Friday, September 24, 2004

First responders gather for drill

St. Luke?s safety officer heads to WMD training

Express Staff Writer

Jo Dee Alverson

Jo Dee Alverson, St. Luke?s Wood River Medical Center infection control and hospital safety officer, will travel to McCall next week to help manage a weapons of mass destruction disaster response exercise.

Alverson will be participating Oct. 2 in a realistic scenario designed to help first responders from around the state better react to an attack.

?This is a multi-regional full scale exercise,? Alverson said. ?It?s called Operation Heartland.?

Managed by the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security, the operation will be based out of the Donnelly Fire Station in McCall beginning in the early morning hours.

There are many hardworking first responders in Blaine County who are training for such an event, said Chuck Turner, coordinator of disaster services for Blaine County, who recommended to the Bureau of Homeland Security that Alverson participate since she is responsible for hospital safety. ?Blaine County has received a $379,000 Homeland Security grant for equipment and training. In the spring we will have a multi-agency exercise in Blaine County,? Turner said.

Alverson, who will be acting as the safety officer for the McCall Hospital next week, won?t know exactly what the disaster drill will be until the exercise begins.

McCall Hospital has been soliciting volunteers to act as victims, but whether the mock disaster drill will be from a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, first responders won?t know until it happens.

?From what I?ve seen it looks like there will be explosions,? Alverson said.

Bombs could blow up bridges or sewage treatment plants. Alverson?s job will be to secure a perimeter around the hospital and ensure that access for victims is secure and that there is safe water.

?Everybody sees the hospital as a safe haven,? Alverson said. ?It is the worry well. Mothers come looking for their children.?

As at St. Luke?s, Alverson will be responsible for trying to keep energy at the hospital focused on patient care and keeping both patients and personnel safe.

Alverson said she has never had to manage a disaster in her five years at St. Luke?s. She said she is grateful that she will have a chance to practice managing a scenario.

The purpose of the exercise is to evaluate systems and functions associated with the response by federal, state, county and city governments and private industries to a weapons of mass destruction event, Alverson said. ?The exercise will measure interagency coordination, communication and cooperation between the participating departments.

?I?m very nervous, but I?m glad that I?ve got this opportunity to do this, because if Senator Kerry wins the election our hospital will be more in the spotlight. We?re so small and we have no experience with multi-traumas. Three-car pileups can send us over the edge.?

?The state has chosen Valley County to run the large drill now,? Turner said. ?Mike Elle, Assistant Fire Chief for Ketchum Fire, will also be going. It is about getting our people educated.?

?I?m glad to have the opportunity to practice,? Alverson said.

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