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Countywide Bioterrorism Drill Tests Local Hospitals’ Emergency Preparedness

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Bioterrorism Drill Photo - By Chris FlannaganLocal hospitals and public health officials today tested their capacity to respond to an escalating bioterrorist attack involving deliberate and widespread salmonella poisoning in Sarasota County.

In the drill scenario, local hospitals had reported an unusual increase in the number of people with salmonella poisoning during the week. On Friday, the number of mock patients peaked dramatically, prompting Sarasota Memorial Hospital to deploy its “mash-like” medical surge unit in the hospital’s South Parking Garage and triggering a simulated countywide response by Sarasota County public health and emergency management officials.

Doc and Patient - Photo by Chris FlannaganThe culmination of the drill took place when dozens of local students and community members posing as patients arrived at Sarasota Memorial Hospital with severe nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. While Sarasota Memorial doctors and nurses were triaging and stabilizing those patients, an industrial explosion at a fictitious plastics factory in the southern part of the county forced emergency management officials to develop a countywide multi-casualty plan to transport those mock patients to other local hospitals for decontamination and treatment. Meanwhile, public health officials were investigating the suspected deliberate contamination of local food with salmonella bacteria.

Photo by Chris Flannagan“It was an amazing show of collaboration and cooperation among Sarasota County’s hospitals, emergency responders and health officials,” said Sarasota Memorial Public Safety Director Mickey Watson. “As with any drill, there were a number of twists and surprises, but everyone worked together to keep the health and safety of our citizens the number #1 priority.”

The drill scenario was based on actual events that took place during the first and single largest bioterrorism attack in the United States – the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack in Oregon – when hundreds of people were sickened from the deliberate spread of salmonella bacteria on salad bars in 10 restaurants in that state.

Photo by Chris FlannaganIn the Sarasota scenario, a fictitious local extremist group – MeatHaters – would later be implicated in the deliberate poisoning of food/refreshments served to as many as 4,000 people who attended a public event earlier in the week.

Following the drill, teams were assembled at each participating organization and agency to debrief on what they learned and identify opportunities to improve their response capabilities in the event of an actual event.

Date Published: Feb 19, 2010

Media Contact: Kim Savage
Phone: (941) 917-6271

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