By Joby Winans, Public Information Officer, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department
In a drill to test their response to a disease outbreak, volunteers of the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) dispensed candy packets to community volunteers at the Tacoma Dome on October 14, 2010. During an exercise that simulated a release of anthrax, staff from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department and the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps dispensed mock prophylaxis medication to client volunteers who lined up early Thursday morning at the Tacoma Dome. M&M and Skittles candies were used as the two types of antibiotic medicine that would most likely be dispensed during a biological attack.
Within two hours, the MRC volunteers reviewed forms for medical conditions, educated “patients” on how to take the imitation antibiotic and described symptoms to watch for, providing medication for more than 1,600 people.
“Whether it’s a chemical or biological attack, terrorist-related, or, for instance, a hazardous spill on a roadway, our goal is to have volunteers trained to respond quickly to emergencies,” said Jim Price, director of the Pierce County MRC.
During an outbreak, or an incident where large numbers of people in Pierce County would need to receive medication, the MRC would work with Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to set up “Points of Distribution” (PODs) throughout the county. The goal would be to provide medication to 1,000 people per hour at each site. The federal standard is to provide needed vaccine or medical treatment to all residents of the county within 48 hours.
Thursday’s exercise allowed the Medical Reserve Corps and the Health Department to test their plans to accomplish this standard.
“Some 1,600 courses of simulated medicines were distributed during the two hour exercise. This could not have been accomplished without the dedicated volunteers of the Pierce County Medical Reserve Corps,” said Nigel Turner, Communicable Disease Director. “And we saw that we can meet the standard of 1,000 per hour in a POD like this. We ran out of client volunteers to push our numbers up, but our MRC volunteers were ready.”
“Pierce County’s unit of the MRC is very active,” said Price. “We provide training to all members and then apply that training and the skills volunteers bring not only to drills like this one, but to real events. We’re looking for adults who are interested in providing medical support to Pierce County residents.”