The city of Long Beach will host on Thursday a volunteer drill meant to test how it provides medicine to the public in the event of a bioterrorism attack. The event is part of the five-day emergency Statewide Health & Medical Response exercise among various agencies that began Monday, according to city health officials. The exercise was planned before the Paris attacks, officials said.
“The focus is for how the city would respond to an act of bioterrorism if there were to be an intentional release of an agent that could cause harm or even death to people,” according to Diane Brown, the city’s program director for public health emergency management. “We want to be able to mobilize the departments along with other key partners.”
This particular training will be focusing on anthrax, Brown said.
Long Beach’s fire, police and health departments, the Port of Long Beach, city manager’s office and Long Beach Airport are participating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the state and county health departments and other Southern California health jurisdictions.
These statewide medical health exercises happen every third week of November to ensure local agencies are in coordination with the state, according to Brown. Other scenarios have included earthquakes and issues with water.
This year, the exercise was timed to coincide with an annual training at hospitals that practice dealing with an influx of patients or scenarios surrounding an impact on hospital operations, Brown said.
The exercise is also inspired by real-world scenarios like the recent power outages in Long Beach that left thousands of Southern California Edison customers without power for days.
“We’ll use the findings that we get from the exercise—any strengths that we have or any areas of improvement—we’ll use that information to improve our response plans and then we provide training to staff on those plans,” Brown said. “So it’s always a continual cycle of planning, training, exercising, evaluation and then improving our plans and starting all over again.”
Funding for the exercise was provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through a five-year grant.
Officials said the exercise is the largest of its kind ever conducted in the state. A smaller scale version occurring last year in the Bay Area.
Exercises are being held at various locations, and include communication exercises, establishing temporary medical facilities, and first responders reacting to mock mass casualty situations, according to state officials.
Some participants will be clad in chemical protection suits and masks to create as much realism as possible, officials said.
City News Service contributed to this report.
Above, left: Photo courtesy of the California Department of Public Health.