Crisis Situations Test Communication during Possible Anthrax Threats

By Fibbe, Ken | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

Crisis Situations Test Communication during Possible Anthrax Threats


Fibbe, Ken, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Using an 800-pound Jersey barrier to simulate a dead cow, emergency workers from 13 counties on Friday began learning how to respond to agricultural bio-hazards.

The "cow" was a potential victim of anthrax. It fell dead at the Lawrence County Fairgrounds in Hickory, supposedly during a fair with 65,000 people.

Hazardous material workers had to remove the concrete block and hose down the surrounding area to sanitize it.

Crews were asked to check out a "tip" involving the discovery of a lab in a nearby shed. Although none of its contents was harmful, emergency responders had to proceed as if they were.

"The Discovery" -- as yesterday's drill was called -- was the first in a three-day series of staged crises. Brian Melcer, the director of Lawrence County's Department of Public Safety, said the drill was a great way to test communication among response teams that rarely work together.

"Now we are seeing where we need to make adjustments in the event of a real disaster," Melcer said.

"Operation Scarlet Harvest" was organized by the federal Region 13 Task Force, a pilot program representing the 13 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania that aims to unify training and pool resources to improve emergency preparedness.

Patricia McKenty, public information officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which maintained communications with county workers participating in the drills, said they didn't imitate a true emergency perfectly -- for a good reason.

"In a real scenario, it would be happening a lot faster, but since it's a test we didn't want to rush it and overlook something that may have been an important factor to improving the system," she said. …

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