This is a Drill: Health, Hospital and Emergency Officials to Test Pandemic Influenza Response Plan at June 15 ‘Tabletop’ Exercise

Date: June 9, 2005

Contact: Communication Office

BURLINGTON – For eight hours on June 15, health, hospital and emergency officials will respond to a widespread outbreak of pandemic influenza in Vermont that, at its peak, will affect one out of three Vermonters.

“This is a drill,” said Health Commissioner Paul Jarris, MD, MBA. “We are presenting a worst-case scenario so that we can really put our response plans to the test.”

More than 100 leaders from state and local health and emergency response agencies will participate in the day-long tabletop exercise hosted by the Vermont Department of Health at the Sheraton Conference Center in South Burlington.

“Pandemic influenza is defined as a public health emergency that will require a rapid and practiced response that is well coordinated among multiple agencies,” Dr. Jarris said. “We would need to enlist the help of Vermonters in preventing the spread of disease to family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.”

An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak that occurs when a new type of flu surfaces and rapidly spreads from person to person. Three influenza pandemics have occurred during the 20th century, starting with the “Spanish Flu” of 1918-1919, that resulted in more than 500,000 deaths in the United States.

During the scenario, officials will work to quickly detect and respond to first cases, control spread of the disease, and care for the ill—despite an initial lack of vaccine and medicines, overflowing hospitals, and growing numbers of people who are seriously ill or who have died from this new strain of influenza. Pre-planned prevention, response and recovery procedures will be tested while officials cope with an accelerated timeframe for the spread of the disease.

“The goal of the day is to practice, along with our partners, what our response would be and then make refinements to the plan,” said Dr. Cort Lohff, state epidemiologist, who will facilitate the exercise.

Pandemic concerns are elevated with the current outbreak of an avian influenza A (H5N1) in Southeast Asia.

Pre-pandemic planning is vital because unlike a usual flu season, Dr. Lohff said, during the initial stages of a pandemic, a vaccine may not be available or may only be available in a limited supply.