Operation MassMed Recap
The Sussex County Department of Environmental and Public Health Services held an exercise called "Operation MassMed" on November 13, 2008, to test a component of the Public Health Emergency Response Plan. This exercise was designed to test, evaluate and enhance the County's preparedness and the community's response to a mock public health emergency.
Sussex County professionals represented by the Division of Emergency Management (OEM), state, local and county health departments, law enforcement, hospitals, mental health providers, physicians, pharmacists, Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), Medical Reserve Corps volunteers (MRC), and High Point Regional High School students participated in the event. Gregory Youngman, the principal of High Point Regional High School, was pleased that his students played an active role in the County's emergency preparedness exercise. All students that participated received seven (7) Community Service Hours towards graduation.
"Operation MassMed" was a one day, full scale exercise designed to provide participants with an opportunity to test and evaluate revised plans and capabilities for establishment and management of a Point of Distribution (POD) Clinic. A POD clinic is the place where medication would be distributed quickly to a large group of people in the event of a public health emergency or outbreak. High Point High School students acted out the roles of County residents visiting the simulated POD clinic to receive their 'mock' life-saving medications, although no one received real medications. The POD exercise allowed the County to evaluate the effectiveness of its current plan, and determined the capability of the public health workforce to efficiently administer medications to a large number of people.
The response was made as realistic as possible with State, County, and Local agencies partnering together for this exercise. Operation MassMed focused on POD clinic command and control, mass distribution of mock antibiotic medication, transportation, and communication by public health staff. The County's Epidemiologist performed surveillance and maintained communications between POD clinic and local hospital emergency rooms participating in the exercise. Revised components of emergency response plans including Mental Health and Special Needs Populations was tested during the exercise. Sussex County was also the first county to pilot new household medication forms created by the State.
After the devastating events that occurred on September 11, 2001, there has been increased concern about the ability of public health agencies to effectively respond to a major public health emergency. In the event of an outbreak of a life-threatening disease, or the intentional release of a biological or chemical agent by terrorists, a major responsibility of public health would be to distribute medications to the public that would either prevent or reduce the effects of an exposure.
By exercising its present plan, The Department of Health will be able to determine if any revisions need to be made prior to the occurrence of an actual emergency. Volunteers from the public, acting as patients, made the exercise more realistic and allowed a determination as to how much time it would take for each person to complete the clinic process. This information is vital if the need should arise to open a clinic in response to a true public health emergency. The data gathered during the exercise is currently being reviewed by the Department of Environmental and Public Health Services and the State Health Planner.
There are simple steps that County residents can take now to prepare themselves and their loved ones for a Public Health Emergency: make a kit, make a plan, and get informed. By gathering supplies to meet basic needs, discussing what to do during an emergency with your family in advance, and by being aware of the risks and appropriate actions, you will be better prepared for the unexpected and ultimately, you will help better prepare your community. Please visit our website at, www.sussex.nj.us/health or www.ready.gov to learn more about preparedness activities.