Imagine that a terrorist has released a dangerous bacterium, Francisella tularensis, in South Florida. F. tularensis is a nasty bug classified by the U.S. government as a Class A Select Agent, along with other potential agents of bioterrorism such as the plague, anthrax and Ebola. It causes an infection called tularemia that can be lethal if not treated. Hundreds of people have been exposed and must be given antibiotics as soon as possible.
That is the scenario that played out at the U.S. Century Bank Arena on Jan. 30 in a mock drill simulating a Point of Dispensing (POD) exercise focusing on the distribution of preventative medication during such a catastrophic public health emergency.
This type of drill is very timely given the threat of new flu strains and environmental contaminants. “Bioterrorists and bioweaponeers can and do take advantage of a natural outbreaks to mask the release of a serious biological weapon. It is imperative that our community be prepared to respond to a massive natural and/or deliberate infectious disease outbreak,” explained Aileen Marty, M.D., professor of infectious diseases at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.
Marty, an expert in chemical and biological agents and a United Nations weapons inspector, is also a Florida Medical Reserve Corps volunteer. She took part in the exercise along with other student, faculty and staff volunteers from the Academic Health Center, and other FIU units.
The bio-response drill was the conclusion of a three-day, full-scale exercise by the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade’s Cities Readiness Initiative, in conjunction with the FIU Office of Emergency Management, Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management, and the Miami-Dade Police Department. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also on hand.
“This live-action training with our partners is a valuable tool to strengthen our ability to respond to an actual event,” said Lillian Rivera, R.N., M.S.N., Ph.D., administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County. “We want to be ready to take the necessary actions to preserve the health and well-being of our residents and visitors.”