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 nearly 30,000 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, as demonstrated in a Strategic National Stockpile drill,” said Jiancheng Huang, Public Health Director for Oswego County.
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.”
They delivered cookies to three locations, Lycoming, Mexico and Parish. The Girl Scouts from the Oswego Service Unit came to pick up their cookies.
“Those cookies were sorted, inventoried, quality assured and then loaded into their personal vehicles,” she said. “So this is really testing two departments’ capabilities.”
A large moving van backed into the garage shortly after 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.
The drill was observed by members of the county health department staff, assisted by members of the NYS and Onondaga County health departments. They will evaluate the exercise.
“We got the last shipment out. A (Girl Scout) mother came in around 3 p.m. to pick up her cookies,” Oldenburg said. “Things went very well, considering this is the first time we’ve done this.”
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.
When you’re dealing with drugs and medical supplies in large quantities, you require a level of security, Oldenburg explained. As part of the drill a deputy escorted one shipment to Mexico, she added.
County highway vehicles delivered the remaining cookie shipments to three outlying sites where local scout leaders picked up their orders.
The departments will file a report and see what can be learned from the exercise.
“We got good feedback from the participants today,” Oldenburg said. “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.”
“We’re thrilled with the response from all of our participants today,” she added. “Everyone did a great job.”