San Mateo Co. holds medicine distribution drill

March 12, 2009 12:37:56 PM PDT
San Mateo County's emergency preparedness team exceeded its goals during Wednesday morning's drill, meant to mimic medicine distribution in the case of an anthrax attack, influenza pandemic or other health crisis.

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During the three-hour drill, teams of volunteers visited 14,000 households in 11 jurisdictions throughout the county, according to Doris Estremera, spokeswoman for the San Mateo County Health System. Smooth communication allowed the teams to exceed the goal of 10,000 addresses, she said.

Teams of volunteers and local police, fire and other emergency responders did not knock on any doors, but simply distributed earthquake preparedness information at each address they visited. However the exercise was designed to test responder's ability to communicate with one another and disseminate information quickly and efficiently throughout the county.

Traditionally agencies prepare for such disasters by offering medicine at various distribution points. Estremera said this approach raises logistical issues including parking and the risk of exposure.

"We wanted to see how quickly we can get it out without having people come to us," Estremera said of the theoretical medicine being distributed.

This is the third year San Mateo County has conducted this drill. Prior versions took place in San Mateo and Foster City.

Jon Johnston of the Menlo Park Fire District said the six teams in his region covered nearly 2,500 houses. The biggest challenge, he said, was tracking multiple teams' movements over a large area, and working efficiently with a command center using a ham radio.

However, this process is largely the reason for having the drills, he said. "It was a success and we were definitely able to get a good critique of how things ran."

Estremera said her organization threw canvassers a curveball in the form of actors pretending to have special issues or require additional attention. Actors told the teams that the medication was against their religion, pretended not to speak English, or asked whether it was safe for pregnant women. Johnston said some actors pretended to be reporters trying to get interviews during the distribution process.

"Nothing slowed them down, they were still able to meet their goal," Estremera said of the distribution teams.

The San Mateo Coastside Reserve Medical Corps and fire agencies across the county participated in the drill.

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