Training to handle a real-life pandemic

Call it a dress rehearsal.

Acting as if pandemic influenza was spreading around Kaua‘i, over 40 organizations, units and interagency partners worked together yesterday to divert a potential disaster.

Lightning Rescue 2008, an annual emergency response exercise, began on Monday at the Honolulu International Airport and continued yesterday with a Safe Haven operation at Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital and the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Lightning Rescue 2008 is an exercise mandated by the U.S. Pacific Joint Task Force for Homeland Defense to test federal, state and local agencies in their response to pandemic influenza or other natural or manmade disasters throughout the Pacific.

“The purpose of this exercise is to get different agencies together, such as the Navy, the Air Force, the state and the county,” Tom Clements, PMRF public information officer, said. “It’s a chance to exercise the ability to work together.”

In the first phase of the exercise in Honolulu, the simulated scenario called for a commercial passenger aircraft arriving from a foreign country; some of the passengers onboard have potentially been exposed to or infected by pandemic influenza.

In the second phase of the simulation, two weeks have passed and the pandemic influenza outbreak has spread to the Neighbor Islands. Hospitals are overwhelmed and help is needed to control the situation.

As a result, patients are taken to a quarantine and decontamination area at PMRF.

Waimea High School students involved with the Junior ROTC program posed as patients in the exercise. Wearing a list of symptoms around their necks, the students described their ailments to medical staff at KVMH.

From there the “patients” were treated and/or sent to a quarantine area at PMRF. In a real-life situation, the seriously ill would be taken to O‘ahu for treatment.

According to Bob Cecconi, chief of PMRF Crash/Fire, patients would go to KVMH to get processed; from there they would go to the quarantine at PMRF.

“This is a save haven, not a treatment facility,” Cecconi said. “If they need more care, they would go back to KVMH.”

As fire chief of PMRF, Cecconi would automatically become incident commander of the situation until someone of higher authority arrived on scene.

Lt. Col. Stanley E. Toy, Chief of Joint Task Force-Homeland Defense, said the exercise demonstrated how the military would give support in a real-life situation.

“Taking opportunities to exercise with our interagency partners is critical in understanding where and how the military fits in the process of disaster response,” Toy said. “(The) key is understanding our collective roles and responsibilities when it comes to responding to and recovering from an all-hazards emergency. It is through these exercises that we can achieve more effective and efficient response processes and procedures. Such an effort may ultimately save a life or mitigate significant property damage.”

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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