Mercer Takes Part in Tri-County Public Health Emergency Exercise

Health departments from Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset counties teamed up to conduct a full-scale medication distribution exercise that tested their level of preparedness for a public health emergency and allowed those agencies comprising New Jersey’s Central West Region to train together at a single regional venue.

The March 24 exercise included the establishment of a Point of Distribution (POD) site at the West Trenton Firehouse in Ewing, where participating agencies simulated response to an anthrax attack, demonstrating their ability to work together to distribute medications to a large number of people in a short amount of time. PODS are opened when a portion of the population is determined to be at great risk of contracting a disease, including after exposure to a biological agent. At the Ewing site, volunteers representing community residents registered for and received “antibiotics” under a model wherein one person picks up medications for their entire household, a quicker and more efficient process than having every household member pick up their own medication. The establishment of a joint information center also was part of the exercise.

“Local resources may be limited and partnering with neighboring counties may be the most effective and feasible way to serve those in greatest need during a public health event,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “This drill showed our ability to take a regional approach to preparedness, coordination and response. I’m confident its successful completion left us better prepared for a real emergency.”

Mr. Hughes said citizens can prepare for a real public health emergency by knowing their household’s allergies to medications; asking their doctor if they can take the antibiotics doxycycline or ciprofloxacin; creating an emergency plan; and talking with their friends and neighbors about their emergency plans.

Public health preparedness efforts have been ongoing locally and throughout the state through federal support for well over a decade. Exercises such as the March 24 event are meant for testing plans and training personnel to ensure an effective response if an emergency occurs. Health officials and other exercise participants will evaluate the response and use information gained to revise emergency policies and procedures as necessary.

Organizations participating in the exercise included the New Jersey Department of Health, Mercer County Division of Health, Hunterdon County Division of Health, Somerset County Department of Health; local health departments in Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset counties; Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset County Offices of Emergency Management (OEM); Mercer and Somerset County public information officers, Mercer and Hunterdon County Medical Reserve Corps, Mercer and Hunterdon County Community Emergency Response Teams, Ewing Township Police Department and OEM, Salvation Army and Red Cross.

PHOTO: “Medication” is distributed to volunteers representing community residents during an exercise conducted by health departments from Mercer, Hunterdon and Somerset counties on March 24 at the West Trenton Firehouse in Ewing.

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