HARRISBURG, Pa., April 23, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Pennsylvania Department of Health conducted a successful three-day disaster drill to practice, test and evaluate its ability to respond to both natural and man-made public health emergencies. The statewide, full-scale exercise began April 20 and ended Sunday.
"These drills are a vital part of our ongoing efforts to prepare for public health emergencies," Secretary of Health Dr. Eli Avila said. "Conducting this statewide exercise with our partners helps ensure we are ready to respond quickly and deliver help where it's needed during a real emergency, when every second counts."
The exercises allowed the department to test its ability to evaluate and care for a large number of patients at the same time. Hospital services, mobile medical resources, a patient tracking system and communications between the Department of Health and field locations were all effectively tested.
The drill simulated major catastrophic events happening simultaneously in three regions, a scenario that would typically overwhelm emergency response resources. Emergency responders participating in the exercises did not know the scenarios and had to respond just as they would during a real situation in which details are not immediately known.
At Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, the exercise scenario involved a large commuter jet making a crash landing on a busy highway. Actors were used as "victims" to add realism. Responders assessed the situation, provided help to the survivors and transported them to mobile treatment facilities.
Exercises at the Clearfield County Fairgrounds and the Eastern PA EMS Council in Lehigh County simulated major weather emergencies. The scenarios involved severe weather that damaged hospitals and nursing homes, leading to the evacuation of patients and residents.
Added "twists" were also thrown in to test emergency responders. A school bus crash with multiple injuries was simulated in Lehigh County. In Clearfield County, the hospital was nearly full with "flu patients" at the time of the storm, simulating an overload on resources.
Partners in the exercise included Emergency Medical Services Councils and EMS Strike Teams, the Department of Public Welfare, local police, emergency management agencies, hospitals, schools and other emergency response groups and volunteers.
"We are thankful to our partners for taking the time to join in these important exercises," said Dr. Avila. "Based on the results, we remain confident in our abilities to respond effectively to public health emergencies in Pennsylvania."
Media contact: Penny Kline, 717-787-1783
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Health