Planning for the worst
Oneida County, partners practice mass emergency
By Eileen Persike
Several Oneida County agencies and many more from the region met last week to conduct an exercise to assess the county’s public health emergency preparedness. The exercise involved setting up a mock family assistance center following a mock mass structure fire that left many individuals and families displaced.
Grace Foursquare Church was the site of the assistance center, described as a centralized location to provide information and resources to families and potential victims of a mass casualty event, weather-related events and other situations where families are in need of resources.
“The family assistance center is not a shelter,” Marta McMillion, assistant director of Oneida County Public Health Department, said. “We’re treating it as an in-and-out kind of thing. People may spend a substantial amount of time there but it’s not meant to serve as a shelter.” She also said they modeled some of the exercise after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, where the family assistance center stayed open for weeks after the shooting.
The exercise involved some 60 regional emergency management, hospitals, health departments and EMS as well as actors who played the roles of injured victims.
Though this exercise was in the works since January, it was run to help the teams determine how quickly such a center could be set up in real life.
“The point of the exercise is to stress it and figure out what we do well, what we need to improve, we are looking for the stressors and ways that we can improve and we’ll fix those things in our plan,” McMillion said.”We do have systems in place to be able to call people in at a moment’s notice.”
Plans were already being made to improve the registration area, which was found to need improvement, where people were coming in and had to be seen, needed to fill out forms and sign in and all of them creating a bottleneck.
In the event of an actual mass traumatic situation in the county, the health department and the Human Service Center would serve as a unified command. After the exercise, the team will receive an after-action report from the organization working with the county, which will be followed by plan updates and possibly more exercises in the future.