In the name of emergency preparedness, officials from all over Mayes County met for this month’s Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting.
“We've proven time and again that Mayes County can handle an emergency,” said Maria Alexander, Administrative Director of Health Departments of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “And the people in this room are the ones we turn to to get us through those emergencies.”
LEPC brings health, safety and emergency professionals together to discuss emergency response plans. Red Cross, Mayes Emergency Service Trust Authority, Cherokee Nation, Integris Hospital, Pryor Fire Department, Mayes County Sheriff's Office, Pryor Police, Mayes County Emergency Management and various industrial plants were all represented.
The meeting began with chairman Mike Dunham encouraging everyone present to identify their role within LEPC. Representatives from plants in MidAmerica Industrial Park were asked to discuss their own safety plans at the plant and bring any questions to the committee meeting. Dunham stressed the importance of an open and on-going relationship between these groups for the effectiveness of the plans.
This month's meeting included an update from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Tracy Nava, OSDH Preparedness and Response Nurse, discussed the China avian flu, H1N9.
The virus has reached pandemic levels in China and is being passed from birds, specifically poultry, to humans.
“The fear is that the virus will continue to mutate and be able to pass from person to person,” said Nava. “It has a 50 percent or greater death rate, which is worse than SARS or H1N1.”
The death toll as of April 30 had reached 31 people. Nava said the Center for Disease Control is concerned and has begun working on a vaccine.
“Hopefully it doesn't come to that but the good news is that they've started working on the vaccine early. This is what the Pan Flu plan is for, so if it comes to that we're prepared,” said Nava.
A pandemic is an epidemic of infectious disease that has spread through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide.
The Pan Flu Plan, written by LEPC, provides a framework for identification and response to an influenza pandemic. The plan, the details of which are not publicly disclosed for security reasons, includes health department, governmental agencies and community partners who are asked to work together. Part of the plan, however, involves setting specific roles and responsibilities. The clear delegation of duties ensures the plan will flow seamlessly should the need arise. In the event of a county influenza pandemic, vaccines arrive in batches and are distributed to the groups with the highest risk first.
“At this time, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is following the situation closely and coordinating with domestic and international partners. CDC takes routine preparedness actions whenever a new virus with pandemic potential is presented, including developing a candidate vaccine virus to make a vaccine if it were needed. The CDC has also issued guidance to clinicians and public health authorities in the United States, as well as provided information for people traveling to China,” said the official CDC website.
The CDC says this is an evolving situation and it will provide updated information as it becomes available.
The two groups, LEPC and OSDH, stressed the need for recruiting more volunteers.
“We received a perfect score in every section of the Technical Assistance Review but section 10, dispensing. This means we need more volunteers to carry out our plans. That needs to be our goal for this year,” said Alexander.
TAR is a review required by entities like the CDC and is used to identify gaps or weaknesses in an emergency plan. The TAR is a
12-section tool that evaluates communication plans, security, inventory management, hospital and treatment center coordination, training and exercise.
Darla Thompson, Regional Administrative Programs Officer of the Mayes County Health Department, explained both the need for volunteers and the process to become one. She explained the Medical Reserve Corps has a volunteer database.
“This provides free training and background checks and you're not called on very often,” Thompson.
The MRC is not just for volunteers with medical training, despite the name.
“People with all skills are needed. We need people that can operate a chainsaw or a backhoe. We need people that can help others fill out forms and get people organized into lines. We need people that can help with security,” Thompson. “No matter what your skill set, there is a role you can fill.”
She said that once a person becomes a volunteer, after training and a clean background check, they are not responsible for responding to all emergency calls received.
Several people echoed her sentiments, saying what an asset it is to have trained volunteers available in the community.