in the future, they may use more blast faxes, which send out messages to different groups simultaneously.
Lucas said that Clay County is beginning to recognize the importance of emergency preparedness. She said there was a good level of cooperation during the test and commented, "It is important for the public to understand if they are asked to do something, it's for a good reason."
Lucas hopes Clay County will never have to deal with an actual disaster and said the health department will, "plan for the worst and hope for the best," while continuing to focus on providing helpful information to the community.