NEW MADRID -- Local health officials will experience firsthand the commotion of a real-life, large-scale public health emergency this week.
On Wednesday the New Madrid County Health Department will conduct a joint emergency response Strategic National Stockpile exercise in New Madrid.
"The exercise is designed to give our own local health departments an overview of what it takes to operate a medicinal dispension clinic," explained Jerry Lathum, regional bioterrorism planner with the NMC Health Department.
In the event of a bioterrorist attack or large-scale crisis, state and local health agencies must be prepared to quickly distribute mass quantities of lifesaving pharmaceuticals, antidotes, vaccines and other medical supplies to the public.
"It's not necessarily for terrorist attacks, but any outbreak of disease that affects the health of the local community, Lathum said. "The goal is to learn, but you don't learn without practicing."
The federal government established the SNS program to deliver large and continuous quantities of medical items to the site of a national emergency within 12 hours. During an emergency, state, local and private stocks of medical material could be depleted quickly.
"In New Madrid County, the population is roughly 20,000 -- not including folks there working and traveling the interstate," Lathum said. "Should a disaster occur, we must accurately dispense medication. We must do it quickly, but we've also got to treat masses."
He continued: "If we only treat 5,000 people, the other 15,000 may be upset. We will discover how actually we can do this by way of training session."
The Strategic National Stockpile are those drugs that are normally needed for treatment of an outbreak, but are not readily available locally, Lathum said.
"For example, the drug used to treat anthrax is not necessarily available in great, great quantities in the area, and the reason for that is unless an outbreak occurs, we don't need it," Lathum explained.
Another reason for not locally storing the drugs is due to budgeting, Lathum added. Health departments don't have the extra money to stockpile unusual inventory, he said. Also, the SNS are medicines that do expire. Volunteers also were solicited from the community to take part in the exercise, participating as role players and receiving mock medications.
"Individuals will simulate being sick or disabled. We know we've got certain people who have hearing and vision impairments so those will be simulated as well," Lathum said.
Although New Madrid County was randomly selected by the state as the "first one out," Lathum said Scott, Mississippi, Pemiscot, Stoddard and Dunklin counties will also assist New Madrid during the exercise.
"The ultimate goal is to get each county prepared, where the staff from hospital, health departments or private practices all must work together to promote health care
Plans to conduct the exercise take anywhere from six to 18 months, Lathum said.
"It's not something that can be done overnight. We have to coordinate a lot of efforts and explain what everyone's duties are. It hasn't been just continual planning, but we have meetings monthly and bimonthly," Lathum said.
With next week's training, local health officials will develop efficiency and any time people train, they will become more comfortable with something, Lathum pointed out. "The ultimate goal is to become proficient through the training so we can respond and recover in any natural disaster event."