SCRIBA, NY – In the event of a real a national emergency involving bioterrorism or a natural pandemic, the cases would have contained medical supplies. For Wednesday’s multi-agency drill, thousands of boxes of Girl Scout cookies were used.
The Oswego County Health Department, assisted by the Highway Department, conducted a Strategic National Stockpile drill using about 26,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to simulate medical supplies at the event staged at the county’s Highway Garage in Scriba.
The Strategic National Stockpile is the national repository of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins and other critical medical equipment and supplies used in the event of a national emergency involving bioterrorism or a natural pandemic.
Federal authorities require state and local governments to be able to demonstrate their ability to request, receive and dispense medications and other materials from the Strategic National Stockpile.
This exercise meets that criteria, explained Diane Oldenburg, Senior Public Health Educator.
“We are testing our ability to receive large shipments of supplies, inventory and sort them, store them and ship them to local agencies,” said Jiancheng Huang, Public Health Director for Oswego County. “The snowstorm adds another element of realism to our drill.
Besides that, Sonja Robinson, an Oswego County Public Health Educator (and a representative of the Girl Scouts) pointed out that the drill also assisted them by receiving, sorting and distributing the boxes of cookies.
Health department staff sorted cookie orders for approximately 25 troops in the Oswego, Lycoming, Mexico, New Haven and Parish areas.
Oswego County Health Department staff received “an inventory of supplies” (26,500 boxes of Girl Scout cookies), unloaded, sorted them, and then processed them for shipment, Robinson said. They were delivered to some area scout troops for distribution to their customers, others picked them up.
“We were having a call with other counties and talking about emergency preparedness and how to test our Strategic National Stockpile, which is what this drill is,” Robinson explained. “Receiving assets, medical supplies, in the event of an emergency is rather similar to receiving and distributing Girl Scout cookies. So, that’s how the connection was born between the county health department and Girl Scouts.”
The health department staff sorted cookie orders for approximately 25 troops in the Oswego, Lycoming, Mexico, New Haven and Parish areas.
Oswego area scout leaders picked up their cookie shipments from the county highway garage.
County highway staff delivered remaining cookie shipments to outlying sites where local scout leaders will pick up their orders.
“Those cookies were sorted, inventoried, quality assured and then loaded into their personal vehicles,” Robinson said. “So, this is really testing two departments’ capabilities.”
A large moving van backed into the garage shortly before 10 a.m. and a forklift began removing the cases of cookies, some with boxes piled 10 high.
The cases were then placed along the floor of the garage where workers went about unwrapping them and then placing the correct number of specific types of the cookies at stations designated for each delivery location.
A quality control inspector made sure the boxes were in the proper condition and the correct number of each kind had been placed in the right area.
Observing the exercise were representatives of some of Oswego County’s largest employers who have agreed to partner with the Health Department to distribute medication to employees and their families in the event of an emergency. They include Cayuga Community College, Novelis, St. Luke’s Health Services and Oswego County Opportunities.
The county health department staff, assisted by members of the NYS and Onondaga County health departments observed and will evaluate the exercise.
They will evaluate the exercise.
Also taking part were some Oswego County Sheriff’s deputies. They had a presence inside the garage and out in the parking lot where people coming in to pick up the ‘supplies’ were checked as if in a real event.
When you’re dealing with drugs and medical supplies in large quantities, you require a level of security, Oldenburg explained.
“It’s a good partnership. One of our responsibilities is the public health department and the Strategic National Stockpile,” Oldenburg said. “This event gives us a real commodity to use in training. It’s more real life practice than sitting at a table with our partners saying, ‘OK what would the hospital need right now?’ The (Girl Scout) troops simulate the different health care facilities that we would have to put orders together for.”
The departments will file a report and see what can be learned from the exercise.
“This exercise is similar to the one conducted in February 2013 (when it was sunny and warmer). We are testing our ability to receive large shipments of supplies, inventory and sort them, store them, and ship them to local agencies, as demonstrated in a Strategic National Stockpile drill,” Huang said. “These types of exercises give local health departments the opportunity to handle a large quantity of materials. It gives us a chance to test our emergency plans and distribute assets – in this case Girl Scout cookies – in a controlled environment.”
The element of the snow added to the realism of the drill, Robinson agreed.
“You have to train like it’s real so when it’s real it will feel like training,” she said.
“We got good feedback from our exercise last year. There are some things we can improve on. We’re looking to cut our time down a little bit,” Oldenburg said. “After today, we’ll go back and examine everything to see what we did well and where there might be room for improvement. These types of exercises give us a chance to see how well we can handle a large quantity of materials.”
“This exercise is to test the plan, find the gaps. It’s an exercise delight in a way (because of the weather) because it puts the challenge on the staff we think will be at work really be there; parents may be calling in because their kids are off school today or there just not going to travel in this,” said Dale Currier, director of the Emergency Management Office. “It’s real life challenges for the staff, for transportation. So, this is actually good to have it on a crappy day. This challenges the system, which gives it a good test.”