On December 5th, the Florida Department of Health in Nassau County (DOH-Nassau) held a discussion-based exercise to evaluate local infectious disease outbreak response plans. Representatives from Nassau Co. Emergency Management, DOH-Nassau disease control, epidemiology, and environmental health, Baptist Medical Center, Century Ambulance, and the County’s Fire/Rescue, School District Transportation Department, Animal Services, and Sheriff’s Office. DOH-Nassau’s emergency preparedness and disease control experts facilitated the Ebola Virus exercise which allowed interested agencies to discuss consequences of a widespread outbreak in our community. They reminded everyone that new strains of influenza virus kill thousands of citizens every year and recommended getting flu shots early, as well as frequent hand-washing to stop the spread of contagious diseases.
The December 5th table-top exercise also stressed problem-solving using current plans, capabilities and capacities, while providing a forum for officials to brainstorm about ways to apply best-practices to address local concerns. Participants discussed resource limitations, authority necessary to implement disease control plans, prioritization of services, and continuity of critical operations with a depleted staff. Everyone recognized the importance of media relations and controlling rumors that might lead to public panic. Emergency Management Director, Billy Estep, stressed the necessity for plan integration, a common operating picture, and consistent unified messaging in any disaster response.
The exercise identified several Nassau County strengths: hospital, rescue, and law enforcement staff are trained on operational plans, and agencies routinely evaluate and coordinate response plans to prepare for all hazards. However, the relatively small size of our public service agencies creates resource gaps when personnel are needed to fully activate the Emergency Operations Center. Some response roles might have to be filled by trained volunteers. Local leaders participating in the exercise agreed that improving the public information system is a priority. They recommended continued face-to-face interaction and workshops so that key personnel would be well-familiar with individuals from other agencies with whom they will be working when a disaster strikes.
- Martha Wagaman
Emergency Management Coordinator/Senior Planner
Nassau County Sheriff’s Office