Governor Announces ‘Operation Pandemic Flu’ to test Vermont Preparedness

For Immediate Release: July 11, 2006
Contact: Communication Office
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON - The State of Vermont’s plan to respond to avian influenza, as well as an influenza pandemic, will be tested during a full-scale, two-week exercise, July 17 – 28. The emergency scenario will include the discovery of avian influenza (“bird flu”) on a poultry farm in southern Vermont, and quarantine of students at two Vermont colleges.

Details of “Operation Pandemic Flu” are known only to a select few state employees and hospital personnel. All other responders to the mock emergency will be operating as if the situation was unfolding as a real event.

“This exercise is important to prepare us for a potential disease outbreak,” said Governor Jim Douglas. “Both avian influenza and pandemic influenza will require a rapid and well coordinated response among many state agencies. Our goal is to test and refine the state’s pandemic influenza plans.”

During the two weeks, epidemiologists, infection control practitioners, Vermont state veterinarians and animal health specialists, hospital staff, government officials and emergency responders will play out their roles in the emergency posed by the simulated event.

Organizations with a major role in the exercise are the Department of Health, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, Southern Vermont College, University of Vermont, Vermont Emergency Management, the Vermont National Guard, and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and most of its member hospitals.

Key elements of Vermont’s pandemic influenza response planning that will be tested during the two-week exercise include:

Pandemic influenza is a worldwide outbreak of a new and severe strain of influenza that can spread easily from person to person. The current outbreak of bird flu (influenza strain H5N1) is not a pandemic, but has caused illness and death in birds and some humans overseas. There is no evidence that it can easily spread from person to person. World, national, state and local governments are working to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic.

Influenza pandemics are not common. In the past century, the 1918 Spanish flu caused an estimated 50 million deaths. The 1958 Asian flu killed more than 32 million, and the 1968 Hong Kong Flu about 1 million.

No one can say when a flu pandemic will strike, or if bird flu will be the trigger, but most scientists agree that a pandemic is likely.

The Health Department first tested its draft pandemic flu plan with more than 100 health, hospital and emergency officials in a June 2005 tabletop exercise.

On January 12, 2006, Gov. Douglas hosted the nation’s third pandemic flu summit in Burlington, the first statewide gathering to address pandemic readiness. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, the federal government’s top official for national pandemic flu preparedness addressed more than 400 public officials, members of the business sector and community leaders about pandemic flu preparedness.

Follow-up meetings on pandemic influenza have included a statewide meeting of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on March 24 to discuss local response, and a series of nine regional pandemic flu summits held from April through June. The regional summits included first responders, emergency management directors, Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) members, local health department personnel, health care providers and hospital and municipal officials. Approximately 700 Vermonters attended the nine regional summits.

The two-week exercise is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Vermont Emergency Management, Vermont Homeland Security and the Vermont Department of Health.

More information on pandemic flu readiness is available at the Health Department's website at http://HealthVermont.gov, or the national website at: http://www.pandemicflu.gov.

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