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Exercise at Offutt simulates response to health emergency

by Debbie Aragon
55th Wing Public Affairs

1/28/2010 - OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AFNS) -- More than 1,000 people wound their way through the community center here Jan. 21 as part of a 55th Wing's point of distribution exercise.

The exercise, a new annual tasking for Air Force units, is designed to simulate the mass inoculation of military populations during a public health emergency.

Being able to quickly and efficiently process large numbers of people during a real-world public health emergency is critical, said James Jenkins, the medical readiness manager for the 55th Medical Group.

"Our goal was to run our process as realistically as possible, in the same way we would if we had a public health emergency on our hands," he said.

To be more realistic, the active-duty members processing through the community center received their mandatory H1N1 inoculation via mist or vaccination.

"We achieved both of our primary goals (with this exercise); to test the 55th Wing disease containment plan and immunize a significant portion of Offutt's available active-duty population with the H1N1 vaccine," Mr. Jenkins said.

"(The) transportation (staff) was huge in this and they did an excellent job," Mr. Jenkins said, "especially since we went through several revisions to the schedule (because of delays in receiving the H1N1 inoculation). Vehicle controllers adapted to late schedule changes and re-directed buses as necessary to meet the mission."

In addition to working with logisitics Airmen, planners worked closely with representatives from each group within the 55th WG as well as U.S. Strategic Command and the Air Force Weather Agency to have exercise participants ready to be picked up by buses according to a set schedule.

Once people arrived at the community center, they processed through four stations. At their first stop, military identification cards were scanned that automatically updated databases and provided real-time information. Next they received a brief overview of why they were there and, in the case of this exercise, background and possible side effects of receiving the H1N1 inoculation.

At station three, participants met with medical group staff members who ensured their eligibility to receive the inoculation and addressed any specific medical concerns. Event planners also used this opportunity to check each person's preventive health assessment status and individual medical readiness. After receiving the all clear, participants received the H1N1 flu mist or injection.

The final station was a waiting area incase buses weren't already standing by to transport participants back to their units.

Staff Sgt. Shane Ott, a quality assurance inspector with the 55th Maintenance Operations Squadron, was surprised by how quick the process was.

He said he boarded a bus to the community center at 9:40 a.m. Sixteen minutes later, he was boarding another bus to return to work.

"It was quick," he said, "so I'm going back to work to get (the job) done."

Airman Christopher Torres, a chef at the 55th Force Support Squadron's King Dining Facility, agreed.

"I thought it would take at least 30 minutes," he said, "but it was quick, in and out in about 15 minutes."

The medical group staff kept track of the time it took for each person to process through the community center. On average it took 14 minutes for a 30-member group to process through the exercise area, Mr. Jenkins said.

"It was awesome," he added, "and much quicker than you could expect anywhere. In the event of a public health emergency, it's evident the 55th WG (point of distribution plan) could logistically and medically immunize or dispense medications to Offutt's total active-duty population within a strict timeline."

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