LITTLE FALLS - It could happen.
The pandemic flu or any other deadly, communicable disease could be spread to anyone in Morrison County. Will our public health officials, emergency managers and the community be ready?
The Morrison County Public Health Department, in collaboration with the Little Falls police and fire departments, Morrison County Sheriff's Department, DNR, Minnesota Department of Health and other community partners, participated in a mass dispensing exercise June 13 at the Morrison County Fairgrounds in Little Falls.
More than 50 county and emergency workers took care of around 80 volunteers, who played sick or needed to have a vaccination for the "pretty bad bug," the make-believe virus. The volunteers were screened by public health nurses, who wore masks.
Morrison County public health nurse Rachel Young applied a bandage to Peter Stangl's arm after giving him a fake vaccination June 13 in the horse barn at the Morrison County Fairgrounds during the county's mass dispensing exercise. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Volunteers drove through the fairgrounds entrance off Morrison County Road 43. They were asked if they had a high fever or cough and were sent to the horse barn that served as the mass dispensing station, where they were vaccinated, or to the medical station, where they were given first aid. No real vaccinations were administered.
Since 9/11, public health agencies began planning more emergencies and how public health departments would distribute antibiotics or vaccines in an emergency situation, said Bonnie Paulsen, interim Morrison County public health director.
Paulsen said there is a concern among public health officials on how staff could administer a vaccine to every person in the county and how it would complete the task in the fastest way.
"This is a huge learning experience," Paulsen said of the county's first such drive-through exercise. "Morrison County should feel confident that we are getting better prepared in case of an emergency."
Morrison County Public Health Nurse Jenifer Drill screened people who entered the Morrison County Fairgrounds on June 13 for the mass dispensing exercise held by the county. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Little Falls Police Chief Mike Pender said that anytime agencies can practice a hands-on exercise is a positive.
"There are a lot of different dynamics that come into play," Pender said. "You're not going to have as many people involved in a exercise as you would if there was a real crisis. In an exercise, the people are nice and calm, and with a real pandemic, the tensions would be high and you never know what would happen.
"This exercise helps us see how things could work and helps us work out any bugs we find."
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said the exercise gave staff a chance to work out the bugs and to lower the number of mistakes that could occur in a real emergency.
Wetzel said the exercise also was a good learning experience for collaborating with other agencies.
Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel talked with Sarah VanRisseghem of Little Falls during the June 13 mass dispensing exercise. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
The exercise was made possible through a grant, and the cost didn't exceed $8,000, said Jeff Jelinski, Morrison County communications supervisor. Jelinski said he was pleased with the exercise and gave him an idea of how a real situation might play out.
Also at the exercise, a volunteer played a bomber and was escorted out.
"If this was a real scenario and someone had a bomb, the whole place would've been shut down," Jelinski said.
Don and LaVonne Adams of Little Falls said they volunteered because it sounded like a good thing for the community.
Sarah VanRisseghem of Little Falls brought her four children to participate in the exercise.
Don and LaVonne Adams of Little Falls checked into the Morrison County Fairgrounds on June 13 for a mass dispensing exercise held by the county and other agencies. Jenifer Drill, Morrison County public health nurse, screened the Adamses before directing them to the horse barn to be vaccinated for the fake virus. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"This has been very interesting," VanRisseghem said. "The exercise is helping us prepare so we know what to do in case something happens."
Pat Moller of Little Falls brought her son, Aaron, 11, and her daughter, Hannah, 8. They all pretended to have the symptoms of the virus. Pat Moller said she had time to volunteer and thought the exercise would be interesting to learn about.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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